Friday, August 19, 2011

The Beothuks

Today we visited the Beothuk Interpretation Centre at Boyd's Cove on the way to Twillingate, a fine centre, worth going out of your way for.  The Beothuks were likely the descendants of the people known as Recent Indians.

They had a wonderful site for their village here on the Notre Dame Bay.  This is a gravel esker, which provided drainage for rainy weather, with a fresh water stream running  beside it (now called Indian Brook) which has, and had, a heavy smelt run in the spring, a wonderful food resource for them.

At this grassy site there are eleven shallow depressions here showing that there were elven dwellings.  Starting in 1981, when the site was discovered by archaeologist Ralph Pastore, four of these dwelling sites were excavated.  A huge amount of artifacts were recovered.

Another advantage of this site was the protected beach where they draw up their canoes.

There were many animal resources nearby also: caribou, black bears, polar bears, plus lots of berries and a variety of trees that provided wood for their needs. There were many kinds of birds: duck, geese, seabirds, used as meat and eggs.

The Beothuks were here when the Europeans arrive to fish these waters, but rather than initiate trade with them, the Beothuks withdrew, avoiding contact.  When the Europeans would leave at the end of the season, the Beothuks would return and scavenge the gear and old boats left behind.  They burned the boats in order to "free" the iron nails which they then fashioned into useful tools for themselves.  So this contact opened the way for a new technology to be developed.  Of course, when the Europeans returned and found their gear and boats missing or destroyed, then viewed the Beothuks as enemies.

This contact had two main harmful effects (other than the enmity), one of which was the introduction of European diseases against which the natives had no immunity.  The other was starvation as they were driven away from their traditional sources of food.

Later the Europeans tried to make matters better by capturing a few Beothuks with the idea of teaching them English and using them as interpreters.  However, both women captured, Mary March and Shawnadithit, died within a year of being captured.  Before her death Shawnadithit provided many clues to the Beothuk culture with her drawings and words, but as she was the last surviving Beothuk, when she died these people were gone forever.

The Visitor Centre has excellent displays, though not extensive, and a good 20 minute film showing the discovery, excavation and interpretation of the site.

We then drove north on 340 to Twillingate and got the last room at Kelsie's Inn, a lovely, spacious room in a quite new facility.  Had supper at R and J's restaurant, including a soft serve cone to eat on the way "home."

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