Readings on the Birth of Prehistoric Archaeology on Prince Edward Island

Residents of the Island since the French Regime must have, from time to time, come across prehistoric artefacts in ploughed fields or at the shoreline, eroding out of the bank or strewn about the beach by the action of the water. From the Fewkes article listed below we have the names of two late Victorian collectors, John Hunter Duvar and the hotel keeper, John Newson. The naturalist Francis Bain was also interested in the subject. This woodcut, from Abbott (1881) shows this pastime which spread from Europe to America.

Shell middens appear to have been a primary focus of attention to early antiquarians because of their size and likelihood of containing artefacts. Shell middens are often very large mounds of discarded mollusks that were a primary element in the diet of prehistoric peoples. The two largest ones recorded in early literature were at Oyster Bed Bridge (destroyed and used as fill when the causeway was first built) and the one on Rustico (also called Robinson’s) Island, which still survives. This site seems to have become the chief focus of visiting archaeologists in the century following Fewkes, with testing done by William J. Wintemberg in 1913 and 1937, Dr. Richard J. Pearson in 1961-62, Dr. James A. Tuck in 1974, Dr. Stephen Davis in 1981 and finally in 1987-88, a comprehensive excavation of the whole site by archaeologist Birgitta Wallace of Parks Canada. Over 700 artefacts were found, most of them under the midden and of a much earlier age, showing that the site had been occupied for a long time. I was fortunate to visit the site in 1987 when I took these photos.

This, and excavations at the Palaeo-Indian Jones Site at Greenwich in Saint Peter’s Bay by Dr. David Keenlyside in 1983 and 1985, mark the beginning of serious interest in the remote prehistory of the Island.

But how and when did archaeological activity on the Island begin?


The Father of Prince Edward Island Prehistoric Archaeology

Dr. J. Walter Fewkes was to become on of the greatest names in American archaeology, and he would write dozens of articles on the subject over the years. Here he is in his glory in the frontis photo from Biography and Bibliography of Jesse Walter Fewkes, by Francis S. Nicoles, 1919.

In August of 1894 the prominent American archaeologist who would rise to great heights in his profession vacationed on Prince Edward Island. He stayed at the Seaside Hotel at Rustico Beach, seen here in Meacham’s 1880 ATLAS. Here is a blog post by Carter Jeffery on the hotel which broadens our view of what a significant place it was.

Although his excavations on Rustico/Robinson’s Island were limited in time and extent, his activity records the first time that we know of that an archaeologist penetrated the soil and shellheaps in search for traces of prehistoric peoples.

(Robinson’s Island from Lot 24, Meacham’s 1880 ATLAS)

The article he wrote in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal upon his return home contains the first description not only of the history of archaeological activity on the Island but also lists Islanders who had an interest in the subject. I have added a pdf file of it so that you can enjoy his descriptions.

Fewkes, J. Walter, “A Prehistoric Shell Heap on Prince Edward Island”, The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Vol. XVIII, Chicago, 1896, pp. 30-33.

Fewkes, J. Walter – A Prehistoric Shell Heap on Prince Edward Island, The American Antiquarian – 1896

We are also extremely fortunate that Michael O’Grady wrote this very informative and charming article on the man and his visit.

O’Grady, Michael A., “In the Footsteps of Jesse Walter Fewkes: Early Archaeology at Rustico Island,” The Island Magazine, Number 33, 1993.

O’Grady – In the footsteps of Jesse Walter Fewkes


General Background Reading on the Origins and Development of North American Archaeology.

Over the years, before my epiphanic meeting in 1983 with Dr. David Keenlyside from the Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa changed the focus of my prehistoric archaeological interests definitively, I had bought and read many books on the history of archaeology in North America. Here are some of them.

Abbott, Charles C., Primitive Industry: or Illustrations of the Handiwork in Stone, Bone and Clay, of the Native Races of the Northern Atlantic Seaboard of America, George A. Bates, Salem Mass., 1881.

Farb, Peter, Man’s Rise to Civilization as shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the coming of the Industrial State, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1968.

Fitting, James E., The Development of North American Archaeology: Essays in the History of Regional Traditions, Anchor Book, Anchor press/Doubleday, Garden City, N. Y., 1973.

Hodge, William H., The First Americans: Then and Now, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1981.

Willey, Gordon R., An Introduction to American Archaeology, Volume One: North and Middle America, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1966.

This valuable set of notes for Anthropology 3291 at Memorial University of Newfoundland compiled by Michael Deal contains the only attempt that I know of to write an outline of the evolution of archaeology in North America. It is divided into periods and the various key works that apply to those periods are listed after a description of how things came to be. I provide you with a pdf file of the contents.

Deal, Michael – Chapter One – History of Research, 2001 – Anthropology 3291 MUN


The Keenlyside Excavations and Published Scholarship

In 1983 an archaeologist from the Museum of Civilisation (Museum of Man) in Ottawa, Dr. David Keenlyside, upon discovering from a Charlottetown collector of prehistoric artefacts that another collector, Rolley Jones, was finding Palaeo-Indian fluted points in Saint Peter’s Bay, arranged a summer excavation at the Jones Site at Greenwich, near the mouth of the Bay. Here is the young Keenlyside keenly sifting for artefacts missed in the course of the excavation.

This excavation was done in collaboration with the University of Prince Edward Island which had an anthropologist on their staff. An academic credit was given to those who passed the course.

It was hoped that substantial and datable remains of a Palaeo-indian site would be found so that the source of these precious fluted points could be located. Here are several of the Jones points that had been found eroded out of the bank.

The team extended their trenches repeatedly and covered quite a large area. Sadly no prehistoric hearth or work area full of stone waste material was found.

There were a number of artefacts however, that could credibly be associated with the earliest period of human occupation on the Island after the ice age. It was also possible to establish an archaeological chronology for the site layers. Keenlyside has the very great virtue of being one of those archaeologists who quickly publishes his excavation reports, not only for fellow professionals, but also for the popular reader. Here is a list, with pdf files where I was able to obtain them, of what I think are most, if not all, his publications on the Jones Site. As I obtain more pdf’s, I will include them in this post.

Keenlyside, David L., “In Search of the Island’s First People,” The Island Magazine, Number 13, The Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 1983.

Keenlyside – In Search of the Island’s First People – 1983

Keenlyside, David L., “‘Ulus’ and Spearpoints: Two New Archaeological Finds from Prince Edward Island,” The Island Magazine, Number 16, The Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation, Charlottetown, 1984.

Keenlyside – Ulus and Spearpoints – 1984

Keenlyside, David L., “The First Maritimers,” Horizon Canada 117, The Centre for the Study of Teaching Canada, Litho-Prestige Printing, Montreal, 1985.

Keenlyside – The First Maritimers, Horizon Canada 117 – 1985

Keenlyside, David L., “Late Palaeo-Indian Evidence from the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence,” Archaeology of Eastern North America, Volume 13, 1985.

Keenlyside – Late Palaeo-Indian Evidence … 1985

Keenlyside, David L., “The Palaeo-Indian Period in Prince Edward Island,” manuscript published in Rechersches Amérindiennes au Québec, 1985, 15 MS pages.

Keenlyside – Palaeo-Indian Period in Prince Edward Island – 1985

Keenlyside, David L., “Paleoindian Occupations of the Maritimes Region of Canada,” Clovis Origins and Adaptations, Centre for the Study of the First Americans, Oregon State University, pp. 163-173, 1991

Keenlyside – Paleoindian Occupations of the Maritimes – 1991

Keenlyside, David L., “Glimpses of Atlantic Canada’s Past,” Revista de Arqueología Americana: Los Modos de Vida Marítimos en Norte y Mesoamérica: El Estado de la Cuestión, No. 16, Pan American Institute of Geography and History, pp. 49-76, 1999.

Keenlyside, David L., Glimpses of Atlantic Canada’s Past – 1999

Keenlyside, David L., “Observations on Debert and the Late Palaeo/Early Archaic Transition.” In T. Bernard, L. M. Rosenmeier, & S. L. Farrell (Eds.), Ta’n Wetapeksi’k: Understanding from where we come: Proceedings of the 2005 Debert Research Workshop, Debert, Nova Scotia, Canada (pp. 145-156). Truro: The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq, 2011.

2011 Keenlyside – Debert Workshop


The whole Greenwich peninsula tip has for some years been a Parks Canada site and so all excavation is now under their control. We have no idea if further investigations to locate a Palaeo presence will ever be conducted. It is possible to visit the site, and the adjacent sandhill ecosystem on lovely boardwalks and enjoy the materials displayed in a large interpretative centre.


Other Reference Material…

These books and articles are all valuable resources for those interested in the prehistory of the Island.

Anderson, T. W., “Holocene vegetation and climatic history of Prince Edward Island, Canada, in Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 1980, 17(9): 1152-1165,

Anderson – Holocene Vegetation 1980

Koppel, Tom, “The Peopling of North America,” Canadian Geographic, September/October 1992, pp. 54-65.

Kranck, Kate, “Geomorphological Development and Post-Pleistocene Sea Level Changes, Northumberland Strait, Maritime Provinces,” in Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 9, pp. 835-844, 1972.

Kranck, Kate – Geomorphological Development and Post-Pleistocene Sea Level Changes – 1972

MacDonald, George F., Debert: A Palaeo-Indian Site in Central Nova Scotia, National Museum of Man, Anthropological Papers 16, Ottawa. 1968.

MacDonald, George F., “Eastern North America,” in Early Man in the New World, edited by Richard Shutler, Jr., Sage Publications, Beverley Hills, California, pp. 97-108, 1983.

McGhee, Robert, Ancient Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilisation, Libre Expression, 1989.

Pearson, Richard J., “Some Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Prince Edward Island,” in Anthropologica, Vol. 8, No. 1, Canadian Anthropology Society, pp. 101-109, 1966.

Pearson, Richard J. – Some Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Prince Edward Island – 1966

Stanford, Dennis J. & Bruce Bradley, Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012.

Tuck, James A., “Prehistoric Archaeology in Atlantic Canada Since 1975,”  in Canadian Journal of Archaeology, No. 6, 1982.

Tuck, James A., Maritime Provinces Prehistory, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.

Turnbull, Christopher J and Davis, Stephen A., An Archaeological Bibliography of the Maritime Provinces: Works to 1984, The Council of Maritime Premiers, Maritime Committee for Archaeological Coöperation – Reports in Archaeology 6, Fredericton, 1986.