Nfld. & Labrador

Archaeologists examine Indigenous site dating back 2,200 years on Exploits River

A pair of archaeologists are examining an Indigenous site that dates back more than 2,000 years on the Exploits River.

Stone tools found during salvage dig that were used by Groswater Paleoeskimos

Archaeologist Laurie Maclean combs through a dig site near Grand Falls-Windsor where he and Don Pelley found material dating back 2,200 years. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

An archeological dig has uncovered material that dates back more than 2,000 years on the Exploits River.

Laurie Maclean, an archeologist, and Don Pelley, dig assistant, spent two weeks in November sifting through mud, clay and dirt on the edge of the river in search of items that belonged to the Groswater Paleoeskimos.

They say they found historical tools during a salvage dig, and may have saved the material from being destroyed by the river.

Laurie Maclean shows some of the tools found at a dig site on the Exploits River that date back 2,200 years (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"This would be gone next year," said Maclean. "By next summer all the artifacts would be strewn further along the beach … and there's a good chance that stuff in situ would be destroyed." 

Tests came back placing some of the material at 2,200 years old. 

"This is the first radio carbon date from the interior for a Groswater site," said Maclean, who noted there are a number of Groswater sites in the area.

Laurie Maclean and Don Pelley said that if they didn't document the site now, the rising water levels could have destroyed the artifacts. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Maclean said there are 20 known features at the site. A feature could be something like a grave, house or fireplace. 

I'll be at it until I can't be at it anymore.- Don Pelley, archaeology assistant 

"This one here may be our 21st because we're uncovering fire cracked rock," said Maclean, which is a sign that the site could have been a fire pit. 

The next step for Maclean is to bring the information back to his office and prepare a report to document the findings. 

Local connection to storied history 

 A local outdoor enthusiast, Pelley has been helping Maclean with his digs in Grand Falls-Windsor for years. Maclean calls Pelley his "archaeologist assistant." 

"I get to go around and help them with the work," said Pelley, who said he's been doing this since the 1960s.

"I've got Indigenous blood in my veins," said Pelley. "It's interesting for me because it sort of brings to light some of the culture and certainly part of what I belong to."

Pelley said he knows that if they didn't access the site this year, the work would have been lost. He thanked the Provincial Archaeology Office for the "renewed interest in the Exploits River."

Don Pelley said he's been working with archaeologists in the Grand Falls-Windsor region for decades. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Hopefully we'll be doing something next year," said Pelley.

He said he was surprised to find out there were items that traced back 2,200 years. 

"A whole lot of things happened on the Exploits River. The Exploits River was one of the main highways for three, maybe four different types of Indigenous cultures," said Pelley. 

He hopes that their discovery will lead to more exploration of the region and potentially one day be used to teach tourists about the local history.

Pelley said he hopes to be able to bring his three daughters out to the site to convince them to carry on with his work. 

Until then he has no plans to slow down.

"I'll be at it until I can't be at it anymore."