Identification of Samples of Archaeological Seeds from L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

John E. Dawson
Contract No. C1632/76-191

Seed samples collected at the Norse site, L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, were submitted for identification. Descriptions of the origin of the seed, i.e. native, imported, domestic or wild [referred to in the report as the status of the species], and of the climate associated with the propagation of the seed, were given.

The identification involved both microscopic examination of the samples for morphological characteristics and a comparison with available seed manuals, and, if possible, with seeds from correctly identified herbarium specimens of the Biosystematic Research Institute, Ottawa. The present day occurrence of the species at L’Anse aux Meadows was based on the check list in the report by Meades, et al (1975). Those samples identified to the species level follow in alphabetical order. Their overall range and normal habitat preferences are described. Following these species are the samples identified to family but only tentatively to genus and species. Finally, the samples identified as non-seed material or not identifiable are recorded. A brief discussion based on the identifiable seeds concludes the report.

Fragaria virginiana Duchesne – Strawberry

Rosaceae (Rose family)

Sample no.:

4A71B3-600numerous seeds
4A71G4-601several partial seeds
4A71K2-600numerous seeds


Native species (Fernald, 1950; Gleason and Cronquist, 1963)

Staudt (1962) reports that all subspecies of this species are native to North America. It was introduced from North America to Europe soon after the colonization of Canada by the French, and Virginia and New England by the British.

Present range:

Newfoundland to Alberta, south to Nova Scotia, New England, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

This species is currently growing at the site.


F. virginiana Duschesne tends to be found in fields, open slopes and borders of woods.

Juglans cinerea L.. – Butternut

Juglandaceae (Walnut family)

Sample no.:

4A0H2-1one nut, intact
4A71F3-600one nut, partially intact


Native species to eastern North America, but not to Newfoundland (Fernald, 1950; Gleason and Cronquist, 1963)

Present range:

New Brunswick to northern Georgia, and west to North Dakota and northern Arkansas (U.S.D.A. 1948). The closest present-day population of J. cinerea L. to L’Anse aux Meadows is northern New Brunswick […].


The species grows in a wide range of locations, including dry, rocky soils (particularly of limestone origin), but its optimum conditions are met by moist, well-drained fertile soil in shallow valleys and on gradual slopes. It is found as a scattered tree or in small groups among other species of hardwood and, rarely, conifers (Hosie 1969). J. cinerea L.. is very susceptible to fire damage, and, even though it has a deep tap root, it is easily damaged by storms (Van Dersal 1938). The need for relatively rich (basic) soils and the tendency to storm damage would likely be sufficient to prevent J. cinerea L. from growing at the L’Anse aux Meadows site, and, for that matter, from much of Newfoundland.

The fruit of J. cinerea L. is known to be edible both to animals and to humans; any long-range dispersal for this species is largely attributable to these vectors. The water separating Newfoundland from the mainland, although not of great distances in some directions, has been an effective biogeographical barrier to animal species. However, humans have not been as adversely affected. An additional use for the fruit is that an iodine-like yellow dye can be extracted from the fruit husks. Harlow (1957) reports that early settlers used the solution to dye clothing and that Indians used the dye to paint their heads. Human transportation of these seeds to the L’Anse aux Meadows site would seem the most likely explanation for their occurrence […]

Source: Parks Canada, , C1632/76-191, John E. Dawson, "Identification of Samples of Archaeological Seeds from L\'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland," May 31, 1977, 1,3,5-6.

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