Artifacts found near Saint John museum may be 4,400 years old

The New Brunswick Museum is used to showing off the province’s oldest treasures but an archeological survey revealed artifacts dating back thousands of years were buried just outside its Saint John facility.

Archeologists surveyed area behind New Brunswick Museum when officials were considering expansion on site

This large biface was likely intended to be used as a spear or a knife but was broken while being finished. It was discovered in Saint John behind the New Brunswick Museum. (Ashley Brzezicki/Archeological Services/Government of New Brunswick)

The New Brunswick Museum is used to showing off the province's oldest treasures but an archeological survey revealed artifacts dating back thousands of years were buried just outside its Saint John collections centre.

The museum requested an archeological survey of the property behind the New Brunswick Museum on Douglas Avenue when officials were considering expanding the building onto the site.

The survey found evidence of a campsite on a portage route past the treacherous Reversing Falls, which may be 4,400 years old.

Brent Suttie, a manager of archeological services with the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, said this was a high-traffic area even before First Nations had contact with Europeans.

"What we found was a lot of early historic period material," he said.

Among the oldest artifacts found behind the museum, Suttie said, was a large spear or knife blade.

"We also found evidence of a stone bowl, a steotite vessel and so that immediately dates the occupation to probably earlier than 3,200 years ago," he said.

"So that's probably the fourth vessel made of that steotite or soapstone that's ever been found in the province."

The survey uncovered more recent artifacts, including a shoe buckle and pieces of ceramic.

The portage route would have allowed early travellers to bypass Reversing Falls by taking a shortcut that would have started where Bentley Street is now, passing over Douglas Avenue and into Marble Cove.

The discovery of the artifacts is having an immediate impact on decisions being made about the future of the museum.

Jane Fullerton, the chief executive officer of the New Brunswick Museum, said the institution conducted the archeological survey while considering expanding into the area behind the collections centre.

Fullerton said something has to be done with the collections centre but she says it won't involve developing the archeological site.

"I think given the significance of that site, the museum is not looking at that site to construct a new facility," she said.

The museum board will meet later this month to develop a plan forward.

The museum has been planning an expansion and upgrade for the Douglas Avenue facility in Saint John since 2000.

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