|Chris Wolff, Don Holly, John Erwin |
reflecting on Humans, the Environment and Stock Cove
They're the Cream... the Travelling Wilbury's of Newfoundland archaeology and the work that they are doing at Stock Cove is adding to our understanding of the pre-contact history of the Island.
|Plans and Profiles #13. Chris Wolff, Don Holly, and John Erwin, Human-Environment Interaction at Stock Cove, Newfoundland.|
1) Tell me a little bit about your project.
|Don and John excavating at Stock Cove|
Don: Chris started this project in 2008. I was invited to join it in 2009. At first, I was happy enough to just work at the site, even if much of the material we were apt to find there would be related to the Dorset, and not to the Beothuk and their ancestors (a particular interest of mine). But when we started excavating at Stock Cove it quickly became apparent that the site contained a significant Little Passage component too—and maybe even some hope for an early historic Beothuk presence. Doug Robbins had recognized the importance of the Little Passage/Beothuk presence at Stock Cove in the 1980s when he was excavating at the site, but the Dorset component became the centerpiece of his well-known Masters’ thesis, and so most people came to think of Stock Cove as only an important Dorset site. I soon realized that the Little Passage/Beothuk component had a lot to offer too. And then we found the Stock Cove West site.
|Feature at Stock Cove|
John: I was also invited by Chris to join the project in 2009 while he was conducting lithic research at The Rooms Provincial Museum that winter. My previous work, on the Baie Verte Peninsula focused on the Dorset Soapstone Quarry in Fleur de Lys, where I had spent 10 seasons investigating the Dorset Palaeoeskimo culture. The opportunity to participate in the investigation of one of the province's other important Dorset sites was one which I would not want to pass up – plus it provided an opportunity to continue my work with two good friends in Chris and Don.
The project at Stock Cove provides an opportunity to not only study a particular archaeological culture, but also to compare their various occupations and adaptation to a most complex and long used site. Likewise the site provides opportunities to the study of a unique expression of Dorset culture, not to mention that there are preserved faunal remains (a rare occurrence on the Island of Newfoundland with sites of this age), and perhaps the chance to investigate a Dorset longhouse (as suggested by Robbins)
2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?
|Stock Cove, Newfoundland|
3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?
Don: One of the great things about archaeology—perhaps more so than other fields—is the potential for research to spin off in new directions. It is really a discovery science. This issue came up at a meeting we had with the members of the nearby community of Sunnyside. Some expressed hope that our excavations might yield material that could be connected to John Guy’s famous voyage through the area in 1612. It hasn’t (not yet anyway). But it has produced new stories (and potential research leads). As already mentioned, for instance, we discovered a Maritime Archaic occupation at the Stock Cove West site. We are also learning more about the diet of the Dorset at Stock Cove proper and the extent of their occupation (it is much larger than previously thought). So, in many ways the project has changed. This is what makes fieldwork so exciting—if sometimes frustrating too.
John: The site's richness and diversity of occupations offers so many opportunities for investigation, that it is not surprising that it has provided so many lines of potential research. For an archaeologist working on the Island of Newfoundland, it's like being a kid working in a candy shop. What candy should I eat first?
4) If you could ask the people/person who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be?
|in situ deposits|
Don: John Guy apparently observed a small Beothuk encampment in Stock Cove in 1612. I’d like to ask the Beothuk who lived there how they got along with the fishermen. We have a pretty good idea of the state of later relations (poor), but the first century or so of contact is not very well understood at all. I think Bill Gilbert is right to suggest that encounters between the Beothuk and Europeans could be friendly, but it also seems that they were tense—unpredictable. And then the Beothuk vacate the area by the middle of the 17th century. We still don’t really understand all the factors that contributed to this, or the conditions on the ground in the 16th century. After that, I’d like to just listen to some Beothuk elders reminisce about the old times.
John: I think this is a question that a lot of archaeologists think about, especially while working on site. One which immediately springs to mind is for the Dorset. Where did you get all this white chert, and what's with all the ground endblades? I'd also ask them if they'd ever been to the soapstone quarry up the coast and see where the conversation went.
5) If an extra $50,000 appeared in your research budget tomorrow, how would you spend it?
Chris: Personally, I would love to spend some of it on expanding our geophysical investigation of the site, hire some students to excavate some key areas, and set some aside for systematic radiocarbon dating of the site. I think a high-resolution chronology of the site is essential to our understanding of it.
|John, Chris, and Don arriving at The Rooms after the 2009 |
field season. They had to return this research vessel or pay
late fees. (photo by Lori White)
John: A research vessel/lab facility would greatly enhance our ability to work at the site – particularly the ability it would provide to undertake basic lab work on-site.
6) You've been collaborating on this project for several years now – what is the best thing and the worst thing about being a co-director on a project?
Chris: The best thing is working with really bright people that you can trust to pull their weight both in the field and with analysis and writing. Because I don’t worry about these things it reduces the stress I think I would feel if it was all on my shoulders.
The worst thing is that they expect the same of me, and I feel I need to step up my research and writing to be on par with these guys. It’s not easy.
Don: I only see an upside to this sort of collaboration. I really enjoy being able to bounce ideas, ask questions, and work through problems (logistical, interpretive, etc.) at the site with other experienced excavators. I think it would be far more challenging to make all these decisions on one’s own. And Chris is funny, as I am way behind on writing up the Stock Cove West material, among other things. We are all trying.
John: Collaboration is the best and most rewarding part of working at Stock Cove. The worst thing is that I have not been able to be as involved as I initially was due to other work commitments this past year.
7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?
|Don working in the woods|
Don: Long hikes in the woods with my dog. Playing disc-golf (Newfoundland and Labrador is the only Province without a course). Wine with my wife.
John: I like to run, and participate in 5 and 10K runs here in Newfoundland, that is, when I'm not watching movies and blogging about them.
8) If you had to give up one beverage until this project is over, would you rather do without beer or coffee?
Chris: That’s a tough one. I think I could do without beer before coffee, which, I know, is not archaeological of me, but I’m actually more of a Scotch and Bourbon drinker anyway. Coffee is a necessity.
Don: Beer. I drink much more wine. Now if the question was alcohol or caffeine….I’d rather die.
John: Coffee – I enjoy my morning beer ;)
9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?
Chris: For general interest, one of my favorite books is Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective edited by Jon Erlandson and Torben Rick. It is an edited volume of case studies of coastal peoples and their interaction with their environments. Lots of good chapters I find useful, and use in my classes as well, particularly my Coastal and Aquatic Archaeology course. I also really like Don’s book that he co-edited with Kenneth Sassaman, Hunter-Gatherer Perspectives as Historical Process. There are also lots of good articles about prehistoric peoples of Newfoundland. I really like the work that Priscilla Renouf and Trevor Bell and their students have been doing primarily on the west coast. As far as web content, what I probably read the most (besides your blog of course) is the Provincial Archaeology Office of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Annual Review that they put out each year. It is great to see what everyone in the province is working on.
Are you collaborating on an archaeology project with your peers or friends? I'd love to hear about your research. Let me know and I'll send you nine questions about your work: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credits:Chris Wolff unless otherwise noted in the photo caption.
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White