Last year, over July and August Betts and his colleagues from the researchers from the Canadian Museum of Civilization explored several sites of shell middens in the Thomas Raddall Provincial Park. Middens are ancient refuse heaps, essentially garbage dumps, made up mostly of clamshells. However they prove valuable to archeologists, because they usually also contain pieces of domestic life as well.
“They are wonderful deposits for archeologists, because the calcium carbonate in clamshells neutralizes the acidity in Nova Scotia soils,” said Betts. “You get great preservation of artifacts, bones, and even seeds from plants that are up to 2,000 years old.”
Their findings were studied over the fall and winter, and now Betts is coming back to Queens County to give a presentation on what they found.
“I’ll be telling people what life was like in Port Joli from 1,500 years ago up to about 300 years ago.”
Betts says the middens in Port Joli were particularly rich in items, containing dozens and dozens of artifacts. One of the more interesting items they found was flooring, likely from a wigwam, which dates back about 600 years.
“One of the interesting things about the house floor was the artifacts were patterned in certain ways.”
He says the flooring also showed a clear indication of a divided floor plan. On one side were arrowheads and stone flakes from creating tools. The other side had signs of old scrapers, used by women to scrape animal hides, and ceramic pieces. Betts says this shows that men and women worked on two separate sides of the structure.
Another interesting find, he says, was a midden about a metre deep and filled only with shells and bits of charred wood. The spot was likely used for drying shellfish for winter use, he says. . Because of it’s size, Betts says it was likely a communal gathering spot, and dating puts it developing over a 50 year period about 1,500 years ago.
The three sites in Port Joli he says have never been seen in the Maritimes or even Maine, so it is a very specific find for the area.
With the data they have found, he says, aboriginal people first started exploiting the shellfish, possibly the first time they actually were in the area, about 1,500 years ago.
However Port Joli did not give up all of its secrets. The sites were in continual use right up until European contact 350 to 400 years ago, and then it abruptly comes to an end.
“After that the area was quickly abandoned, and we’re not quite sure why that is. That’s something we’re going to be exploring in the next season,” he says.
Betts says they plan on coming back for one more season, in the summer of 2012, to see if they can find the answers to their lingering questions.
“There are a few little gaps in the records that we need to fill in.”
Last year during the dig, the group invited the public to come in for guided tours, and Betts says the tours went over very well.
“We reached out to at least 200 community members and show them the history in their own area,” he says.
Betts says they wanted to give the public a chance to take part in the “moment of discover” that archeologists so often do alone. He adds they also wanted to show the process that goes into preserving the sites, and show how amateur digging can potentially destroy a site.
However he says mostly it was about sharing the history of the area, and getting people interested in what happened in their own backyard.
“People were very eager to find out the history of the area, and that’s very rewarding for archeologists.”