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Birds were the Heart of Extinct Beothuk Nation’s Religion: Study

By Randy Boswell

Archeologists have shed stunning new light on the extinct Beothuk nation of Newfoundland, revealing through a study of carved pendants unearthed from coastal burial sites that the ill-fated people — who had inhabited the region for at least 1,000 years before the devastating arrival of Europeans in the 15th century — placed birds at the centre of their complex religious cosmology, believing the winged creatures were “spiritual messengers” that carried the souls of the dead to an “island afterlife.”

The remarkable revelations about the vanished culture, the 19th-century eclipse of which remains one of the central tragedies of Canadian history, are detailed in a paper published this week in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal by University of Alberta researcher Todd Kristensen and his U.S. co-author Donald Holly.

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