MUN mourns loss of archeologist Priscilla Renouf

Josh Pennell
Published on April 4, 2014
Dr. Priscilla Renouf was an internationally celebrated archeologist whose life work was done on the Northern Peninsula, particularly in Port au Choix. She died this morning.
Submitted photo

The archeological world has lost one of its scholars and Memorial University has lost not only an intellectual, but a generous supporter of students.

That’s what friends and coworkers are saying about Priscilla Renouf, who died this morning.

“As a supervisor, she was fantastic,” says Tim Rast, who did his thesis under Renouf’s supervision.

He likens the relationship of supervisor and student to that of parent and child in some ways, and says there’s a career link that’s there for life. Renouf was committed to the success of her students, as well as to her own, Rast says.

“She knew what each student needed. Those of us with an ego, she’d knock us down a notch if we needed it. Those of us with confidence problems, she’d build us up if we needed it.”

Renouf was the Canada research chair of North Atlantic archeology. Much of her life’s work took place on the Northern Peninsula, where she uncovered and reconstructed the 6,000-year-old human presence at Port au Choix. According to her webpage on MUN’s website, this period includes four aboriginal cultures, the European occupation of the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the current rural settlement.

Global impact

Geography professor Trevor Bell had collaborated with Renouf on research for some 20 years.

“Her standards of work were very high. She was an exceptional scholar. Her impact was truly global,” he says, adding that she took a historically unique site at Port au Choix and made it important in the context of the world.

Bell recently nominated her for an award recognizing her as a distinguished professor at MUN. The nomination involved getting letters from international colleagues, students and also people in the communities where she worked along the Northern Peninsula who could speak of the impact she had on them and their part of the world.

At her excavation site in Port au Choix, everybody was always welcome, Bell says. She taught the people there that their lineage went back 6,000 years, which only served to strengthen their connection to the land and also inspired some to pursue archeology careers of their own.

Senior professor

Renouf was the most senior professor in the department of archeology.

“It’s a tremendous loss for the department,” says Lisa Rankin, department head.

“She was really the driving force behind this department for the last 10 years.”

Renouf was fighting illness for several years and had been on sabbatical the past year. But her illness never kept her from her research, work with her students or her passion for archeology.

Rankin describes Renouf as generous, paticularly when it came to her students.

“They are definitely losing a friend and somebody who championed their careers.”

She adds that the loss for the field of archeology and for the department at MUN is immeasurable.

“We’re certainly all going to miss her very much and don’t know how she’ll ever be replaced. There’s nobody else like her.”