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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

Archaeological Investigations of the National Historic Sites Service, 1962-1966

by John H. Rick

Excavations in Newfoundland

Signal Hill

During the summer of 1965, Edward B. Jelks, assisted by J. Ned Woodall and Carole D. Yawney, directed a three-month excavation program at Signal Hill National Historic Park in St. John's. The following summer, Jelks carried out an additional two months of work, this time with the assistance of Woodall and Stephen B. Archibald.

Signal Hill, a typical rugged Newfoundland headland, dominates the narrow entrance to the harbour of St. John's. This large harbour became one of the focal points of the important Grand Banks fishery early in the 16th century and played an important part in the lengthy struggle between France and Britain for control of North America. The early fortifications were located near sea level, Signal Hill itself not being fortified until the 1790s; consequently, most of the remains on the hill date from the 19th century.

Test excavations were carried out on the site of the proposed visitors' centre to ensure that no archaeological remains would be destroyed by the planned construction, but little of importance was uncovered in this area. Most of the 1965 work was centered on the Queen's Battery, a gun emplacement overlooking the entrance to the harbour; here barracks and magazines were among the structures excavated (Jelks 1965). The second season's excavations (Jelks 1967) included a commissariat building, blockhouse and canteen, all located on Ladies Lookout, the highest point on Signal Hill. These structures date chiefly from the first third of the 19th century, as does the extensive collection of military and civilian artifacts recovered.

3 The Lower Queen's Battery of Signal Hill, Newfoundland, after excavation in 1965, looking ENE, toward Cabot Tower in the background. The low scarp (left) was cut to accommodate the wall of Structure 3, whose stone foundations are shown in the centre foreground. Two of the forged iron racers mounted on cut stone curbs (right) may be compared with those of the St. Andrews Blockhouse (see Fig. 8).
(Edward B. Jelks.)

Castle Graves

In 1965, Roger T. Grange, Jr., assisted by Karalee A. Coleman and Donald G. MacLeod, excavated Castle Graves, a small stone fort on Castle Hill overlooking the town of Placentia. Construction started in 1694 when the French erected a small masonry redoubt on Castle Hill to protect the low-lying harbour defenses; this redoubt was subject to frequent and extensive changes over the next decade. In 1713, Newfoundland was ceded to the British and the French abandoned the Placentia forts, subsequently establishing their main base at Louisbourg. The British tended to concentrate on the shore defenses immediately around the town, and the fortifications on the hill slowly fell into ruin. The hill was refortified in 1758, but there followed a number of years of neglect interspersed with brief periods of repair and reconstruction. By 1805, the site was virtually abandoned (Ingram 1964).

The 1965 investigations resulted in the complete excavation of all the major buildings in the fort. All of the critical exterior angles were exposed to a degree sufficient to project the line of the masonry wall around the entire perimeter of the redoubt (Grange 1965). The chief areas still undug are the gun platform, the well and the dry masonry wall around the edge of the site; these will be left for investigation in conjunction with future site development work.

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