The Archaeology of Ontario: A Summary
Archaeology is a branch of Anthropology, the study of Humanity in general, and is the study of people based on the "things" they have left behind. These "things" may be tools they have made and used, buildings or other structures built for various purposes, traces of different activities they may have engaged in, the bodies of people themselves or even indirect evidence of the impact people had on the land or the impact the land might have had upon them. Primarily, then, archaeologists study the traces and remains of people in the past, often the distant past for which we may have no other records.
Like many academic disciplines, archaeology works best when done in conjunction with other, related, kinds of research. Other branches of Anthropology, like Linguistics (the study of languages) and Ethnography (the study of different cultures and ways of life), provide comparisons with related or unrelated peoples who live similar lifestyles. Similarly, disciplines like Botany, History, Geography, Zoology, and Geology can provide insights into the past, both to discover and interpret residues and traces of the activities of people and conditions of the time which might have indirectly influenced them. Results of all these disciplines will be included in the following summary of the prehistory and early history of Ontario.
The archaeological "history" of Ontario can be divided into two "periods", the prehistoric period which predates written documents, and the historic period, which has been at least partially recorded in written documents. The contribution of archaeology to these periods is different, however, because of the existence of this documentation. The prehistoric period is known only through study of archaeological remains but is supported by comparisons with the lifestyles of people who live or lived similar kinds of lifestyles. The contribution of archaeology to the historic period, however, is different in that written records provide us with much information about the broad trends of the period. Instead, archaeology may tell us about aspects of people that were not fully recorded in historical documents. Some people, such as the very poor or the isolated, were either not recorded in historical records or were recorded by people who did not care to know much about them. Slaves, for example, were poorly represented in the historical record and archaeology can provide one means to understand them and their lives better. Archaeology can also give us an independent means to understand events which may not have been accurately recorded for various reasons. An archaeological investigation of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where General Custer was defeated by the Sioux, has provided new insights into the events of this battle for which there is no other record.
The prehistory of Ontario spans approximately 11,000 years from the first arrival of Ice Age Paleo-Indian hunters to the arrival of European fur traders and missionaries in the 17th century. Of course, the occupation of Ontario by the "First Nations" did not end at this time but in many ways their traditional ways of life ended or were transformed because of their contacts with Europeans. Today, traces of this prehistoric past are preserved in archaeological sites scattered across the province. Below, clues to this past have been reconstructed from scatters of incongruous flakes of chert, fragments of pottery, patterns of post moulds, burial mounds, fossilized pollen and many other clues found by trained archaeologists. These "clues" allow archaeologists and anthropologists to first reconstruct a "history" of people who left no written records and then compare and contrast these reconstructions with those of other peoples, both in prehistory and in the recent past.
The historic period follows the arrival of Europeans in the area and is at least partially recorded through documents. This period is characterized by increasing dominance of Europeans and is subdivided according to the major sources and types of European influence. The archaeological study of this time period is not directed towards revealing the major events, as these are adequately recorded by written documents, but in learning about the many aspects of life of these times not documented in the records.
In the following brief summary of the archaeological record of Ontario, events will proceed from the earliest time periods to the latest. Before we begin, however, it is important to "set the stage" by describing the geographic and environmental conditions present during the arrival of people into Ontario.
The North American continent separated from the European continent by the process known as continental drift, about 55 million years ago. Around 10 million years ago, the North American continent joined with the South American continent but with little significant impact on the flora and fauna of the northern continent. Since that time North America remained in relative isolation until the beginning of the recent ice-age, about 1.8 million years ago. This recent ice-age was characterized by five major advances of ice sheets, each producing glaciers, which covered most of the northern extent of the continent. These glacial advances acted like giant "bull-dozers", scraping and remodelling the land. During the most recent glacial advance, beginning around 30,000 years ago, the basins of what were to become the Great Lakes were sculpted. The Oak Ridges Moraine, just north of the Toronto area, is a deep deposit of dirt mounded by the glaciers. The bulldozing action of the glaciers also obliterated much of the previous geography of southern Ontario though some traces do remain. The Dundas valley, just west of Hamilton, and Jordan's Harbour, near St. Catharines, are two examples of partially filled preglacial river valleys.
Aside from the land remodelling caused by the glaciers, two major results of glaciation are important in understanding the resulting changes in geography. The first consequence of glaciation is the amount of water locked up in the ice sheets. The vast amount of water needed to produce the glaciers caused a lowering of world-wide ocean levels, exposing vast amounts of land which are now submerged under the higher water levels.
One of these areas was the large, shallow shelf between present day Alaska and Siberia. This area, called Beringia, was a broad, low, continent sized expanse which is believed to have not been glaciated. Instead, studies of the glacial climate of this area suggests cool, wet, grasslands capable of supporting vast herds of grazing animals. This area was probably open during several, if not all, of the glacial advances and it is believed that numerous species of animals migrated across Beringia during these periods in both directions. This is also believed to have been the route of the first migrants into North America over 20,000 years ago.
The second important result of glacial advance is the depression of land under and around the ice sheets. Continental shelves, upon which land masses rest, can be compared to rafts floating on the fluid magma, or molten rock, of the earth beneath. When glacial ice sheets, often over a mile in thickness, rest on this land, they are depressed relative to surrounding land. In some areas, these depressed areas formed large lakes along the southern margins of the glaciers. In eastern Ontario, the weight of the glaciers depressed the land enough to allow salt water from the Atlantic Ocean to move well up into the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys. This area, known as the Champlain Sea, was an extension of salt water into areas as far west as Pembroke and Deep River in the Ottawa Valley and Brockville along the St. Lawrence River. As the weight of the glaciers was removed, the land began to slowly spring back up, a process known as isostatic rebound, changing drainage patterns and relative elevations. Ten thousand years ago, for example, both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were much smaller than they are today and Lake Huron did not drain south through the Detroit River as it does now. Instead, the northern Great Lakes drained through a channel near present day North Bay and down the Ottawa River Valley to the Saint Lawrence. It was only after the land in this area had rebounded from the weight of the ice that the Great Lakes drained through Lakes Erie and Ontario as they now do.
Finally, the glacial conditions of much of North America resulted in much different species of plants and animals predominating in the areas near the glaciers. Mammoths and mastodons, giant species of bear, beaver and bison, and wild horses became extinct shortly after the glaciers began to recede and southern Ontario would have been like arctic tundra for the first thousand years or so of occupation by native peoples.
When the Ice Age began two million years ago, people and animals were much different than they are now. Paleontologists, scientists who study fossil animals, and Paleoanthropologists, paleontologists who specialize in studying the fossil ancestors of modern humans, tell us that the distribution of many common mammals and the ancestors of modern humans was much different than it is today. The ancestors of modern humans, for example, were much more primitive than they are today and were confined to southern, warmer climates. It was only by about 50,000 years ago that people had evolved cultures capable of supporting them in more northern, colder climates, in northern Europe and Asia, for example.
Many mammals that are familiar today were also different in the past. In the areas south of the glaciers, open, savanna-like conditions prevailed that allowed herds of large herbivores to flourish. The ancestors of modern horses and camels had evolved in North America and practically dominated the northern landscape along with ultra-large ancestors of beaver. In Asia and Europe, the familiar Woolly Mammoth and Mastodon similarly developed to exploit these northern reaches.
It is probable that Ontario was first occupied almost as soon as the land was exposed by melting ice. Fluted points, which are very similar to projectile points from the western and southwestern U.S., have been found on a number of sites in southern Ontario, although different "Type" names have been given to them to recognize slight differences in style which indicate variation in time and space. The fluted points in Ontario are believed to date between 11,000 and 10,500 years old.
Paleo-Indian sites are also recognized by the presence of other distinctive artifacts such as beaked scrapers, gravers, and tiny projectile points made from channel flakes. Paleo-Indian sites are also often recognized by the types of chert used to make their tools. Collingwood chert, a light blue to creamy yellow chert found in the Beaver Valley, was a favoured raw material during Paleo-Indian times but other cherts such as Bayport chert from Michigan, Kettle Point chert from the southeastern shore of Lake Huron and Onondaga chert from the north shore of Lake Erie, were also used.
Some researchers suggest that the Paleo-Indian's choice of light coloured cherts may be related to their religious practices. The only other known indications of religious practices known so far for these people include a cache of heat fractured tools, which may indicate a cremation burial, and a fluted point made of clear quartz crystal with traces of haematite, or red ochre, adhering to it found near Newcastle, Ontario. Red ochre was believed to have special religious significance to many of the First Nations and was often used in burials. Ethnographic comparisons with people who lived similar kinds of lifestyles suggest that some forms of hunting magic and shamanism may also have been practised.
Many Paleo-Indian site clusters appear to occur around such glacial features as kettle ponds and the shore lines of glacial lakes. Site clusters presently known include the glacial lake shorelines north of London, Ontario, the Holland Marsh area north of Toronto and the Rice Lake area. A few Paleo-Indian artifacts have been found in eastern Ontario, such as two fluted points from the Rideau Lakes area, but these are rare. Furthermore, it is likely that Paleo-Indian populations which might have occupied extreme southeastern Ontario would have been more closely related to Paleo-Indians in neighbouring eastern New York and Vermont than to populations in southwestern Ontario. Mapping in artifacts from surface collection.
Site areas indicate that band sizes may have been small, with few sites being returned to repeatedly. The total population of Ontario was probably only 100 to 200 people in the earliest periods. Their choices of site locations may indicate that they were hunting migratory caribou as these locations would have been travelled by caribou in their seasonal round. There is no indication of Paleo-Indians having hunted mastodons in Ontario although a paleontological site in New York has produced evidence of Paleo-Indians in association with mastodons and other large game animals.
The wide variety of chert types found on sites of this period suggests that either these people travelled great distances in their seasonal rounds or had contacts with people over wide areas.
Late Paleo-Indian sites are characterized by projectile points which are lanceolate shaped like fluted points but are not fluted. Like the earlier peoples, Late Paleo-Indians appear to have preferred distinctive light coloured cherts with Haldimand chert, from quarries just north of the Lake Erie shores, being one favourite variety. The available evidence seems to suggest that many of the living patterns of previous time periods were repeated although the population for southern Ontario may have been slightly larger than in previous time periods with new areas having been occupied.
Two broad groups of Late Paleo-Indian projectile points are recognized. In southwestern Ontario are found projectile points called "Holcombe" and "Hi-Lo", which are relatively broad and thick and have concave bases. In northern Ontario, and occasionally in southern Ontario, some projectile points have the characteristic "ribbon flaking" and straight bases more common to the west and southwest. These are the first occupations of northern Ontario and are believed to have derived from west of the great lakes area. Sites in the Thunder Bay area, for example, appear to have been situated along glacial lake shorelines and often involved quarrying of materials such as taconite, a tough jasper-like rock which flakes similarly to chert. Here again, however, the presence of materials from more distant sources indicates some form of trading network and/or long distance travel.
The late Paleo-Indian period is believed to date between 10,500 and 9,500 years ago.
The Archaic period in southern Ontario is characterized by the appearance of ground stone tools, notched or stemmed projectile points, the predominance of less extensively flaked stone tools, increased reliance on local chert sources, a lack of pottery and smoking pipes (except in the later parts of this period) and an increase in the numbers and sizes of sites.
During the Archaic period, Native peoples evolved their way of life to adapt to a temperate forest environment in a landscape cris-crossed by streams and rivers and surrounded by large fresh water lakes. Subsistence strategies which developed during the Archaic are generally considered to be based on increased exploitation of seasonally abundant resources. Small hunting and gathering bands (20-50 people) utilized the lake shores during the spring and summer months, then broke into family groups and moved inland for the fall and winter. Food would have been plentiful during the warm months of the year. The lakes and rivers were teeming with many species of fish, aquatic birds and mammals. Nuts, berries and edible roots could be found in the forests and marshes. The fall would have been a busy time because foodstuffs would have to be stored and clothing made ready for the winter. During the winter, people moved inland to hunt and trap fresh food and furs.
We don't know exactly what Archaic houses looked like, but from the size of most sites, people probably lived in oval wigwam-like structures made of frame poles and covered with bark slabs or reed mats. This type of house was easy to build or move and could be heated with a small fire near the centre of the structure. There might have been pits placed within the houses for the storage of food or other items.
The Early Archaic (9,500 to 8,000 Years Ago)
The earliest time period of the Archaic appears to have been characterized by lanceolate points like the Late Paleo-Indian styles but with crude side notches. By about 9,500 B. P. a change in the environment from primarily coniferous forests to mixed coniferous and deciduous forests seems to correlate with the appearance of new styles of projectile points featuring corner notches and serration along the sides of the blades. This change in conditions would have ended the relatively open environment of the Paleo-Indian period, which the caribou herds preferred, to be replaced by more closed forests favouring deer, elk and moose. These animals do not congregate in large herds like caribou, necessitating the adoption of different hunting strategies.
In addition to the new styles of projectile points, sites from this time period often produce finely made end scrapers, hafted concave side scrapers, crude celts (ungrooved axes or adzes) and polished stone tubes. These latter may have been weights for atl-atls or throwing sticks which increase the power for throwing short spears or javelins.
The chert used by people of this time period appears to have been obtained from more local sources although cherts from distant sources were still commonly obtained.
There seems to be some evidence that an increase in population sizes had occurred at this time. Slightly greater concentrations of sites occur in new areas and a few of these sites appear to have been occupied repeatedly over a number of years. One cluster of sites of this time period has recently been discovered and excavated in the Woodbridge area. Another is located to the southwest of London. In southeastern Ontario, Early Archaic sites have not been found, either because the sites are under water or because they are in areas which have not been examined by archaeologists.
In northern Ontario, the reason for the lack of Early Archaic sites is relatively apparent. During the Paleo-Indian period, a remnant ice mass from the last glacial advance lay across the eastern outlet of Lake Superior, at the present town of Sault Ste. Marie. This maintained artificially high lake levels, producing the now inland beach ridges. Towards the end of this period, the ice mass wasted away allowing the lake level to drop over 100 meters. The lowest levels were reached between 6,300 and 6,000 years ago. Following this drop in lake levels, isostatic rebound led to a gradual return to the water levels of today by about 4,000 years ago. Since the archaic people would have had most of their camps on the lake shores, sites dating between the end of the Paleo-Indian and 4,000 years ago would be largely under water today.
This is not to say, however, that there is nothing known of the Archaic in the north. Many sites have been found and excavated with diagnostic projectile points of the Archaic period including projectile points which obviously derived from Archaic groups in the south, east and west. Many of these sites, however, had been occupied frequently and over a long period of time with little soil formation or deposition and so individual occupations are difficult or impossible to separate. They do tell us, however, that the Archaic people in northern Ontario lived a similar lifestyle to the Archaic people in southern Ontario.
The Middle Archaic (8,000 to 4,500 Years Ago)
Over the next 5,000 years, Archaic sites in southern Ontario increase in frequency and are characterized by a variety of styles of projectile points and other tools, often made from broken projectile points. General trends for this period include increased use of lower grades of stone such as quartz, quartzite, siltstone and coarse-grain rhyolite to manufacture flake tools. Finely made Bannerstones, polished stone tubes with wings, appear after about 8,000 years ago, probably functioning as atl-atl weights. It was about this time that the predominant forest cover appears to have changed to primarily deciduous forests. Grooved axes and netsinkers, used for fishing, also appear around this time. By about 5,500 years ago the earliest use of native copper can be documented.
Copper occurs naturally in some of the rock formations that underlie northern Ontario, especially in the Lake Superior Basin. While the two primary sources for copper are Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula, this same geological formation occurs on the north shore of Lake Superior at Black Bay Peninsula and copper is known to have occurred in abundance elsewhere along the lake shore.
Lake Superior copper is unusually pure and this purity allows it to be worked and shaped at low temperatures and with relatively simple tools. The mining of copper has been determined by some archaeologists to have been a relatively simple procedure. Large nuggets of copper and the surrounding rock were broken away from the main deposit with large rocks and sticks. These nuggets were then heated in fires and, when the copper was well heated, splashed with cold water. This sudden cooling resulted in the fracture of the surrounding rock leaving almost pure copper.
At first native copper was used almost exclusively in the production of utilitarian tools such as socketed and "rat-tailed" projectile points, fish gaffs, adzes, needles, etc. Through time, however, more decorative objects such as beads and other ornaments began to appear. It is possible that, as these objects became more widely available they began to acquire prestigious or magical values and were sought for these reasons. By the Late Archaic, copper was increasingly deposited in burials, perhaps as offerings for the afterlife, and the objects either exhibit less evidence of use or were intended as non-utilitarian status objects, such as ear spools or pan pipes.
Over this time period there is increased evidence of larger populations and new areas being exploited. This evidence also includes indications of greater and more intensive exploitation of smaller areas. In southwestern Ontario influences from Michigan appear to be important all through prehistory but in southcentral Ontario influences from across the Niagara River seem more important. Similarly, influence in eastern Ontario probably derived from across the eastern end of Lake Ontario while in northern Ontario influences from the west have been noted. Like the Paleo-Indian period, subsistence appears to have focused on hunting, although the emphasis was no longer on migratory big-game. Fishing and gathering of various plant foods was also very important, perhaps more so than hunting. Some groups appear to have been particularly oriented towards the collection of acorns.
Emerging in New York State and southeastern Ontario at this time is a tradition archaeologists have identified as the Laurentian Archaic. Laurentian Archaic sites are associated with the Canadian Biotic Province, which is a transition zone between the deciduous forests to the south and coniferous forests to the north. The environment afforded both a variety and reasonable quantity of food and other resources to local populations.
The Laurentian Archaic peoples made broad-bladed projectile points with notches as well as an assortment of ground and polished stone tools such as semi-lunar knives, plummets, slate points, bayonets, knives, gouges, adzes and ungrooved axes. Other flaked tools include notched end scrapers, drills from recycled points and knives. There is also evidence for the use of bone tools including stemmed, socketed and barbed points, unilaterally barbed harpoons and needles. In eastern Ontario, this is the period when copper tools first appear and are most common.
The earliest recorded burials in eastern Ontario date to this period. There appear to have been a variety of burial practices including both cremation and extended burials with some grave goods. Examination of skeletal remains indicates that individuals reached ages of 50 to 60, although the average life span must have been around 30 - 35 years.
Laurentian Archaic peoples continued the hunting and gathering subsistence pattern of their ancestors. It is suggested that there was less reliance on plant food by populations in eastern Ontario than by groups to the southwest and a correspondingly increased dependence on fishing. One of the earliest fish weirs in North America has been identified for this period at Atherly Narrows on Lake Simcoe.
Laurentian Archaic materials have been identified for most regions of eastern Ontario. Unfortunately very few sites have been systematically excavated. Among the most important known sites are those at Morrison's and Allumete Islands along the Ottawa River near Pembroke. Middle Archaic material has also been identified at Brophey Point on Wolfe Island along the St. Lawrence River and in the Napanee Drainage Basin at the Salisbury Site.
The Late Archaic (4,500 to 2,900 Years Ago)
Human activity in southern Ontario appears to increase significantly during the later portion of the Archaic Period. Archaeologists have recognized at least three "distinct" traditions within a fifteen hundred year time period. These are referred to as "Narrow Point", "Broad Point" and "Small Point".
The "Narrow Point" tradition is defined largely on the presence of narrow-bladed, stemmed projectile points often made from coarser grained raw materials such as quartzite. Other tools associated with this tradition include flake scrapers, gravers, spokeshaves and wedges.
Sites from the "Narrow Point" tradition appear to have been most common in New York State and further to the southeast but a few have been found in the Niagara Peninsula region and as far west as Guelph. These sites seem to have been especially common along the shores of a lake known as Lake Wainfleet in the Niagara Peninsula area and Lake Tonawanda in western New York. This lake would have drained when Niagara Falls had eroded a high topographic contour about 3,900 years ago. It is suggested that this group overlapped with the Laurentian Archaic which might explain the lack of Narrow Point sites in Eastern Ontario. Points characteristic of this tradition, however, have been recovered from the Armstrong site on Wolfe Island in the St. Lawrence River.
The "Broad Point" tradition is defined on the basis of large, broad-bladed, stemmed points which make an abrupt appearance in the sequence of cultural development but probably developed from similar forms found in eastern New York where soapstone vessels appear for the first time. In Ontario these points are generally made from Onondaga chert but greywacke was also commonly employed in Southwestern Ontario. A very distinct red quartzite has been used in the production of these points in the Rideau Lakes area. The large size of these points has led to the suggestion that they were not used as projectile points but rather as knives. Ground stone tools are less common in this period.
The "Small Point" tradition is characterized by a reduction in point size that may suggest the introduction of the bow and arrow. Although differences in point styles are difficult to distinguish within this tradition, a number of point types have been recognized based primarily on sites from southwestern Ontario.
Much is known of this period on the basis of excavations around Hamilton and Brantford, near Lake St. Clair and along the eastern shore of Lake Huron. One site excavated in the Hamilton area produced possible evidence of housing structures. This site had either two 4 by 4 meter houses placed adjacent to each other or a single 8 by 4 meter structure with the greatest intensity of occupation located at either end. Although no sites relating to this time period have been systematically excavated in eastern Ontario, Small Point Archaic sites and multi-component sites with Small Point Archaic material have been reported in the region. These include two burial sites in the Kingston area: Collins Bay and the York site near the community of Verona and a burial near Picton, Prince Edward County. Sites with Small Point Archaic material have also been identified in the Ottawa Valley near Arnprior.
Among the more significant developments to occur near the end of the Archaic Period is the elaboration of burial complexes including what has been referred to as the Glacial Kame Burial Complex. Sites relating to this complex have been found throughout southern Ontario. Representative sites include the burials at the York Site and Picton in eastern Ontario, the Hind Site southwest of London and the Port Franks site on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.
Burials consist of both cremations and extended individuals with inclusion of grave goods. These materials consisted of a variety of items including slate gorgets, paired copper adzes, sandal-sole or circular marine shell gorgets, and bird-stones with protuberant eyes. Galena, believed to have been obtained in the Ottawa Valley (Mississippi Valley) has been identified on southwestern Ontario sites. The increase in exotic materials and the increased attention paid to burials heralds a trend which is to continue until the end of the Middle Woodland and appears to be at least inspired by similar phenomena to the south, specifically from the Ohio and Mississippi River regions. Some researchers suggest this rise in behaviour extraneous to simple food procurement and survival may be due to increased efficiency in food collecting which allows greater amounts of time to be devoted to other, more social and symbolic activities. The establishment of specific cemetery areas certainly indicates greater group identification with specific geographic areas, possibly tribal territories. The presence of exotic, and therefore relatively expensive, artifacts with some burials suggests that some individuals had achieved greater status in their life time but there is no evidence as yet that this status was inherited.
Data from the burials suggests that band sizes ranged between 35 and 50 persons with considerable freedom of movement for individuals between bands. Populations would meet in these numbers at sites located near larger lakes and rivers, presumably when food here was most abundant such as when fish were spawning. Limited evidence from southwestern Ontario indicates that these groups would have dispersed in the winter and resided in more secluded locations, probably in order to hunt more dispersed animals such as deer.
Archaeologists have attempted to trace ethnicity and language to at least the Late Archaic Period, with considerable variation in opinion. Two language groups are recognized to have occupied Ontario at the time of European contact: Algonquian and Iroquois. One contention is that the Iroquois language and what ultimately became recognized as Iroquois culture resulted from in-situ development in southern Ontario from the Laurentian Archaic. Others have suggested that the Small Point Tradition represents the first appearance of Iroquoian speaking populations migrating from further south. Yet another interpretation is that the Algonquian language developed from western influences from Paleo-Indian times until at least the Point Peninsula Tradition (Middle Woodland Period) in southwestern Ontario when the Iroquois intruded as the Princess Point Culture.
The Early Woodland period in Ontario is generally recognized as the period when pottery was first introduced. In many ways, however, the basic life styles of the people seems to have remained unchanged from preceding periods with hunting, fishing and gathering being the primary means of subsistence. This period is believed to have lasted from about 800 or 900 B.C. until about 0 B.C.
Clear evidence of the Early Woodland has been found only in the southern parts of the province, along the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys and along the southeast shore of Lake Huron. These areas seem to correspond well with the distribution of the Carolinian Biotic Zone, which is the geographic region characterized by forests with a relatively high proportion of nut-bearing trees. Projectile points diagnostic of this period have occasionally been recovered from sites further north but these were most likely the product of sporadic contact.
The pottery of this period appears to have been relatively crude and undecorated. The pottery is distinctive in being thick, poorly fired and covered on the inside and outside by cord marking. This cord marking was probably the result of construction techniques in which clay was formed around a basket or bag before firing. Not all Early Woodland sites had pottery and some researchers suggest that it was used only for part of the year, perhaps during the processing of acorns or other nuts for their oil.
During this time period burials became even more elaborate with increased inclusion of status artifacts. Some of these exotic artifacts show clear evidence of influence and contact with even more elaborate and complex cultural groups to the south. In these areas, clearly complex and stratified societies, probably with full time chiefs and priests, had developed and were interacting with many other widely distributed groups across North America. Exchange of exotic desirable goods such as copper, silver, obsidian, sea shells and exotic, often colourful, cherts seems to have been the main goal of this "interaction sphere" but, undoubtedly, the exchange of ideas was also important in stimulating further development. Whether foods or furs for clothing was also exchanged is unknown at this time.
An important feature of trade among most nonindustrial societies is that it was seldom, if ever, conducted for profit as we know it. Trade or exchanges were usually made to seal pacts of friendship or initiate contacts with other peoples. Often these exchanges were accompanied by the exchange of marriage partners so as to further strengthen these social ties. Individuals or groups who were lucky enough to acquire more than they needed usually distributed what they didn't need to other groups and in return were recognized as great hunters and providers and as generous persons. In this way they gained greater respect and prestige. An additional and important (at least for archaeologists) way for individuals to gain prestige was to remove prestigious items from general circulation by burying them with the dead. This not only showed the generosity of the donor but created a need to obtain more such items and therefore maintain the social ties previously initiated.
Two Traditions or complexes are recognized for this period, Meadowood and Middlesex. Evidence for both of these has been found in southern Ontario.
Meadowood Complex: 900 - 500 B.C.
The Meadowood Complex is believed to be a temporal extension of the Small Point/Glacial Kame Late Archaic Tradition in southern Ontario and adjacent New York. It is differentiated from earlier time periods by the introduction of ceramics and marked by a very diagnostic lanceolate blade point with side notches, made almost exclusively of Onondaga chert. These points are called Meadowood points. Other characteristics include trapezoidal gorgets as well as bar and expanded body birdstones with pop-eyes.
Meadowood points have been identified from some sites in Eastern Ontario including the York Site north of Kingston and Crystal Rock Site near Prescott and the St. Lawrence River. Early ceramics have been recovered from the Pond Lily Site located on Napanee Lake northwest of Kingston and from the Upper Ottawa Valley. More of this complex is known from sites excavated in southwestern and central Ontario and adjacent New York, particularly from Grand Island on the Niagara River.
Middlesex Complex: 500 - 0 B.C.
This complex is defined solely from mortuary sites and is therefore not directly comparable to earlier groups for which habitation sites have been identified. This complex is partially distinguished by the use of large bifacially flaked blades made of cherts usually originating in the Ohio - Indiana - Illinois area and relatively broad-bladed projectile points with lobate stems. Other artifacts associated with this complex include pop-eye birdstones, bar amulets and gorgets.
The origin of the raw materials being used, as well as similarities of some of the large bifaces, suggests an association of these people with the Adena Culture, which was centred in the Ohio Valley. Archaeologists have attempted to explain this phenomena as a religious cult spreading out from the Ohio Valley area. However, it is more likely explained by indigenous populations simply being influenced to varying degrees by the material culture originating from the American mid-west.
Sites identified in Eastern Ontario, where this complex seems more common, include a "cluster" in the Kingston area consisting of the See Mound, Pikes Farm and Button Bay in the Thousand Islands and the York site near Verona. A single burial has been identified on Morrison's Island in the Ottawa Valley. These sites appear to bear their greatest relationships to sites south of the St. Lawrence valley. In southcentral and southwestern Ontario, sites of this "tradition" have not been as well explored but appear to be loosely related to "lobate-stemmed" Early Woodland populations in southern Michigan.
The Middle Woodland (200 - 300 B.C. to A.D. 700 - 900) period is distinguished from the Early Woodland only in few, relatively minor, aspects. These relate to some aspects of the chipped lithic tool inventory (i.e. changes in projectile point types) and the addition of decoration of increasing elaboration to the pottery. Pottery is found on a greater percentage of sites so may have become more widely used in the seasonal round. There is some evidence of different cultural groups but these differences appear mostly as style differences in pottery and may be more a result of the limited state of knowledge for this time period. These different traditions will be described in greater detail below.
As with earlier periods, the lifestyle of the Middle Woodland people appears to have revolved around hunting, fishing and gathering. There is some evidence, however, that cultivated plants may have first appeared in Ontario at this time in the form of squash or gourds, possibly intended for use as containers rather than as a food. Carbonized squash or gourds have been identified on an Early Woodland site in Michigan and phytoliths, which are a type of microscopic plant remains, from gourds or squash have been tentatively identified on a Middle Woodland site in the Hamilton area.
During the Middle Woodland period, burial ceremonialism appears to have reached its peak. It was at this time that the most exotic items were included in burials and most of the known burial mounds were constructed. These include the Serpent Mound at Rice Lake, a burial mound which was shaped like a giant snake, and the mounds at Rainy River. Much of the elaboration in mortuary ceremonialism is attributed to contact with the Hopewellian people in the Ohio Valley. This influence appears to end around A.D. 250 and after this time burial ceremonialism appears to decrease.
The four main Middle Woodland "cultures" or "complexes" referred to above are the Couture complex in extreme southwestern Ontario and adjacent Michigan and Ohio, the Saugeen complex located to the immediate east of the Couture, the Point Peninsula complex extending from around the Grand River east into southern Quebec and the Laurel complex in northern Ontario, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Point Peninsula Complex
The Middle Woodland Period in most of southcentral and southeastern Ontario is referred to as the Point Peninsula complex, as defined initially from sites in New York State.
The material culture of these people featured more refined ceramics than on earlier sites with decoration occurring as various forms of stamping applied in a number of ways. The most distinctive form of stamping is pseudo scallop shell impressions consisting of a "zig-zag" pattern applied at various angles to the exterior of the vessel. Another kind of stamp is the dentate stamp, which refers to square impressions from a tool probably somewhat like a comb. These stamps were applied either as simple stamps or rocked back and forth. Various kinds of cord impressions also appear but are not as common. There is also some incidence of interior and lip decoration during this period.
The lithic assemblage is not impressive. Projectile points are small and either corner or side notched. Although drills and scrapers are found in Middle Woodland collections, greater emphasis appears to have been placed on the use of unmodified flakes for scraping or cutting. There is also a paucity of ground stone tools in Middle Woodland assemblages. One common feature of the Middle Woodland complexes in at least southern Ontario is the abundance of exotic cherts, especially from Ohio. While these cherts are most noticeable on mortuary sites, they are also a frequent aspect of non-mortuary sites and may have served as status markers even in everyday life.
Point Peninsula people did, in some areas, bury at least some of their dead in burial mounds. The most significant mounds, at least for archaeologists, are those identified in the Rice Lake, Lower Trent River area including the Serpent, Cameron's Point and LeVescounte Mounds. Mound burials have also been reported in the Bay of Quinte area along the south shoreline in Prince Edward County. In most mounds, exotic grave goods including copper and silver pan pipes, marine shell gorgets and exotic cherts have been found. Unlike earlier Late Archaic and Early Woodland interments, it has been suggested that the distribution of exotic goods among the burials provides evidence for some inherited status differentiation among Point Peninsula groups.
A large number of Point Peninsula sites have been identified throughout southern Ontario. Their distribution suggests yet another increase in population within the region and adaptation to the full range of environments is suggested. A settlement pattern consisting of micro and macro bands has been suggested for the Rice Lake area. Unfortunately, despite the large number of reported sites, our knowledge of Middle Woodland settlement patterns remains incomplete.
It would seem that Middle Woodland settlement was focused along the various river systems in their range with particular interest in larger bodies of water such as Rice Lake and the Bay of Quinte. This orientation may have been in part because of their advantageous location with respect to the ease of trade, of items such as copper, silver and perishable goods, with populations to the south. It would seem that the subsistence of early Point Peninsula populations focused largely on deer, as fishing implements are rare and faunal analysis of period sites reveal proportionately greater mammalian remains. However, there may have been a shift in subsistence strategies in Late Point Peninsula with increased interest in fishing as demonstrated at Belle Island in Kingston and in the Hamilton area. Additionally, at least some of these locations are in areas where wild rice was plentiful and may have provided a significant portion of the subsistence requirements.
The Saugeen Complex
The Saugeen complex appears to extend from the southeast shores of Lake Huron and the Bruce Peninsula, around the London area, and possibly as far east as the Grand River. There is some evidence that the Saugeen complex in the Bruce Peninsula may have evolved into the Adawa or Ottawa, as they were later called. The main distinction between the Saugeen complex and the Point Peninsula complex appears to be that Saugeen pots were relatively cruder, both in construction and decoration. Two houses known from one site measure six and a half to seven meters long and four to five meters wide.
It appears that burial treatment of the Saugeen people was similar to the Point Peninsula although no mounds have been excavated as yet. The evidence from one cemetery, however, seems to suggest a band size of about 50 people, with relatively open membership and no indications of status differences.
The Couture Complex
The Couture Complex appears to have been confined, in Ontario, to the area immediately around Lake St. Clair and the western end of Lake Erie. The distinctive feature of this complex appears to be pots decorated by various forms of cord impressions and a high frequency of lithics imported from Ohio. Treatment of burials is not well known because of the destruction, either through development or "pot-hunting", of many sites. There is some suggestion, however, that natural sand knolls or dunes were used rather than artificial mounds.
The Laurel Complex
The Laurel culture appears to have been the first pottery using people of Ontario north of the Severn-Trent water system except, of course, for the Early Woodland peoples in the Ottawa Valley. The Laurel culture also extends into Minnesota and Wisconsin. Ceramics were decorated by a variety of stamping techniques including punctates which are relatively deep, single impressions, sometimes producing a boss or raised node on the opposite side of the vessel wall. Projectile points appear to be somewhat like those of the later parts of the Archaic but were slightly smaller and more triangular in shape. Use of native copper seems to be confined to the production of copper awls and beads.
Archaeological sites in northern Ontario have provided archaeologists with as much or more information about the Middle Woodland people as those from southern Ontario. Evidence of houses have been found on several sites. At one site near Kenora, three houses appear to have constituted the entire settlement. These houses were formed from saplings stuck into the ground, tied together at the top, and probably covered with bark. They measured about six meters long and four meters wide and had two central hearths. They were placed side by side with doors facing east so the morning sun could shine through and they shared a common "courtyard". In the Cree culture of the 1800s it was considered good luck for hunters to be greeted by the rising sun each morning.
Mound construction appears to have been as important a feature of the Laurel as it was for the Point Peninsula. These sites were located at rapids or falls where sturgeon come to spawn and are easy to capture. The burial ceremonies may therefore have coincided with the spring spawning of these fish. The nature of the mounds and the artifacts contained within them indicate direct or indirect contacts with Adena and Hopewell cultures to the south.
Terminal Middle Woodland
Around A.D. 700 a distinctive change appears to have occurred in southern Ontario. Around the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the western end of Lake Erie, a "Tradition" known as the Princess Point Complex appears while west of Toronto, primarily in the Kingston area, a similar culture known as the Sandbanks Complex occurs.
Characteristic of this time period were distinctive changes in pottery, both in decorative styles and method of construction. Earlier pottery was decorated by dentate stamping, pseudo-scallop shell stamping and cord impressing. Decoration during the Terminal Middle Woodland period was most commonly produced by a stick or paddle wrapped with a cord. More important were changes in the method of construction of the vessel. Earlier pottery was made by winding coils of moist clay into the shape of the vessel and then smoothing the coils together. The later pottery appears to have been made from masses of wet clay which were worked into shape, probably using a basket or bag as a support or form. Evidence in support of this hypothesis is seen in the fabric or woven cord impressions on the exterior surface of pots. This produces pots which are relatively seam-free.
Most importantly, it was during the later part of the Middle Woodland period that corn and possibly tobacco, first appear. While the first uses of corn were possibly somewhat experimental and probably only a minor addition to the hunting, gathering and fishing lifestyle, corn horticulture gained increasing importance over time, allowing greater security from winter starvation, higher population densities and more permanent settlements. It is not yet established whether the timing of the introduction of corn and the breakdown of long distance trade networks is in any way related to the abandonment of the large ceremonial sites in Ohio, which also occurred about this time.
Aside from the probable introduction of corn and tobacco during this period, subsistence patterns appear to be largely a continuation from previous periods. The only noteworthy trend of this period appears to have been an increasing reliance on fishing with more sites being located on lake shores or large rivers, especially in the eastern region.
The changes distinguishing the Late Middle Woodland period may be of particular importance for understanding the later events of Ontario's prehistory and the distribution of different First Nations groups during the early years of European contact. To understand this it must be understood that when the first Europeans came to the lower Great Lakes region they noted that this area was occupied by people who spoke variations of Iroquoian languages and had a distinctive and somewhat homogeneous lifestyle. The only other groups who spoke similar languages were the Cherokee, Susquehannock and Tuscarora from much further to the south. Surrounding the various Iroquoian speaking groups were diverse groups of people who spoke various Algonquian languages. Most anthropologists, especially Linguists (those who study languages) believe that the Great Lakes area was originally populated by Algonquian speaking people and that Iroquoian speaking people migrated into the area some time in prehistory.
One current theory among Ontario archaeologists is that the Late Middle Woodland, Princess Point, peoples of the Niagara Peninsula and neighbouring areas were an immigrant group who brought the beginnings of corn horticulture with them. These people would have been the first Iroquoians since it is currently accepted that this late Middle Woodland group did ultimately become the Iroquoian people of the Historic era. According to this theory, then, all the previous Middle Woodland and earlier people would have been ancestors of the Algonquian speaking people who were then displaced to the north, east and west.
Opposed to this theory is one that holds that there is continuity from the Middle Woodland to the Late Woodland. Holders of this opinion do not see great differences between late Middle Woodland and earlier peoples. According to this theory, either Iroquoian peoples migrated into southern Ontario earlier than the late Middle Woodland or their immigration is not reflected by change in the material culture. A great deal of additional research will be required before these questions can be answered.
The Late Woodland in southern Ontario is largely defined by the emergence of village life and the increased reliance on domesticated plants, particularly corn but with beans and squash (for food now) also playing important roles. In northern Ontario, however, this period is defined more arbitrarily on the basis of new ceramic types since there does not appear to have been as profound a change in lifestyle. This important difference is due to the fact that climate and landscape prohibited the adoption of agriculture north of the Severn River. There is, however, abundant evidence that northern people developed increasing contacts with Iroquoians and other southern agricultural groups, as will be discussed below.
Because the northern Ontario people maintained a way of life similar to those of previous periods, they will be discussed first.
The Late Woodland period did not appear at a uniform time over all of northern Ontario. Late Woodland pottery appears in some areas around A.D. 500 while Middle Woodland Laurel pottery appears to continue until A.D. 1000 in other, usually more remote, areas. The new pottery types are, from early to late, Blackduck, Selkirk and Sandy Lake. Most sites, however, also have varying amounts of Iroquoian pottery or types from Michigan and eastern Wisconsin. On one site near Sault Ste. Marie, about 400 pots were found of which only four were clearly Blackduck. The high frequency of foreign pottery types clearly indicate extensive contacts with the south long before the European fur trade.
Like the change from Middle Woodland to Princess Point pottery in southern Ontario, decoration on Blackduck pottery in northern Ontario was produced by cord wrapped sticks and punctates. Many researchers have noted a similarity between Blackduck pottery and Princess Point pottery.
In northwestern Ontario the Blackduck people maintained the practice of mound building. The Late Woodland mounds are not as large as Middle Woodland mounds, few of them were higher than two meters compared to the mounds of up to twelve meters for the Laurel, but may contain typical Late Woodland artifacts and some ceremonial objects.
Another aspect of Late Woodland spiritual life is expressed in unique archaeological sites where pictographs and petroglyphs were produced. Pictographs (literally: picture-writings) are found at sites across Ontario where people marked rock faces with paints made from hematite (red ochre) mixed with a binding agent (water, grease, blood, etc.). As the iron in the paint oxidized a strong bond between the paint and the rock face resulted. While it is possible to date the organic components of the paint, it is not generally possible (and professionally unacceptable) to remove small portions of the paint for this process. Thus, pictographs remain dated largely by internal clues such as the paintings of particular and roughly datable events such as the appearance of firearms, horses or sailing ships, the presumed lifespan of the paintings in exposed locations (presumably less than 300 years), and through often tenuous association with local archaeological sites.
Petroglyphs (literally: symbols carved in rock) are believed to have been similar in function to pictographs but the method of their construction was somewhat different. Here the rock was pecked and chipped with another implement to make impressions in the form of the desired symbols. It is not often that archaeological sites and pictographs coincide but one site on Lake of the Woods has revealed petroglyphs underneath soil which contained Paleo-Indian artifacts. While some archaeologists have suggested that this site indicates a Paleo-Indian age for the petroglyphs, others argue that the old artifacts may have washed down from an eroding bank further up. Whatever the age of the artifacts, rock art was being produced at a large number of sites from at least the end of the Late Woodland until at least A.D. 1800.
Current understanding of rock art suggest that the sites do not merely represent "artistic" endeavours but that a more or less rigorous system of symbols was being employed to convey particular meaning. The meanings transmitted appear to be largely sacred, votive or mystical, making the pictograph sites themselves "sacred" to earlier and/or present cultural groups. The relationship between these sites and modern people requires that archaeologists be sensitive in their use of the sites for data collection.
The pictographs of the Canadian Shield region constitute a kind of written language. The individual elements of the rock face can combine to form certain meanings much like the letters and words of written English can combine to mean certain sounds, objects or ideas. These meanings can be either about subsistence, geography, history or climate or can be more sacred, secret or enigmatic. At present it seems unlikely that the pictographs will be fully deciphered because the existing "Rosetta Stones" of this language, the birch bark scrolls of the Ojibwa Midewewin, can be interpreted by a diminishing number of individuals and because many of the symbols may have been symbolic "signatures" of the supplicants to the resident Maymaygwayshi.
In southern Ontario there were three general areas of cultural development, each with distinct temporal periods, and each with distinguishing cultural features. From west to east were the Western Basin Algonquians of the Younge Tradition, occurring at various times almost as far east as London Ontario, the Ontario Iroquois Tradition which covered most of the western and central parts of the province, and the St. Lawrence Iroquoians who were located from the eastern end of Lake Ontario, into the northern portions of New York state and east along the St. Lawrence river into Quebec. To the north were other Algonquian groups such as the Adawa (Ottawa) in the Bruce Peninsula, the Nipissings and other groups along the French River and Lake Nipissing, and many others along the Ottawa and related river systems. Each of these will be briefly described in the sections below.
Eastern Ontario and The St. Lawrence Iroquois
In Eastern Ontario the issue of Late Woodland development is complicated by continued use of the region by groups retaining a hunter and gatherer-based subsistence strategy. It would seem that portions of Eastern Ontario such as the Ottawa Valley featured an overlap of this subsistence practice with that of limited horticulture. Essentially, hunter/gatherers in the region are primarily regarded as Algonquian speaking populations continuing a way of life extending from the Archaic period. Historically some of these groups were known as the Matouweskarini, the Iroquet and the Kichesipirini. How these groups relate to ancestral populations such as those of the Point Peninsula Tradition remains a matter for debate. It is possible that these groups could have been an extension of the northern Laurel tradition with some cultural influences from their southern neighbours through trade and other forms of cultural contact. Understanding the prehistoric development of these groups has been hampered by a low intensity of archaeological activity. The following discussion will focus on developments in eastern Ontario that took place along the St. Lawrence River and the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.
The Late Woodland Period has been divided into three sub-periods consisting of Early, Middle and Late Iroquoian. Elements of all three are represented in Eastern Ontario although their relationship with one another is not as clearly defined as sequences emerging in southcentral and southwestern Ontario.
The Early Iroquois is distinguished in Eastern Ontario by the emergence of the Pickering Complex. It is suggested that this complex may have developed in-situ from the Sand Banks Complex. Much of what is known about the Pickering Complex has come from sites in southcentral Ontario. Pickering-like components have been identified, however, in the Ottawa Valley along the Muskrat River near Pembroke and on Lake Nipissing.
Artifacts associated with this tradition include a distinct ceramic tradition, generally crudely made ceramic pipes, triangular shaped projectile points and bone tools such as awls, needles and beads. Ceramic decorative patterns shift from cord impressions to linear stamps, horizontal lines made by a "push-pull" motion, and dentate stamps and often have exterior bossing produced by interior punctates. Sites of the Pickering Complex exhibit the first evidence of ribbed paddle or check stamped surface treatment of the body sherds in southern Ontario. It might have been that this constitutes the first evidence of the use of the paddle and anvil technique for forming thinner, more compact pottery vessel walls.
It is on Pickering sites that the first definitive house structures have been identified in Eastern Ontario. It is believed that there were earlier house structures but to date none have been identified in the region. Houses have been found to be of small elliptical structure, much like Middle Woodland houses recorded in southwestern and northern Ontario, only slightly larger, with hearths placed off the centre line.
It is during this part of the sequence that evidence of villages occurs, first as loosely associated structures followed by structures with more systematic organization of space, such as the designation of midden or garbage areas. In eastern Ontario evidence for Pickering villages is lacking. Many of the sites, such as Lakeshore Lodge in Prince Edward County, or the Kingston Outer Station, are fishing stations, a continuation of the Late Middle Woodland and Transitional Period settlement pattern.
While there is some evidence for use of cultivated plants, it has been suggested that Pickering groups in Eastern Ontario still relied primarily on a hunter-gatherer subsistence strategy. Sites in areas such as Charleston Lake (Jackson's Point Rock Shelter) do suggest some differences between Point Peninsula and Pickering hunting and gathering patterns indicating the same places were being used but at different seasons.
The Middle Iroquoian period, which dates between about 1300 and 1400 A.D., featured continued change in settlement patterns and subsistence practices among Late Woodland populations. Again these differences are essentially regarded as part of a continuum, that is, in-situ development of local populations. This period is divided into two stages: Uren and later Middleport.
It is during this stage that collared ceramics become common with decorations continuing to be composed of linear stamps and incising. There is also a well developed clay pipe complex associated with the Middleport Complex.
Archaeological evidence suggests increased permanency of villages and reliance on domestic plants.
Middle Iroquoian sites are rare in Eastern Ontario. Middleport sites have been identified in Prince Edward County and more recently in the Kingston area. There is a Middleport component at Kingston Outer Station, a fishing camp located along the Cataraqui River in Kingston. Middleport ceramics have also been recovered from the Gananoque Drainage System. These groups appear to have developed into the eastern-most branches of the Hurons, which will be discussed in greater detail below.
To the east along the St. Lawrence Valley were the St. Lawrence Iroquois who bear close similarities to contemporaneous Oneida and Onondaga in New York State. Village clusters have been identified at Prescott and further east towards Cornwall in Eastern Ontario, with a large number reported for Jefferson County in New York State and farther east into Quebec.
The material culture of both the Huron and St. Lawrence Iroquois was quite similar in many ways. The St. Lawrence Iroquoian populations are distinguished from the Hurons by distinctive ceramic styles, increased size and permanency of villages and continued development of an extensive bone tool technology. Lithic industry, in particular, all but disappears among the St. Lawrence Iroquois. This may have been a consequence of disruption of earlier trading networks that brought in the better quality cherts used in the production of stone tools. There is also some indication of conflict between these populations.
In addition to village sites, fishing camps along tributaries of the St. Lawrence River have been found at Morrisburg and between Cardinal and Prescott. It has been suggested that these fishing camps serviced the inland sites by harvesting eel, an important element in the diet of St. Lawrence Iroquois populations.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that there was conflict between different populations or groups through this period. The appearances of St. Lawrence Iroquois ceramics on Huron sites in Prince Edward County and in the Trent River System, as well as the recovery of Huron ceramics on St. Lawrence Iroquoian sites have been explained as the result of the capture of women during raids between the two groups. We do know that in the mid 1500s, after the visits by Jacques Cartier, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians disappeared. Whatever the causes of this dramatic event, there is one site in the Trent Valley, which was Huron territory, with St. Lawrence Iroquoian pottery in association with European trade goods, suggesting that at least some of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians ultimately settled among the Hurons.
The Ontario Iroquois Tradition
The Ontario Iroquoian Tradition is currently believed to have begun approximately 900 A.D. with the appearance of small villages, at least seasonally occupied over a number of years. This shift in settlement pattern is generally believed to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture. It is currently debated, however, whether increased reliance on corn and the adoption of partial village life led to population increase or vice versa. In most aspects of the material culture, however, the Early Ontario Iroquoian period, which lasts until about A.D. 1250 or 1300, appears to be a continuation from the Late Middle Woodland Princess Point Culture with some changes occurring gradually.
It is becoming apparent that in the earliest centuries of the Ontario Iroquoian period, a seasonal round similar to earlier periods was maintained with small villages being occupied only seasonally, probably during the winters. At other times of the year the population, or parts of it, would move to areas where fishing in the spring or nut collecting in the fall could augment the corn harvest. Hunting, especially deer, was still an important source of protein.
Two distinct tribal groups in southern Ontario have been identified. These two groups are the Pickering, located from the Toronto area to the Kingston area, and the Glen Meyer, who were located from the Hamilton area to as far west as the London area. These two groups are generally recognized as being distinct in at least aspects of their material culture. While many of these differences may be a factor of environmental differences, such as the Glen Meyer being located closer to high quality chert sources while the Pickering were not, or unknown factors, stylistic differences in pottery decoration appear to suggest that real social differences existed between these two groups. What these differences actually mean, however, is still uncertain.
The Early Ontario Iroquoian period, according to one reconstruction, ended when the eastern Pickering culture invaded and subjugated the western Glen Meyer culture, leading to a uniform Uren/Middleport culture across the province. Whether this "Conquest" actually occurred, however, has been under criticism since it was first proposed. Critics of this hypothesis suggest that the Pickering were not able to mount a war of this scale, especially when Glen Meyer sites appear to be far more numerous and larger. Additionally, there appears to be a lack of any real evidence for warfare having occurred except in the extreme western fringe of the Glen Meyer where warfare with the Western Basin Algonquians is suspected.
The Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1250 to 1300, was one of population growth and the fusion of smaller Early Ontario Iroquoian villages. By the end of the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period some of the largest villages ever occupied in Ontario's prehistory were established. Some of these villages contained longhouses over 100 meters long. In many areas, occupation of clay plains occurred for the first time. The reasons for this change in settlement pattern is believed to be based on the fact that clay holds water longer than sand in the summer, decreasing the impact and frequency of droughts. Villages were usually placed near a stream or river and appear to have been abandoned after 20 to 40 years occupation, when a new village was constructed a few kilometres away.
The population increases which led into this period appear to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture coupled with the appearance and increased use of beans and squash. Because of the bio-chemical properties of enzymes in these plants, the nutritional benefits of these foods together are greater than that of them apart. Enzymes in beans allow people to digest corn better. While corn first appears in the Niagara Peninsula area in the Late Middle Woodland, apparently introduced from neighbouring New York, beans and squash first appear in extreme southwestern Ontario between A.D. 1000 and 1100. They do not appear to have reached the Hamilton area until just prior to the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period.
Probably related to the increase in population sizes was an increase in the geographic distribution of these peoples. Early Ontario Iroquoian occupations appear to have expanded both east and west from their origins in the Niagara area and a few seasonal camps are known in what is now Simcoe County. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, these expansions appear to have continued and substantial population movements are believed to have occurred into Huronia (Simcoe County), western New York state and further west into southwestern Ontario. Undoubtedly these expansions were also accompanied by some degree of warfare with people already occupying or exploiting these areas.
With the possible exception of the "frontier" areas, warfare does not appear to have been a major aspect of peoples lives up to this point in time. What little direct evidence of warfare that does appear to be present was most likely the result of feuds or raiding of neighbouring groups. World-wide, this appears to have been the pattern of people at this level of complexity and population density. To some degree, this raiding and feuding may have been exacerbated by the increased population density but methods of social reorganization appear to also have been developed in order to compensate for these changes in the cultural landscape. It was probably during this time that political groups larger than individual villages, such as tribes, were developed. Various experiments in intra-village organization may also have occurred to maintain social cohesion.
It is unclear at this time how the changes in subsistence and settlement patterns would have affected the style of some artifact classes but we do know that at this time there was also a distinctive change in the construction and decoration of pottery. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period collars were added to the tops of pots, and the necks became more constricted and distinct from the bodies of pots. This had the effect of dividing the tops of pots, where most decoration was placed, into two distinct zones. Additionally, the majority of vessels were decorated with horizontal lines which provide a useful time marker for recognizing this period.
The Late Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1400 and 1450, is the period when the historically known tribes are believed to have emerged. Villages reached their greatest size during the early parts of this stage and vast regional clusters, probably early tribal groups, appeared. Examples of these regional clusters include the Lalonde group in Huronia, the Vaughan cluster running from the Humber River to the Richmond Hill area and the Crawford Lake cluster in Halton.
During this time period, warfare appears to have become more widespread and common. Evidence of this warfare includes the appearance of larger villages, presumably as a measure of defence, the construction of palisades and earthworks around many villages and the presence of cut and burned human bones in the refuse deposits. While the latter evidence suggests that some people may have been rather cruelly treated, probably even cannibalized, the frequency of these bones does not suggest that many more than one or two people per year were treated this way in a large village.
This Summary of Ontario Archaeology was taken from the Discovering Ontario Archaeology - Speakers Kit. The original texts were written by Jeff Bursey, Hugh Daechsel, Andrew Hinshelwood and Carl Murphy.
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