Backgrounder Article from
Kitjigattalik The Ramah Chert Quarries, Torngat Mountain National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
Kitjigattalik is the source of a distinctive translucent stone known as Ramah chert, found only in Torngat Mountains National Park in northernmost Labrador. Actively quarried from 5,000 to 600 years ago by several ancient First Peoples cultures of the northeast, Ramah chert was used in the manufacture of everyday tools and other objects. The most widely traded tool stone known in the Canadian Northeast, it figured in long-distance exchange networks that extended throughout eastern Canada and into New England. Objects of Ramah chert have been found at archaeological sites along the entire length of the Labrador coast, along the Quebec North Shore, in the interior of Labrador and Quebec, in Ungava Bay, on Southampton Island, Baffin Island, on the Island of Newfoundland, in the Maritimes and in New England. One piece has been recovered as far south as Maryland, while the westernmost find was in Peterborough, Ontario. One specimen was even found during archaeological excavations in 1935 at the Norse settlement of Sandnes in Greenland. The study of Ramah chert has revealed something of the complexity of ancient trade systems and economies, and the important role that exchange played in keeping cultures alive. It has allowed an understanding of the long-distance travel capabilities and the inter-connectedness of ancient peoples who are too often assumed to have lived in isolation.
First discovered by the earliest Archaic settlers of Northern Labrador, Ramah chert was the tool stone of choice for many successive cultures despite the remote location of the quarries and the difficulties of travel along northern Labrador’s forbidding coastline. The distances involved in reaching the quarries and then transporting the material southward were evidently factors of less importance than its desirability.
At certain periods, Ramah chert appears to have been closely aligned with cultural identity. This was the case during the late Archaic period in northern Labrador, the late Dorset period in northern Labrador, and throughout the Late Precontact period for Amerindian groups living along the length of the Labrador coast. It is notably linked to early belief systems and burial practices. Objects of Ramah chert are found in late Archaic-period burials (ca. 4,500 years ago) extending from northern Labrador to New England. It is quite likely that the quarries themselves were also imbued with symbolic meaning. Symbolic value is reflected in the unusual caches of carefully made Ramah chert objects that have been discovered in southernmost Labrador, which appear to have had no practical purpose. Symbolism and cultural identity are equally evident in the Late Dorset Palaeo-Eskimo and Late Precontact Innu periods of Labrador (spanning from 1,200 to 600 years ago) when Ramah chert was the only stone used to make tools, despite the availability of many other high quality tool stone varieties.
Title of the Image: Kitjigattalik, Ramah Chert Quarries National Historic Site
Source of the Image: Torngat Mountains Experiences 2015 Summer Brochure on Parks Canada Website
(Click on First Link under Experiences to Discover titled: Visitor Program Guide Summer 2015 (pdf File) Image is on 2nd Page bottom left)
Search for related information by keyword
Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology
- Date modified: