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


Our surveys along the Lower North Shore have produced a wealth of new information on the environment, cultures, early history, and archaeology of this beautiful but little-known coast.›This region was first surveyed by William Wintemberg in the 1920-30s, and its eastern-most area, around Blanc Sablon, has been studied extensively in recent years (Niellon, F. and G. Jones, 1984, Reconnaissance sur les sites historiques de la Basse Côte-Nord, été 1983. Rapport d'activités. 3 vol. Unpublished report submitted to the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec; Pintal 1998; Pintal and Martijn 2002).›Our three years of study have produced evidence of more than fifty sites, some dating as early as Early Maritime Archaic times, 7-8000 years ago.› Surprisingly, research in the Mingan Islands produced little new evidence of prehistoric occupation, suggesting that these islands were occupied sporadically and less intensely than the adjacent mainland, where archaeologists have found numerous sites (Somsynski 1989). However, the islands have great potential for historic European archaeology, not only for further study of the Louis Jolliet post (Levesque 1971), but for its important Basque whaling site on Île Nue (Drouin 1988) and the still-undiscovered residence of early 19th century naturalist, Count Henri Puyjalon (1840-1905), who summered on Île à la Chasse. Other areas of this portion of the Lower North shore, especially Natashquan and Kegashka, are also known to have many prehistoric archaeological sites, and Labrador Ramah chert occurs in many of them (Loring 2002).

We found evidence that prehistoric and historic settlement on the outer coast markedly increased between Baie Mouton and Blanc Sablon. In part, this results from the more open, less forested terrain in the eastern LNS region, but it may also be attributed to a greater concentration of maritime resources as one approaches the 'ocean mixing bowl' in Strait of Belle-Isle.›Five prehistoric sites were located in Baie Mouton, four of which are early Maritime Archaic sites at high elevations of 30 to 51 m on raised beaches.

Work at Petit M»catina, Gros M»catina, and locations like Belles Amours are beginning to provide a consistent picture of a Late Maritime Archaic culture that differs considerably from that of Newfoundland and Labrador.›The Qu»bec Late Maritime Archaic can be provisionally designated the M»catina Complex (5200 - 3500 BP). This complex exhibits houses with multi-segment rooms, low walls, pit caches, and a linear or "long house" configuration. Further, all of the sites of this complex are located in outer coast environments and are associated with boulder beaches and food caches that suggest they are occupied only at certain seasons, when sea mammals—most probably harp seals—were available in quantity, that is, in the fall and early spring.›At other times of the year the resource base for this culture complex was probably limited to fish, caribou, and other small game.›It seems likely that economic and technological limitations such as periodic scarcity of food and of high quality lithic raw materials, at least seasonally, may have restricted the development of the M»catina complex compared to the more elaborate expressions of Maritime Archaic cultures known from Labrador and Newfoundland. In addition to major differences in tool abundance, the Qu»bec sites and houses are much smaller, averaging 3-5 rooms per longhouse compared to 10-25 for the same period in Labrador.

The most extensive data are from European sites of the past 500 years, a tremendously important archaeological resource for Lower North Shore culture history. So far, no Viking sites have been found, nor contact evidence of them in Native sites.

However, the two major Basque sites at Mécatina and Havre Boulet, dating to the late 16th and 17th centuries, open the way for new studies of this early European group who were the first to exploit North America for the European whale oil market.



Summer sunset over the Québec Lower North Shore


The Mécatina site has produced collections across a range of material culture and has the potential of providing data on an unexplored late Basque occupation period and economy.

Whether the Basque sites explored by the Gateways expeditions operated as whaling or fishing stations is not clear. Mécatina has no blubber furnaces or other signs of major whaling activities, probably because whales in these southern waters had by the early 17th century been over hunted, forcing the Basque to shift to other pursuits like fishing, sealing, and fur trading.