Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Research Article

Birds, Burials and Sacred Cosmology of the Indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland, Canada

Todd J. Kristensena1 and Donald H. Holly Jra2

a1 Department of Anthropology, 13-15 HM Tory Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2H4, Canada Email:

a2 Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Eastern Illinois University, 600 Lincoln Avenue, Charleston, IL 61920, USA Email:


The Indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland disappeared as a cultural entity in the early nineteenth century. Prior to this, the Beothuk had few direct interactions with Europeans, and those that occurred were generally of a hostile nature. As a result, very little is known about Beothuk religious life. Drawing on available ethnohistoric records, an analysis of burial site locations and funerary objects, we offer an interpretation of Beothuk sacred cosmology that places birds at the centre of their belief system.

(Received March 22 2012)

(Accepted October 26 2012)

(Revised October 19 2012)

Todd Kristensen is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada. He studies Northern Subarctic subsistence and ideology of hunters and gatherers.

Donald H. Holly Jr. is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Eastern Illinois University. His research focuses on the archaeology of hunters and gatherers in the Eastern Subarctic.