12,000-Year-Old Campsite and Hundreds of Artifacts Unearthed in Canada


First Nations archaeologists in New Brunswick, Canada, are unearthing hundreds of artifacts and exposing a campsite where their distant ancestors lived about 12,000 years ago. It is one of the earliest sites in eastern North America, occupied not long after the glaciers started to recede northward.

So far, the excavations have turned up about 600 artifacts, says an article about the dig on CTV News Atlantic. The archaeologists are working in an area near Fredericton where there was to have been a highway bypass. But construction workers kept finding things that seemed significant, so work was halted and the archaeologists called in.

The site is extremely important to understanding the prehistoric peoples of the region.

The archaeologist leading the dig, Brent Suttie with the government of New Brunswick, said the area was first vegetated after the recession of glaciers, around 13,800 to 13,500 years ago.

Paleoindian points from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island ( Image from the Canadian Museum of History)

“From other areas of the province, we know that by about 13,000 years ago, they rapidly moved in,” Suttie told Laura Brown of CTV. “But there’s gaps in that understanding. We have a few sites down in the Penfield area. And then we have very famous sites like DeBert in the Nova Scotia area that dates to around 11,600 years old. We don’t have anything between those two sites. And this site just happens to fall within that.

This gives us our only glimpse into what people were doing during this time period.


CTV video of Brent Suttie speaking about excavation

Some of the First Nations people working the site were moved by what they were seeing and finding there, CTV reports.

“Just to know that they were having a fire right in this exact position,” Tyson Wood, a field technician and a member of Saint Mary’s First Nation, told CTV. “You know, my ancestors were all sitting around this beach shore, having a fire, fishing, and camping.”

Another field technician, Tobique First Nation member Shawna Goodall, told CTV: “Just to hold an artifact in your hand, that you know that you’re the first person to hold that in 13,000 years, you get goose bumps every single time. Every single artifact – that never goes away, that feeling.”

This dig is in a part of Canada called the Maritime Provinces or just “the Maritimes” for short. You can see Fredericton on this Google Maps image:

The large body of water to the east is the Atlantic Ocean.

The large body of water to the east is the Atlantic Ocean.

“The earliest human inhabitants of the Maritime Province are known to the modern Mi’kmaq simply as the ‘Ancient Ones’ (Saqiwe’k Lnu”k), but to archaeologists they are the Paleoindians,” state the lecture notes of Memorial University (Canada) Professor Michael Deal.

Professor Deal says the first inhabitants of the region are thought of as hunter-gatherers. He wrote:

There has been considerable speculation as to the timing and nature of Paleoindian colonization of the Maritime Peninsula. The movement of these early hunter/gatherers is generally linked to changing environmental conditions, the movement of caribou herds, and the availability of suitable lithics for stone tools. People of the Northeastern Paleoindian tradition are generally depicted as mobile hunter-gatherers. They probably used at least two residential ‘base camps’ (i.e., warm and cold season camps), logistical camps for a variety of subsistence tasks, and quarrying sites.

The Canadian Museum of History site has an article that says evidence of these peoples is known primarily from distinctive worked stone implements that are of a very ancient type.

The museum article says people were first living in the Americas at least 20,000 years ago, and they may have moved from the south into the Maritimes around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago as the ice cleared.

“The abundant animal and plant-rich ice margins characteristic of these peri-glacial environments would have been especially attractive to hunter-gatherers,” the site states.

Several First Nations archaeologists and technicians are helping to excavate a site that was home for part of the year to what may have been their very distant ancestors.

Several First Nations archaeologists and technicians are helping to excavate a site that was home for part of the year to what may have been their very distant ancestors. (CTV News photo)

Top image: Illustration of a Paleoindian campsite ( Southwest Florida Water Management District )

By Mark Miller

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