Colony of Avalon, Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador
By Alicia Sherret
Remember that scene in Indiana Jones when you weren’t quite sure if Indy and Marion were going to escape from the snake filled temple in the Well of Souls? Well, there’s an archaeological site a little closer to home with the same secrets, surprises and religious past. While a visit to the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland, Newfoundland, might be a little shorter on action than an Indiana Jones movie, it’s got excitement and interest of its own.
History of the Site
George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, founded the first British settlement at Ferryland in 1621. Calvert was interested in reaping the benefits of the rich cod fishery in the area. He later chose to name his colony “Avalon” after Avalon in Somerset, England.
Construction began immediately after the location was selected. The permanent population grew, and was supplemented by many seasonal fishermen in the summer months. Back in England, the penal laws were enacted in the 1660s to uphold the Church of England against dissenters. Catholics were fined, put in prison, or sentenced to death for practicing their religion. Avalon became the first religious refuge colony in British North America, and was settled by many Catholics fleeing this persecution4.
Excavations at Avalon have unveiled the deep human history of the site. Camps of the Beothuk (an Indigenous people of Newfoundland) were uncovered along with evidence of European occupation.
2017 will mark the 26th consecutive season of excavation at the site, currently under the direction of Dr. Barry Gaulton of Memorial University. A large, 3-year project conducted in the 1980s revealed the Colony of Avalon was built around “The Pool”, Ferryland’s inner harbour. It was much better preserved than archaeologists expected. The colony has also revealed itself as more complex than previously believed. It included roads, buildings, and countless artifacts from the 17th century 2.
The Pool’s building hardware, kitchenettes, and wharfs reveal the site’s importance as a port. The discovery of the remains of a bakery, a brewery, a waterfront warehouse, and Calvert’s mansion home along with other smaller houses reflect a bustling settlement3.
Small but mighty, charred grape seeds were discovered in a Beothuk hearth dating from 1500 AD. Grapes are not native to Newfoundland. They likely originated from raisins, or maybe even wine, traded to the Beothuk by Europeans 4.
During the 2015 season, Anna Sparrow, an archaeology student, uncovered a copper crucifix, a symbol of the religious freedom Avalon represented. This crucifix dates between 1623 and 1628, and may have been worn by someone fleeing persecution 4.
Artifacts such as this crucifix are documented and restored for public display or placed in a secure collection. Information about the dig and the finds are available at the Colony’s Archaeology Lab, which is open to the public!
Gaulton and his team may not have found the Ark of the Covenant, but their many years of hard work have revealed secrets of our Canadian past.
Thank you to Dr. Lisa Hodgett’s Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology class, Western University
To learn more:
For travel information: http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/PlacesToGo/Ferryland
More about trade between Beothuk and Europeans: http://www.academia.edu/1785126/The_Ties_that_Bind_and_Divide_Encounters_with_the_Beothuk_in_Southeastern_Newfoundland and http://www.mun.ca/gazette/2002-2003/sept5/research.html
- Colony of Avalon Foundation 2013 Permanent Settlement of Avalon. Electronic Document, http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/permanent-settlement-at-avalon.php, accessed February 4, 2017.
- Tuck, James A. 1996 History of the Dig. Electronic Document, http://colonyofavalon.ca/dig/#history-of-the-dig, accessed February 4, 2017.
- Tuck, James A. 2010 Ferryland Archaeological Site. Electronic Document, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/ferryland-archaeological-site/, accessed February 4, 2017.
- Colony of Avalon Significant Finds. Electronic Document, http://colonyofavalon.ca/dig/#significant-finds, accessed February 4, 2017