History of the Dig at Ferryland

Archaeology of one sort or another has been going on at Ferryland for more than a century. That Avalon and the Pool Plantation were situated somewhere in Ferryland has long been known, but the precise location remained in some doubt until the 1980s.

In the late nineteenth century local antiquaries unearthed some ancient objects, among which was an object identified as a silver snuff spoon bearing the initials S.K. It was interpreted as having once belonged to Lady Sara Kirke. Unfortunately the object disappeared and its whereabouts is now unknown.

In the 1930s a Dr. Brooks, an entomologist from the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, still remembered as "the bug doctor" by some residents, carried out studies at Ferryland. He also took an interest in the Baltimore settlement and, with the help of local residents, conducted some brief excavations. He concluded that Avalon was at the western end of a tomolo beach that connects the mainland with the Ferryland Downs, not far from the present-day location of the Colony of Avalon Visitor Centre and archaeology laboratory.

In the late 1950s Russell Harper carried out further test excavations, primarily in the form of a deep 1.5 metres (5 feet) square, on land adjacent to the south shore of The Pool, as the sheltered inner harbour has been known since at least the seventeenth century. Harper recovered ceramics, iron nails, bottle glass and other artifacts, from which he concluded that the site of Lord Baltimore's house was not where Brooks had suggested, but was actually on the shores of The Pool at the foot of the Ferryland Downs.

In 1968 Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) conducted brief test excavations not far from those of Harper and reached essentially the same conclusion, although it was by no means clear whether the artifacts came from Lord Baltimore's "mansion house" or from some other structure at Avalon.

In the mid-1980s, more extensive excavations were carried out by Memorial University. The discovery of a well-preserved stone forge, slate walls standing more than half a metre high, and a series of cultural layers more than a metre deep and containing thousands of artifacts all confirmed the earlier conclusions about the location of Avalon. They also made it obvious that the site was larger and far more productive and better preserved than anybody had dared hope. In one respect this indicated a bright long-term future for archaeology at Ferryland, but in the short term the outlook was bleak. The site was so large, rich and well preserved that it was obvious that only a major effort, in terms of time, funding and staff, would do justice to such an important site. Operations were suspended in the fall of 1986 and the excavation was filled in to await a more appropriate time.

That time came in 1992 when a federal-provincial agreement made it possible for work to resume on the scale the site warranted. Since that time excavations have been carried on for up to 20 weeks each summer. The excavations are supported by a fully-equipped and staffed conservation laboratory located about 500 metres (1,640 feet) from the site. The results of the continued excavations have more than proved the initial estimation of the site's worth, and each summer brings new discoveries.

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