Recent interpretations of material evidence by archaeologists - Carignan (1977), Devereux (1965-6) and Tuck (1980) and especially Laurie McLean (1989-99) - indicate that the inner reaches of Bonavista Bay were occupied by Aboriginal cultures dating back some 5000 years. These cultural groups included sequentially the prehistoric peoples known as The Maritime Archaic, Paleo-Eskimo (Groswater and Dorset) and the probable ancestors of the Beothuk (Beaches and Little Passage traditions). In contrast to early Europeans who arrived by sea and occupied the outer headlands and islands to exploit cod, the Aboriginal groups entered from the landward side or along the coast and ranged primarily around the inner parts of the bay. Maritime Archaic Indians, named for their preoccupation in exploiting marine resources (seals, shellfish and birds) from coastal sites, appear to have been the earliest inhabitants of Newfoundland. A campsite, or village, at the Beaches on Bloody Reach, also known as the Cowpath, near Burnside, was occupied by the Maritime Archaic about 5000 years ago and by their successors, including the historic Beothuk, up to about 250 years ago. The Beaches has yielded artifacts from all the major cultures and traditions known to have lived in Newfoundland up to the time of European contact. It is thus one of the most significant archaeological sites in the province.
While research in Bonavista Bay has been focused mainly at the Beaches and at nearby Bloody Bay Cove (where Aboriginal peoples quarried rhyolite, a volcanic rock, useful in making sharp tools), additional surveys have identified numerous sites used by Aboriginal cultures in the surrounding area. Many of these are Beothuk including those at Sandy Cove, Sailors Island and Long Island. Salvage itself is a place name evidently coined from the Spanish word "Salvaje", meaning wild, savage or untamed.
Bloody Bay is a name believed by some to derive from violent confrontations between Beothuk and Europeans, probably early 18th century salmoniers and furriers. The various evidence suggests that Beothuk ranged around the shoreline of the inner bay harvesting a variety of estuarine, coastal and marine resources well into the 18th century. There is also some indication that early European fishermen tended to avoid them, at least earlier on. Sir Richard Whitbourne observed in 1579, for example, that English fishing ships did not go into Bonavista Bay (then known as the Bay of Flowers) partly because of the dangerous and uncharted waters "but chiefly (as I conjecture) because the Savage people of that Country doe there inhabit".