Spearhead found in Labrador believed to be 2,800 years old

Derek Montague
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Scott Neilson said he has never seen an artifact like it before in the region.
The pointed object seemed to be perfectly intact, even though Neilson — an archaeologist who is the operations, facility and logistics co-ordinator at the Labrador Institute — believes the object is nearly 3,000 years old.

This spearhead — which was found not far from Corte Real Road in Happy Valley-Goose Bay — is believed to be nearly 3,000 years old. — Photo by Derek Montague/The Labradorian

“I don’t actually know of another one this style, that’s complete (intact), that’s been found in Labrador,” says Neilson.

Incredibly, the amazing artifact wasn’t found in some remote area. Rather, it was stumbled upon just two kilometres off Corte Real Road in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The discovery came while a group of people from Sheshatshiu was in the area to do archeological training for the Muskrat Falls project. Neilson, who did a small excavation in the same area in 2004, was the one who recommended the spot for their training.

“They had come to see me about just trying to find some different type of site settings in the region ... just so the guys could get an idea of what type of places who’d find archeology sites,” says Neilson.

“So maybe about 50 metres or so from where I excavated the site in 2004, they found this laying on the surface. They did the right thing, too. A lot of times when somebody sees (an artifact) they want to pick it up and take it with them, but they took the GPS point and put some flagging in a nearby tree so they could relocate it.”

Back in 2004, when Neilson did his excavation, the ground in the area was covered in moss. But since that time, there had been a brush fire, which took out much of the moss, making it easier to see what’s on the surface.

Upon looking at the object at first glance, many people may assume that it’s a classic arrowhead, due to its pointed shape. But Neilson says that the object is far too large to be an arrowhead. Given its size, shape, and overall design, it’s most likely a spearhead, which may have been used for hunting and/or fishing.

“Some of these (spearheads) would be too big to be arrowheads. They’d be too heavy, and an arrow shaft would be more narrow.”

Neilson believes the spearhead is 2,800 years old based on what he found in the area in 2004. While working his relatively small excavation site, Neilson came across an old camp fire and baking pit. He was able to carbon date charcoal from the site, which concluded that it was 2,810 years old — plus or minus 60 years.

It’s not possible to carbon date stone objects, like the spearhead. But given the fact that it was found in such close vicinity to the camp fire site, Neilson is willing to say that the spearhead is the same age.

“Chances are this (spearhead) that was found, that was only 50 metres away, it’s on the same elevation, so it’s probably around that age.”

So who left the object behind all those years ago? Is it even possible to tell who those people were just by one artifact?

Neilson says that the spearhead, combined with the location, does provide some clues. Although he and others originally thought it might have been left by a group of Dorset aboriginals, Neilson believes that the spearhead is Innu, based on the quartzite rock that it’s made of and the location it was found.

“There’s lots of characteristics of the (artifact) and archeology in the region that ... points to a First Nations group (like the Innu),” says Neilson.

“And, although you can’t tell someone’s history or ethnicity based on the type of rock they were using, really, it’s much more common for Quartzite to be used on the (Innu) side than Inuit or Palaeo-Eskimo.”

What were the Innu doing in such an inland area to begin with? About 3,000 years ago, that area off Corte Real Road was part of the Churchill River. In fact, much of the lower Valley area would have been underwater at the time.

Neilson believes the artifact is significant to understanding the history of the Innu, since not much is known about their way of life 3,000 years ago.

“There’s a fair bit known about (the Innu) 3,200 years ago and further back in time,” says Neilson. “And we know a lot about the time period of 1,800 years ago up to today. But that gap in between, we don’t know a whole lot about.”

Neilson is hoping that further exploration can be done in the near future.

For now, he is asking the public to be mindful when they are in the area. ATV’s often drive by the spot where the artifact was found, so it’s important people don’t go off the trails when they’re out for a ride, since they might damage an important object that’s on the surface, or just underneath it.

“There’s a well-used four wheeler path that runs fairly close to the site ... but if anyone leaves the path, because the soil over there atop the archeology site is only a couple inches thick ... it’d be really easy to disturb a site over there,” says Neilson.

“So it’s a good thing out there if people stay on the trails and try not to tear around too much and if they do find anything to let somebody know.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: First Nations

Geographic location: Labrador, Corte Real Road, Happy Valley Quartzite Churchill River

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  • Nettie Smith
    February 18, 2014 - 10:01

    I have an old spear head that was found in Tunica Hills in West Feliciana Parrish La. I was told it was possible to be 3000 - 5000 years old. I would really love to learn more about it.