Debert Palaeo-Indian Site
The Debert/Belmont area occupies a commanding view near the head of Cobequid Bay and was ideally situated to intercept herds of migrating caribou once common to the Maritimes. Archaeological evidence indicates small, seasonal hunting camps, perhaps re-visited over several generations. Only stone artifacts have survived at the Debert site, since organic materials rapidly disintegrate due to acidic forest soils. However, close examination of a number of the hunting tools has revealed blood residue which has been tentatively identified as caribou. Other seasonal large and smaller game, fish and fowl would have been important food and raw material sources. Adaptation to the harsh environment probably included tailored clothing and skin-covered tents on wooden frames.
A Designated Special PlaceThe importance of the Debert site has been recognized by the archaeological community across North America. The Heritage Division has designated the site a Special Place under the Special Places Protection Act. The site qualifies for this special status for many reasons: it is the only Palaeo-Indian site in Nova Scotia and is the oldest archaeological site in the province; it is the most northeasterly Palaeo-Indian occupation positively identified; and, it is one of the few Palaeo-Indian sites to have been discovered within the portion of North America that was glaciated. The protected area now covers 260 hectares (650 acres).
DebertThe Debert area gained prominence during the Second World War when it was a major air base and staging area for troops and material bound for overseas. At this time, much of what was to become the Debert Palaeo-Indian site was destroyed during the construction of a parking lot, and what remained was seriously compromised by its use as a mortar range.
The Debert site was discovered in 1948, when an abundance of blueberries attracted E.S. Eaton and his wife to the old base. The wind had exposed some artifacts on the surface of the parking lot and these were collected by Mr. Eaton. The significance of the site was recognized in 1955, but archaeological testing did not take place until 1962, when D.S. Byers, the Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, and R.S. MacNeish, chief archaeologist of the National Museum of Canada, confirmed that sections of the Palaeo-Indian occupation remained intact. Full-scale excavation took place in 1963 and 1964, under the direction of George MacDonald of the National Museum of Man (MacDonald, 1968).
Belmont - A New DiscoveryIn the late autumn of 1989, employees at the Department of Lands and Forests Tree Breeding Center at Debert expressed concern that their stumping operations may have been disturbing archaeological remains. The area was checked by archaeologists from the Nova Scotia Museum and Saint Mary's University and they confirmed the presence of two new Palaeo-Indian sites, dubbed Belmont I and II. It was estimated that the sites covered an area of approximately 20 hectares.
Suggested ReadingByers, Douglas S. The Debert Paleo-Indian Site: a guide for stop no.11 field trip no.4. Geological Association of Canada, 1966. MS on file at the Nova Scotia Museum.
MacDonald, George F. Debert: A Palaeo-Indian Site in Central Nova Scotia. National Museum of Man: Ottawa, 1968.
Tuck, James A. Maritime Provinces Prehistory. National Museum of Man: Ottawa, 1984.
Keenlyside, David L. "Paleoindian Occupations of the Maritimes Region of Canada." In Clovis: Origins and Adaptations. Bonnichsen, Robson and Karen L. Turnmire eds. pp.163-173. Center for the Study of the First Americans, Oregon State University: Corvallis, 1991.
Davis, Dr. Stephen A. "Two Concentrations of Palaeo-Indian Occupation in the Far Northeast." In Journal of American Archaeologyno.3, June 1991, pp.31-56.
Bonnichsen, Robson, David Keenlyside, and Karen Turnmire. "Paleoindian Patterns in Maine and the Maritimes." In Prehistoric Archaeology in the Maritime Provinces: past and present research. Deal, Michael and Susan Blair eds. pp. 1-36. New Brunswick Archaeological Services: Fredericton, 1991.
Brewster, Gordon, S.A. Davis, M. Frappier and R. Mott, and R. Stea. "Preliminary Report on the Debert/Belmont Palaeo-Indian Project." In Powell, Stephen T., ed. Archaeology in Nova Scotia 1991. Nova Scotia Museum Curatorial Report No. 81. pp.81-88. Nova Scotia Museum: Halifax, 1996.