Image of the excavation at Fort Louis (New Fort NE Bastion excavation 2007) (Source: Steve Mills).
Many times archaeologists can only greet some artefacts with a furrowed brow. Their response can only be maybe a slightly more articulate version of ‘huh?’ Now, sometimes there’s an iota of context that can provide a modicum of identity for the artefact.
They may have the location within a known site and they’ve maybe got some idea of the time. So, they’ve definitely got a bit of the ‘where,’ as well as the ‘when.’ As for the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘why,’ they’re stymied. The only thing we know or certain is the creator was invested in sharing a message. That’s all.
An Inscribed Rock
In Placentia Bay, members of the public encountered a rock bearing a curious inscription. Located in Haystack, Long Island, it’s anyone’s guess what the inscription means. Urve Linnamae had conducted archaeological surveys on some of the Placentia Bay islands.
She had identified sites potentially of Maritime Archaic and Dorset Pre-Inuit origin. However, as noted by later archaeologists, the inscriptions were likely made using a metal tool. This would’ve removed Maritime Archaic or Dorset as a possiblity as neither possessed metal tools.
Image of inscription in Haystack, Long Island, Placentia Bay (Screenshot from “Graffiti”)
It’s anyone’s guess what the inscription was intended to mean. John Robinson who published Olde Founde Land in 1997 pointed to it being a reference to the voyage of St. Brendan, occurring in the mid-500s AD and recorded in 950 AD. Maybe.
John Robinson’s explanation was possibly a form of postdiction, wherein our minds fill in the unknowns in an effort to complete the story. So, we take what we do know and try to make some sort of sense of it. He had little else to go on.
Locals in the area referred to it as ‘the Frenchman’s letter,’ knowing the region was initially settled by the French. However, they were simply basing it on the presence of French and an ignorance of the French alphabet. It’s largely much like the English alphabet, but as expected, the locals didn’t realise. Again, it’s anyone’s guess. Thus, at the moment, the only person or people who know the origin of the writing are those who originally inscribed the symbols.
Doodling or Something More
Hopping over to Jerseyside, in the Town of Placentia on the eastern shore of Placentia Bay, we find another mystery. Located in the Fort Louis excavations that took place in 2011, the archaeologist, Matthew Simmonds, revealed three pieces of slate (page 161). They were presumably roof tiles.
Curiously, each had an image inscribed on its surface. One was a sundial, the slate etched with Roman numerals I to XI, minus the IV. Another possessed a two-masted sailing vessel with the rigging and portholes visible. One also had a drawing of a two-masted sailing vessel, its two masted sails, yard arms, rigging and hull planking. A final one possessed what appeared to be a woven basket.
It’s difficult to see, but these are the slate rocks possessing images found during the Fort Louis dig (Source: Matthew Simmonds).
Were these drawings made for a particular person? Or were they just the casual doodles of an individual with a passing flavour of artistry? We haven’t a clue. Still, there’s beauty in the intention of communication with someone.
Any writing is simply a form of communication, one with ourselves or someone else. If it’s simply a set of characters that’s been written, ones we can identify as letters or numerals, we may understand. However, much like in these instances, we not have a clue of the message being shared. All we do know is that some form of communication was occurring.
In the end, whether it’s the characters on the rock, the odd designs on the pieces of slate or any number of mysterious finds archaeologists uncover, there’s one thing they hold in common. They are each a desire to share an idea over time and space. And we may never have any notion of that idea. But it’s much like encountering the pathway, knowing it once led to some unknown destination.
We have no idea of what, in particular, the creator was seeking to share. It offers a glimpse of the connections that held people together then as it does now. And we’re certainly not averse to putting together the known quantities in various ways and then simply guessing. Much like John Robinson, we take some known knowledge and then somehow incorporate it into our mystery.
Moreover, there’s an element of poetry in not knowing. Everyone’s imagination can forever fly to the stars with their best guess. That’s the allure of a mystery. We’d love to finally discover the hidden meanings behind these mysterious finds. Still, we remain in awe of the quiet and hidden intentions they embody.