Double Mer Point Archaeology
This project was initiated by the community of Rigolet in 2013 to provide a destination for tourists to learn about Inuit history. The community invited Lisa and her team to excavate the late 18th century Labrador Inuit winter village to learn as much as possible about the lives of its inhabitants. Once the village has been reconstructed, this information will be used for interpretation and education within Rigolet and for tourists. The Double Mer Point winter village is composed of three Inuit sod-walled dwellings and associated middens (garbage/discard areas) located near Rigolet. Nearby there are also the remnants of summer tent camps which were used by Inuit when the weather was warmer. The site itself marks the end, or destination, of the boardwalk from town, approximately 8.5 kilometers to the northeast of the modern community of Rigolet. This site is particularly interesting because it was first occupied when the Inuit operated a long-distance coastal trade network; the network served as a link between their traditional communities, and offered a means to exchange Inuit-produced goods with European fishermen and traders in southern Labrador, who offered European goods. During the life of the occupation, its inhabitants would have witnessed the arrival of Moravian missionaries, and ultimately the first European settlers in the region. This project has a strong focus on Rigolet history and culture, which seeks to stimulate tourism activity, revive local traditions, train youth, engage Elders, and celebrate the strong culture of the community.
The Double Mer project has been very active since the initial 2013 community invitation; it has offered multiple employment opportunities for community youth and boat drivers, and offered locally relevant education opportunities for community members, and promoted local tourism. The establishment of the Net Loft Museum in the centre of town has been particularly helpful for education and tourism promotion; this field lab/museum was developed in collaboration with the Rigolet Heritage Society and has become a frequent destination for interested community members and tourists who arrive in the summer by cruise ship and coastal ferry. Community input has been instrumental in identifying objects which archaeologists have not previously encountered. Local volunteers who wanted to spend time working at the site have also been welcomed and trained. Most importantly, there has been the opportunity for community members of all ages to gather in the Net Loft Museum to discuss daily finds, engage with history and help the archaeological team understand local traditions; this has encouraged knowledge sharing between youth and Elders, as well as between local knowledge bearers and archaeological students. Excavations at the village have also provided opportunities to train a new generation of archaeology students who work alongside high school students from Rigolet. Three students have gone on to produce valuable Master’s theses describing the life of Inuit residing in each of the three houses. Once the excavation is complete, the community will begin the work to reconstruct the village as a tourist destination and a teaching place.
While still ongoing, the excavations of the Double Mer Point winter village have revealed much about the daily lives of its inhabitants. We now know that the village was occupied from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. Villagers survived the long winters by hunting seal and caribou as well as fishing for salmon. They butchered their food using traditional tools such as ulus and cooked in soapstone pots hung over kudliks. Much of the winter would be spent hunting, sewing clothes, producing elaborate beadwork, beautiful carvings, and playing games. The families from Double Mer Point participated in long-distance trade, helping to move European-manufactured goods, like beads, dishes and hunting equipment acquired from British and French fishers and traders in southern Labrador to Inuit communities along the coast. They were well connected to the global economy, one of the houses even contained a Turkish pipe.
The excavations at Double Mer Point allowed a wonderful opportunity for the archaeology team from Memorial University and community members from Rigolet to get to know one another. Each year we held community meetings to explain our finds and interpretations to the town. The Net Loft Museum provided a place for archaeologists to interact with community members daily to learn about the use and importance of the artifacts we found. The annual Rigolet Salmon Festival provided a great opportunity to discuss the excavations with people returning home for the celebration. The support from the Rigolet community was overwhelming: they housed us, provided us with research space, took us fishing and exploring, and shared their pride and enthusiasm for their history and culture.
At the request of the Rigolet Inuit Community Government we have developed an all-weather interpretive plaque in Inuttitut and English to describe life at the Double Mer Point winter village. More plaques will be added at destinations along the boardwalk and at other archaeological sites soon.
In 2016 the cast and crew of the APTN series Wild Archaeology (Archaeology from an Indigenous Eye) spent a week in Rigolet filming and interviewing community members and archaeologists about the excavations at the Double Mer Point site. Their work resulted in a two-episode series The Inuit of Rigolet broadcast nationally by APTN in January 2017.
Excavations only take place in the summer, but a lot of archaeological work stabilizing artifacts, reconstructing them and learning more about them goes on in the laboratory during the winter. From the beginning of the project we wanted to develop a way for all interested community members to find out more about the archaeology at all stages. We created the Rigolet Community Archaeology Facebook page to share pictures of the excavation, the artifacts, the team and all the lab work at every stage of the process.
Media & Publications
Memorial University President’s Award for Engaged Partnership; Presented to Mayor Jack Shiwak of the Rigolet Inuit Community Government and Lisa Rankin for outstanding collaboration between the University and the community of Rigolet.
Community Project: Connecting the Present and Past in Rigolet; This is an informational video produced by the OPE department of Memorial University, with footage recorded by a local Rigolet Company, Bird’s Eye Inc.