Arctic Studies Center
||| St. Lawrence Gateways Project |||
Smithsonian - National Museum of Natural History

Mingan Islands

Ordovician marine fossil
Ordovician marine fossil
We began our exploration of the Lower North Shore in 2001 in the Mingan Islands near Havre-St.-Pierre and the Canada's Mingan Islands National Park.In the short span of a week with the help of a shallow-draft whaler manned by the multi-talented Parks Canada Ranger, Charles Kavanagh, the crew surveyed and photographed most of the islands in the Park. The Mingan Islands are famous for their eroded limestone monolith formations and well-preserved Ordovician marine fossils such as the one at left photographed on the east side of the Gulf in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland.

Limestone monolith carved by the sea

Limestone monolith carved by the sea
Natasquan, Kégaska, Seal Net Point
Acadian Fisherman, Jean-Claude Landry
Acadian Fisherman, Jean-Claude Landry, from Natashquan  

As we traveled east from Mingan, we stopped at villages and locations that looked promising archaeologically. Whenever we met people, Bill inquired about old sites, places where people had found artifacts or other signs or early settlement, or had old stories to tell—recording a kind of "oral archaeology" that can provide important leads into the past. 

One of these stops was the Innu village of Natashquan, where we learned from Jean-Claude Landry about early Maritime Archaic Indian sites and fossil whale bones on ancient raised beaches miles from the present-day coast. Here also we met Innu relatives of crew member Valerie Boudreault.

Parks Canada Wardern Charles Kavanaugh
Parks Canada Warden Charles Kavanagh, who guided our survey of the Mingan Islands
Hughie Stubbert's Ramah chert cache
Hughie Stubbert's Ramah chert cache, found buried beneath his garden, stacked like cord-wood  
Our next stop was at the predominately English village of Kégashka, where we met Hughie Stubbert and photographed a thousand-year-old stash of Ramah chert “bifaces” he found while digging near his house.  Amazingly, this distinctive translucent chert was traded all the way from Ramah Bay in northern Labrador to the “gateway” of the St. Lawrence.



Hughie Stubbert

Hughie Stubbert

lichen on rocks

Dying lichen on rocks


A stop at Romaine produced evidence of historic European settlements, but no ancient remains.  However, at Seal Net Point (Pointe à Maurier) north of Cape Whittle, we found the remains of an early European seal oil factory and evidence of a Groswater (early Dorset) Paleo-Eskimo site. In a test pit near an abandoned seal plant we found a whalebone sled runner that indicated contact with historic period Inuit ('Eskimo') dog-sled technology.

A test at the Groswater site in 2003 revealed a series of small camps and artifacts, and charcoal radiocarbon-dated to 2,400 years ago. Other Groswater sites have been found in Newfoundland and the Strait of Belle-Isle region, but the Seal Net Point site establishes a new limit for the western boundary of this early Eskimo culture.

In 2001 Steven Young noticed extensive local evidence of climatic change throughout much of the Lower North Shore. This was particularly evident in the retreat or die-back of lichen and peat cover on exposed rock surfaces. Areas that had been covered by vegetation during previous decades were drying out, exposing bare rock. These changes give strong indication of a major shift toward warmer, drier, summer climate.

Bill holding one of Stubbert's Ramah chert blade

Bill holds one of Stubbert's Ramah chert blades to the light