Archaeological evidence suggests that the Beothuk inhabited Newfoundland long before European colonization and that they may be descended from earlier people who occupied the Island for several thousand years. In prehistoric times, they seem to have been primarily a coastal people organized in small bands throughout the various bays to fish and hunt seals, other sea mammals and birds. They also may have visited interior locations to take caribou at river crossings, but the pattern of a winter-long interior occupation does not seem to have occurred until postcontact times.
In both the prehistoric and historic periods, the Beothuk dwelt in bark- or skin-covered tents in summer and in semisubterranean houses during the cold months. Bows and arrows, harpoons and spears were used in hunting, which often took place from seaworthy bark canoes with a high prow and stern and a sheer which rose markedly amidships. However, the most distinctive of Beothuk artifacts are carved bone, antler and ivory pendants intricately decorated with incised patterns. Many of these items were recovered from grave sites in caves or rock shelters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Another notable feature of Beothuk culture was the people's lavish use of powdered hematite, or red ochre, with which they painted their canoes, other artifacts and even their bodies. Since these people were the first North American aborigines encountered by Europeans, it is possible that their custom of using red ochre was responsible for the sobriquet "Red Indians," which was later applied to all native peoples on this continent.
As a result of European encroachment, slaughter and diseases to which they had no natural resistance, the Beothuk's numbers diminished rapidly following contact. The last known surviving Beothuk, SHAWNADITHIT, died of tuberculosis in St John's in June 1829.
Author JAMES A. TUCK
J.P. Howley, The Beothuks or Red Indians (1915); Ralph Pastore, Shanawdithit's People: the Archaeology of the Beothuks(1992); F.W. Rowe, Extinction: The Beothuks of Newfoundland (1977) .
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
Boyd's Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre
This Boyd's Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre website examines the history of the Beothuk people. Produced by the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Baccalieu: Crossroads For Cultures
This site is devoted to the colourful history of the Baccalieu Trail region of Newfoundland and Labrador. Focuses on the Beothuk people, early European settlements, and the pirates who plundered local communities. Check out the glossary, online timeline, historic documents, maps, learning activities and much more.
The official website for the Town of Botwood, a historic community in Exploits Valley. This site offers a guide to the many local tourist attractions and a review of major events in its long history, including the fate of the local Beothuk community, the early European settlements, the flying boat era, the wartime role of the Botwood airbase, and much more.
Canada’s First Nations
This extensive multimedia website profiles the history, culture, and language of Canada's First Nations peoples. Also examines the impact of European contact on First Nations communities. A joint project of the University of Calgary and Red Deer College.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...