Beothuk at Russell's Point


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On October 24th, 1612, John Guy and his men sailed into the bottom of Trinity Bay. They anchored in the bottom of Dildo Arm where South Dildo is today and found a Beothuk camp there. John named the place Savage Harbour.

They also found a trail that the Beothuk had cut through the woods. Two days later, John and his men followed the trail. It led to a large lake about a mile from the salt water. On the side of the lake they found another Beothuk camp.

Finding the Site

Russell's Point Dig. (Image by William Gilbert. Reproduced with permission from the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)
Russell's Point Dig. (Image by William Gilbert. Reproduced with permission from the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation.)

John Guy and Henry Crout kept journals of their trip into Trinity Bay. From what they wrote, we know that the lake was Dildo Pond. For hundreds of years nobody knew about the camp. Then in 1988, archaeologists did a survey of Dildo Pond. They found the camp at Russell's Point in Blaketown.

Archaeologists dug at Russell's Point between 1994 and 1997. They found 17 Beothuk fireplaces, over 1000 pieces of cooked bone and 1226 artifacts. The archaeologists were able to tell a lot about the people who lived at Russell's Point from what they found.

A Fall Caribou Hunt

Caribou. (© Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador. Used with permission.)
Caribou. (© Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador. Used with permission.)

The Beothuk had to hunt for almost all of their food. A lot of the Beothuk food came from caribou. Caribou were hunted at different times of the year, but the best time to hunt them was in the fall. That's when they form herds and move off the barrens and into the woods for the winter.

Caribou herds move along the same trails year after year. The Beothuk knew where these trails were. Every fall they would set up camp close to a caribou trail and wait for the animals to arrive.

One of the best places for a camp was on the side of a lake. Caribou are great swimmers. When they get to a lake they will usually swim across it. The Beothuk would wait until the caribou were in the water. Then they would paddle out in their canoes and hunt them with spears or bows and arrows.

Russell's Point was one of these camps. John Guy says that the Beothuk at Russell's Point were busy hunting. He also says he saw 12 hooves there from caribou that had been just killed. Archaeologists have found caribou bones and teeth at Russell's Point. They have also found over 300 arrowheads. These are from arrows that were probably used to hunt caribou. Henry Crout even says that he saw a caribou trail not far from Dildo Pond.

If it was a good year and the Beothuk got lots of caribou, they would store it and spend the winter at Russell's Point. Once the weather turned cold the meat would freeze and last most of the winter. John Guy says that he saw a small building about a half mile from Russell's Point. This was probably a storehouse built by the Beothuk to store their meat.

Beaver Bones

Archaeologists can also tell that people lived at Russell's Point during the winter. The Beothuk made trips into the country to hunt beaver while they were living there. We know this because many beaver bones have been found at Russell's Point. Archaeologists can sometimes tell when animals were killed by looking at their bones. Many of the beaver bones the archaeologists found at Russell's Point are from animals that were killed in the fall or winter.

Beaver. (© Public Domain.)
Beaver. (© Public Domain.)

Back to the Coast

Once the winter was over, lots of different animals, birds and fish would start to arrive along the shores of Newfoundland. When this happened, the Beothuk would move to the coast to fish and hunt until the next fall.

Dating the Site

We have also learned how long the Beothuk lived at Russell's Point using archaeology. When the site was found, nobody knew for sure how long the Beothuk had lived there. Most people believed they had only been there for a short time. The archaeologists found small pieces of charcoal in the fireplaces at the site. Charcoal can be analyzed to tell when the wood it was made from was burned. This is called radiocarbon dating.

When they analyzed the charcoal from the fireplaces at Russell's Point, they found that some of it was over a thousand years old. The ancestors of the Beothuk had been living at Russell's Point since around the year 1000. That's more than six hundred years before John Guy and Henry Crout visited the site in 1612.