Saint John, New Brunswick

A 4,000-year-old soapstone pot found at the Chesley Drive site.

What Lies Beneath
The hill near where the YM-YWCA will build hides so many ancient Native treasures in its soil that special steps must be taken to protect them.

By Mac Trueman
Times Globe staff writer

   Thinly covered in grass and blueberry bushes, a stark, rocky ledge overlooking Chesley Drive hides countless treasures of history in its shallow soil, say archeologists.
   That's why Wayne Burley, the director of New Brunswick's heritage branch, says he will meet as soon as he can with the Saint John YMCA-YWCA officials who are buying it.
   He wants to find out what the Y intends to do with this one-acre patch of land that stands at the top of the 8½-acre property the Y wants to build its new headquarters on.
    If the Y wants to put as much as a walking trail across this ledge, which three years ago was designated under the Historic Sites Protection Act, it must have the approval of the heritage branch and likely the Maliseet Advisory Committee on Archeology.
    Many of the fragments of weapons, tools and dishes found here were left behind as long as 4,000 years ago. They date twice as far back as Christianity.
    And scientists strongly suspect that several of the Native artifacts they found lying amid 20th-century nails and broken glass may be 10,000 or 11,000 years old.
    Patricia Allen, whose government archeological survey led to the site's protective designation in 1998, vividly recalls the slippery touch of a soapstone fragment, barely two inches long, at the moment it was unearthed.
    She knew immediately it was part of a soapstone pot used by the Susquahanna some 4,000 years ago, she said.
    "I looked and I saw it had a lip-edge on it from a pot. Oh my gosh, I was absolutely ecstatic... I've never in my 29 years of working in the province - and I've done quite a bit of field work - I've never run across a piece of soapstone pot.
   One of several scrapers found here was shaped in a spur design characteristic of Paleoindian tools, more than 10,000 years old. These people are thought to have been among the first humans to walk North America, arriving as the last glaciers melted.
    Another was carved of red-and-green chert from Lake Munsungan, in northwestern Maine.
    "I've worked on a Paleoindian site in Maine once as a volunteer, but I never have actually excavated anything that I thought was from that very early period.
    Her collegues in New Brunswick and Maine agree with her that these tools seem to date back to Paleoindian time. But if there is definitive proof that Paleoindian people camped on this spot - such as a slender, fluted Paleoindian spearhead - it still lies beneath the soil.
    Several stone cores left here from carving of spearheads are also Paleoindian in character.
    Chesley Drive's treasure also includes:

  • Spearheads of the Maritime Archaic people, who roamed this area 3,700 to 4,500 years ago.
  • A piece of neck ornament, made of ground and carefully perforated slate, from 3,000 years ago. There were also pieces of stone blades and arrowheads chipped in the Meadowood style.
  • Maliseet arrowheads from the time of European contact.

   This is the only site, Ms. Allen knows of that combines the history of all four Native eras.
    "There are cultural connections to, just about every time period that, we have identified where there was Native use of the landscape. It's a terrific site.
   In all, her team of five turned up around 200 prehistoric Native artifacts, which are sitting in a repository in Fredericton. But what the team found in this four-week project represents only the tip of the iceberg.
   Her project was only a sampling test, based on digging holes 55 centimetres wide and 10 metres apart.
    "What we have is a very small sample. But it gives us a good impression of what the site would have to offer as a research tool.
    "It is just totally amazing that this site with all these time periods represented, continued to exist with the building of Saint John all around. Our Port City was built right up around this, and they left it here intact. It's "a fantastic site. "
   Excavating the entire site and systematically cataloguing its contents would be out of the question for her tiny staff for lack of funding.
   Anyone caught digging at a protected heritage site can be fined from $120 to $2,500.
   Ann Ralph, the Saint John YM- YWCA's chief executive officer, said her group doesn't intend to harm the ledge, which is not in the pathway of the new facilities she will build on Chesley Drive.
   "We're not going to do anything that would infringe on the conditions that go with a historic site."
   But if there's any way it can make use of the property's historical significance - by making it into a park or displaying some of the provincial government's artifacts collected from here - the Y would not turn the opportunity down, she said.
   Mr. Burley said he has already had preliminary talks with Ms. Ralph, and is waiting for more details of what she has in mind.
   "We had a very good, positive discussion, and we're looking forward to getting together."

This story was taken from the Times Globe, September/2001