Evidence of First Peoples is recognized through distinctive stone tools which are known only to belong to Palaeo-Indian tool kits. Isolated finds have been recorded in each of the three Maritime Provinces; however only one major living area, near Debert and Belmont in Colchester County, has so far been identified. Radiocarbon dating places the age of these finds at approximately 10, 600 years ago.
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.
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).
The excavations at Debert identified a number of occupation loci over an area of 9 hectares (22 acres). The archaeologists recovered 4500 artifacts, many characteristic of the Palaeo-Indian tool kit. The most characteristic attribute of hafted tools found on Palaeo-Indian sites is channel fluting. To join stone tools such, as spear points, to wood or bone shafts, the base of the tool was thinned by removing slender channel flakes. The resulting concave flake scar is called a channel flute. Also found at Debert were large stone knives that may have been used to butcher caribou. The hides of the animals would have been cleaned using large side scrapers and smaller end scrapers. Many of these end scrapers were formed with small points, or spurs, again a trait unique to the Palaeo-Indians. There were gravers, as well, small pointed tools which may have been used for sewing and/or woodworking.
Limited testing was carried out at the new sites in 1990 under the direction of Dr. Stephen Davis of Saint Mary's University. An intact living floor was uncovered at Belmont II and over 700 artifacts were recovered during the excavation, including the first fluted point discovered in a buried context in Nova Scotia since 1964. All of the artifacts from the Belmont sites were virtually identical to the Debert specimens, both in form and material.No further work has been conducted on the Belmont sites since 1991.
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.