Recent Paper about Beothuk Housepits
We are delighted to feature a recent paper, Beothuk Housepits: Barometers of Historic Transition, by Laurie McLean, Consulting Archaeologist for the Beothuk Institute Inc.
Excerpts from Beothuk Housepits: Barometers of Historic Transition
by Laurie McLean
Date: October 2020
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Beothuk Indians were considered extinct by 1829. Historical and archaeological data depict a gradual Beothuk withdrawl from coastal Newfoundland as European economic activity and settlement increased. Recent interpretation of Beothuk housepit morphology, along with their distribution and associated assemblages, shows that Beothuk did not uniformly respond to the influx of newcomers. This has implications for Beothuk settlement/subsistence activities, material culture and relations with Europeans pertaining to temporal and locational parameters.
This paper summarizes morphological, contextual and assemblage data pertaining to 22 housepits found on Newfoundland’s northeast coast and 64 from the Exploits Valley. The analysis shows there is a close relationship between housepit usage and changes to Little Passage/Beothuk settlement-subsistence pursuits which repeatedly occurred in response to historic pressures. Little Passage residents of Bonavista Bay and Notre Dame Bay annually harvested large numbers of harp seals during the late winter-early spring. This hunt intensified in the historic period, enabling Beothuk descendants of the Little Passage to curtail their summertime activities in order to reduce the potential for chance encounters with Europeans. Housepits were adopted in Bonavista Bay during the mid- to late-sixteenth century, to facilitate extended seal hunting on the coast during winter and spring. It is unclear as to whether Beothuk independently conceived the housepit template or were otherwise influenced in the development of the new architecture. Precontact Recent Indians did not build housepits although they would have been familiar with Paleo-Inuit housepit remains on the island and southern Labrador. Beothuk may have activated this latent knowledge in association with alterations to their subsistence endeavours. Beothuk housepits do not appear to be copies of European structures and the absence of iron axes in the oldest examples shows that these tools did not factor in the Beothuk’s initial construction of larger buildings that required more wood and effort to complete. Iron/steel axe heads were found inside later housepits built in the Exploits Valley, indicating that they may have been used in constructing them, but a greater number of modified axes were also present, showing they were equally valuable as a raw material for recycling.
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