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  • The Beothuk Indians

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    e_Type1&c=Article&cid=1123278612004&call_pageid=10 12319932217&col=101231992892

    Aug. 6, 2005. 01:00 AM
    LUCAS OLENIUK/TOR0NTO STAR Filmmaker Christopher Gagosz
    poses with the reconstructed head of Beothuk Indian chief Nonosabasut. The
    reconstruction was made from a casting of the chief’s skull, preserved at a museum
    in Scotland. Beothuk Mystery
    The Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland have been extinct for nearly 200 years

    Now, researchers are learning what happened to them, Peter Calamai reports

    On a frigid March day almost two hundred years ago, two groups of
    individuals warily eyed each other on a frozen lake in the remote interior of
    On one side were 10 heavily armed men, English settlers from a fishing and
    fur-trading community five days' walk away on the coast. On the other were
    roughly 16 Beothuk Indians, mostly women and children.
    Encouraged by the island's governor, the settlers were ostensibly on a peace
    mission to end decades of conflict between the European occupiers and
    Newfoundland's dwindling original population. But there was also the lure of a
    reward of 100 British pounds for anyone bringing a "Red Indian" back alive to St.
    Initially, the Beothuk ran away to avoid a confrontation. Yet within
    minutes, a physical struggle erupted, angry shouts rang out and musket shots echoed
    across the ice. When the commotion and smoke cleared, the chief of the
    Beothuk band and his brother lay sprawled dead on the ice.
    The settlers dragged off the chief's young wife, condemning the
    still-nursing baby left behind to a quick death. Less than a year later, the woman
    herself died from tuberculosis before she could be returned home.
    The deaths of this family group — including the band's two principal adult
    hunters — apparently sealed the fate of an entire tribe and a unique way of
    life. Within a decade, the Beothuk had become extinct, the most celebrated
    First Nations group to suffer that fate in Canada.
    The extinction added to the legends swirling around the Beothuk, people who
    featured little in written records because they shunned contact with the
    white colonists. Since some were well over six feet tall, they were rumoured to
    have Viking blood. Yet, the only authentic Beothuk depiction is a portrait of
    the doomed chief's petite wife painted during her captivity in St. John's.
    This supposed mystery of the Beothuk could well turn out to be more
    imaginary than real, as their life story is now finally being reconstructed with the
    same passion and scientific rigour applied to other native groups.
    As a start, Toronto independent filmmaker Christopher Gagosz has used
    forensic techniques popularized by TV shows like CSI to examine how this one
    encounter on the ice pushed the Beothuk over the extinction precipice.
    As well, the making of the documentary is helping to jump-start a
    longer-term scientific investigation into the origins of the Beothuk, their links to
    present-day native groups and their place in the initial peopling of the New
    "For us, it's the first step in what we hope will be a very big regional
    study," says Newfoundland archaeologist and ethnohistorian Ingeborg Marshall,
    author of a definitive book about the Beothuk.
    That first step involved scientific techniques familiar to viewers of
    forensic TV dramas, including:
    Performing genetic analysis on ancient DNA extracted from teeth in the
    museum-preserved skulls of two Beothuk present at Red Indian Lake on March 5,
    Creating a life-like head of the slain Beothuk chief to probe the cause of
    Determining the dominant diet and primary dwelling area of the Beothuk
    through the composition of their teeth.
    "I wanted to do a CSI. I wanted to apply science to see what really
    happened," Gagosz says.
    His findings provide forensic backing for the reasons historians and
    anthropologists generally offer about why the Beothuk were already in a perilous
    state by the early 19th century.
    The native population had not been large even two centuries earlier when
    fishing boats from Europe first visited Newfoundland, probably numbering no more
    than 500. Since then, their numbers had been thinned through deliberate
    killing by the colonists, through introduced diseases and, most of all, through
    starvation since European settlement denied the Beothuk access to their
    traditional protein-rich marine diet.
    But Gagosz's hour-long documentary, to be aired on Canada's History
    Television channel in January, also provides a new explanation for why the supposed
    peace mission flared into the deadly shootings that sealed the fate of an
    entire people.
    A crucial piece of forensic evidence points to the possibility that there
    was already bad blood between the most influential settler and the chief of
    this last sizable surviving band of Beothuk camped for the winter on the shore
    of the lake. In the end, lingering distrust from a previous violent encounter
    between the two may have tipped the scales, Gagosz says.
    "We've put a spotlight on a moment in time when a peace mission, which set
    out to make contact with the Beothuk, actually tilted them into extinction,"
    he says.
    Key to this new insight is a life-like head of the Beothuk chief,
    Nonosabasut, sculpted by Scottish forensic reconstruction specialist Richard Neave
    based on a resin replica of the chief's skull. In turn, that replica was
    generated from a 3-D scan of the chief's real skull, preserved for years in the
    mammals and birds section of the Royal Museum in Edinburgh and shown for visitors
    on request.

    `No one will ever really know what happened on the ice that day'
    Christopher Gagosz, filmmaker

    The museum also has a second skull, that of Nonosabasut's wife Demasduit,
    who was abducted by the settlers. The two skulls were donated in 1827 by
    William Cormack, Newfoundland-born and Scottish-educated adventurer, who had looted
    them from the Beothuk graves.
    One scientist interviewed for the documentary, forensic anthropologist Tracy
    Rogers, examined the chief's reconstructed head, replica skull and 3-D scan.
    She concluded that there was no evidence of trauma that could have been the
    cause of death.
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  • #2

    "But there was damage to the lower jaw that looked like it had healed over
    some time. People who saw the original skull thought it might have been caused
    by a blade," says Rogers, a professor at the Mississauga campus of the
    University of Toronto.
    It was probably a bayonet, Gagosz says, and possibly one linked to John
    Peyton, an elderly English fur and fish trader who the Beothuk chief tried to
    throttle at Red Indian Lake. Accounts suggest that several years earlier,
    Nonosabasut may have had a violent run-in with another armed group of settlers led
    by Peyton.
    Nonosabasut's assault at the lake was undoubtedly provoked. His wife,
    Demasduit, was run down and taken captive within minutes of the initial encounter
    as she fled with her husband and the others. Nonosabasut then approached the
    heavily armed settlers bearing only a spruce branch to show he had laid aside
    his bow and other weapons.
    When his passionate words failed to win the release of his wife, Nonosabasut
    seized Peyton by the collar. Other settlers stabbed the chief in the back
    with a bayonet and then shot him dead. His brother was shot fatally as he ran
    While historians generally accept the above version of events, there's
    little agreement about what led to the fatal escalation. Had the settlers simply
    released Demasduit, the Beothuk men would have almost certainly left
    Gagosz believes the injury to Nonosabasut's jaw is probably the key to the
    puzzle, since no settler mentioned the scar, ensuring no awkward questions to
    expose the previous altercation a few years earlier.
    "No one will ever really know what happened on the ice that day. But this
    forensic investigation has helped us understand better what the motives might
    have been and why things turned out the way they did," he says.
    The CSI-style documentary is just the beginning for Ingeborg Marshall and
    several other researchers in Newfoundland and Ontario eager to tackle a much
    more complex puzzle about the Beothuk: their origins and their place in the
    peopling of North America that began at least 15,000 years ago.
    The group intends to apply shortly for funding from the Social Sciences and
    Humanities Research Council, a federal granting body whose maximum grant is
    $250,000 over three years.
    "Do the Innu of Labrador and the Mi'kmaq share a common ancestor with the
    Beothuk? That's part of the bigger question," says Ban Younghusband, a
    molecular geneticist at Memorial University in St. John's and a member of the
    research team.
    Such questions can be answered by analyzing genetic information from
    present-day native groups along with that preserved in ancient DNA. Examine ancient
    DNA from enough Beothuk and it's theoretically possible to construct a family
    tree showing their genetic diversity. Combine that with similar information
    about other aboriginal groups and it should be possible to picture the entire
    genetic tapestry of the New World before the arrival of Europeans.
    "We can use that diversity to calculate the minimum number of people who
    came across the Bering Strait and when they came," says Hendrik Poinar, an
    anthropology professor who directs a highly specialized ancient DNA lab at
    McMaster University.
    Poinar got his first chance to examine Beothuk genetics as part of the
    forensic investigation for Gagosz's documentary, looking for DNA patterns called
    haplo groups in the more abundant mitochondrial DNA passed down only through
    the female line.
    Working with powder drilled from inside two teeth (one from each museum
    skull), he determined that Nonosabasut carried the uncommon haplo group X found
    only among present-day native peoples living on the northeast coast: the
    Mi'kmaq and Innu. DNA from Demasduit revealed haplo group C, a pattern widespread
    in North and South America.
    "The maternal side of their history is characteristic of people who walked
    across the Bering Strait," Poinar says.
    The same two teeth also provided research fodder for Darren Grocke, a
    McMaster University geochemist who measures the tell-tale proportions of different
    isotopes of oxygen and nitrogen in the carbonate and collagen of the teeth.
    Grocke wasn't told the origin of the material. Yet, the nitrogen ratios
    measured in his lab indicated a highly carnivorous diet for the owner of those
    teeth, consistent with the Beothuk's preference for seals, smelt, salmon and
    seabird eggs. The oxygen ratios suggested people who largely got their drinking
    water from a lake.
    With more remains covering a longer period of time, these isotope ratios
    could reveal when the Beothuk switched diet and whether the pressure came from
    climate change or human competition, Grocke says.
    "You can come up with a magical story," he says.
    Yet, there may not be enough Beothuk remains for the scientific magic that
    teases out such lifestyle changes or paints their genetic tapestry.
    Fewer than 20 individuals are likely represented by the two skulls in
    Scotland, and the bones at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and Newfoundland's
    provincial museum. Some experts say the minimum needed is twice that.
    For the Beothuk, this would constitute the final irony. Even in extinction,
    there are too few of them.
    _Additional articles by Peter Calamai_
    ================================================== ===

    e_Type1&c=Article&cid=1123278612266&call_pageid=10 12319932217&col=101231992892

    Aug. 6, 2005. 01:00 AM
    Targets=58,1295,527,1258,439,877&Values=31,43,51,6 0,72,86,92,101,110,150,201,2
    07,211,227,230,284,342,374,375,409,442,449&RawValu es=TID,11nbf6d11c3srj&Redire
    ( The Beothuks

    Who: Aboriginal hunter-gatherers numbering in the hundreds who were already
    settled in Newfoundland when European fishermen visited in the 16th century.
    Painted their bodies and faces with a mixture of grease and red ochre as a
    sign of tribal identity. Bands ranged between 35 and 55 members.
    Where: Beothuk Indians and their forebears lived in all of Newfoundland's
    major bays at one time or another. By the 18th century, they were centred on
    the region around the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake in the island's
    Character: The Beothuk were proud, shunning European contact, and also
    ingenious in reworking nails and other metal objects scavenged from abandoned
    fishing stations. Two Beothuk women captives were considered to have been gentle,
    intelligent and affectionate. Beothuk chief Nonosabasut displayed
    exceptional courage.
    Dress: Both men and women wore a cloak of caribou skins sewn together, with
    the hairy side inwards for warmth. Thrown over the shoulders and wrapped
    around the body, it was held in place by a belt. Fur skins often provided collars
    or trim. Separate covers protected the arms and pant-like leggings stretched
    to the waist. They were shod in ankle moccasins and higher boots, both made
    from caribou.
    Food: On the coast, Beothuk had a rich diet of seals, beaver, geese,
    cormorants, flounder, salmon, smelt and even polar bear. They hunted caribou during
    the annual fall migration and never grew dependent on European foods like
    flour, salt meat and dried peas.
    Dwellings: The Beothuk mamateek could be conical, square, oval, pentagonal,
    hexagonal or octagonal. The simplest consisted of sheets of birch bark
    attached to slanting poles that met in the centre. More elaborate structures had
    walls made from planks driven into the earth. More than a dozen people might
    live in one mamateek.
    Sources: Newfoundland Heritage Website; A History and Ethnography of the
    Beothuk, by Ingeborg Marshall.
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