Episode 1.11

The Wild Archaeology team flies clear across the country to the Labrador interior at Sheshatshiu, where they work with archaeologist Scott Neilsen to uncover the ancient campsites of the Innu—the region’s first occupants. As Jen and Jacob dig tirelessly within their quadrants they uncover hundreds of fire-cracked rocks and tool-making flakes, which suggests that they might just be zeroing in on something special.

Labrador Inuit Artist


“There was camp sites that were there that were once on the beach.”

– Jacob Pratt

Innu of Sheshatshiu

The Sheshatshiu Innu Territory is located about 40 km south of Goose Bay, and has a population about 1,300. It is one of two Innu communities in Labrador and Newfoundland, together with the Mushuau Innu First Nation.

Working around the Hearth

A natural place to work is sitting around the fire where it is warm, and that holds true across continents and throughout history. Fire features with heat-cracked rock and burnt soil are a perfect place to focus an excavation trench, much like the middens our team visited on the Pacific coast. It’s here that we find evidence of intense activity over time. Flakes of stone dropped while ancient peoples shaped a spear point, scraper or knife tell us much about the activities, travels and trade of the inhabitants.

Hints of Dorset

The stone point Jacob found highlights a fascinating aspect of Inuit and Innu sites in Labrador, which is the interaction with other groups, namely the Dorset. His find looks suspiciously like a Groswater Dorset Endblade, a small point typically attached to the hafted end of a harpoon. This innovative compound tool is well adapted to hunting seal from holes in the ice and indicates that the Innu here were in contact with the Dorset.

Cryptocrystalline Chert & Flint

The best stone for making tools flakes is chert, flint and other grainy quartzes with a high silica content. These rocks don’t have a crystallized texture, letting them flake in the right manner for shaping. Ideally, this flaking produces a rounded ribbed pattern like a small wave on the surface, but sometimes cracking happens along fault lines so a much straighter surface is exposed and then worked.

Puzzles to be Solved

One of the mysteries that Scott Neilsen is trying to unravel is the source quarries of much of the tool and weapon stone we find at the Goose Bay site. Some samples seem to come from long distances because of the small size of the flakes found at the site. Others seem to come from much closer to home. Answers to these seemingly simple questions tell us much about the complexities of the societies in the region at the time.

“Becoming familiar with the landscape is very important to archaeologists; knowing where to look and how to look is a big part of our job.”

– Dr. Rudy Reimer