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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume II (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500)

Prologue to Period IV (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500)

By 1,000 B.C. environmental conditions in Canada were similar to those encountered by European colonizers. Native populations in the country were well established in their various territories with their cultures, in most instances, being clearly derived from the preceding period. Diffusion of technology, cosmological beliefs, and other cultural systems was the major stimulus to cultural change. Much of this diffusion, however, was in the form of stimulus diffusion whereby a regional population not only adopted an innovation but modified it in order to accommodate their particular cultural needs, thus complicating the process of tracing diffusion routes.

Map IV - Cultural Distributions
Map IV - Cultural Distributions, 1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500
A Late Maritime | B Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence | C Late Eastern Shield | D Early Western Basin | E Late Western Shield | F Late Plains | G Late Plateau | H Late West Coast | I Late Northwest Interior | J Middle Palaeo-Eskimo

There are a number of changes in this map relative to the information published in Plate 8 of the Historical Atlas of Canada (Harris and Matthews 1987) from which it has been adapted. Most changes relate to culture name changes and do not affect cultural geographic distributions. Like earlier maps, Map IV is intended to act as a simplified geographic guide to the cultures discussed in Volume II.

(Drawing by Mr. David W. Laverie.)

Two major innovations which both appeared in eastern Canada at approximately the same time were knowledge of pottery vessel manufacture from the south and the bow and arrow weapon system from the northeast. Pottery, which is fashioned in a plastic state and then fired to a stone-like hardness, is especially useful to archaeologists as it leaves a particularly sensitive record of cultural relationships and developments. Pottery characteristics of form, motif, and tool impression variety can be used as chronological indicators and cultural identifiers. While pottery was independently invented in a number of places around the world, the earliest pottery in North America comes from what is now the southeastern United States where it was introduced more than 5,000 years ago. Its ultimate place of origin was likely in South America. As pottery appears approximately 1,000 years earlier in eastern North America than southwestern North America, its route of diffusion was probably through the chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea called the Antilles. These islands acted as a bridge between northeastern South America and Florida. In contrast to pottery the bow and arrow was an Asiatic innovation which appears to have entered the Western Hemisphere with Early Palaeo-Eskimo culture (Wright 1995: Chapter 21). Both of these technological advances eventually spread across much of North America.

On the east coast of the Maritime provinces the archaeological record of Late Maritime culture has been partially obliterated by a sinking coastline. There is evidence, however, that a burial cult originating in the Ohio Valley was exerting influences on the local populations prior to 500 B.C. Such influences, associated with prescribed mortuary practices, likely arrived in the Maritimes via the St. Lawrence River and included burial mound construction and exotic Ohio Valley objects used as grave offerings to the deceased.

Moving westward into the interior of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture was represented by a number of regional pottery vessel style complexes as well as other traits. All of these regional cultural complexes, however, appear to have developed out of the preceding Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture of Period III. Mortuary ceremonialism, once again originating in the Ohio Valley, appears as early as 600 B.C. and subsequent developments eventually led to a fluorescence of burial mound ceremonialism in the Rice Lake region of southeastern Southern Ontario around 2,000 years ago. At this time silver from the Cobalt area in Northern Ontario was added to the 7,000-year-old copper metalworking tradition and was widely traded to the south.

Throughout most of Québec north of the St. Lawrence River Late Eastern Shield culture retained the earlier Middle Shield culture way of life and, while the bow and arrow was adopted, pottery vessels were largely rejected except along the southern margins of the Canadian Shield. Late Western Shield culture (Laurel), occupying extreme western Québec, Northern Ontario, much of Manitoba, a small northeastern portion of Saskatchewan, and the northern margins of adjacent states, is differentiated from its eastern neighbours in the Shield by the whole-hearted adoption of pottery and a major change in the nature of the chipped stone tool industry. Local populations along the Minnesota-Ontario border became involved in southern burial mound ceremonialism and would be responsible for the construction of the largest earthen structures in pre-European Canada.

Bison continued to represent the staff of life for Late Plains culture and earlier traits, like the use of bison jumps and pounds, the dog travois, tipis, pemmican production, and medicine wheel ritual were not only retained but elaborated upon. Around 2,000 years ago pottery was introduced from the east but never became a significant trait of Late Plains culture. It is speculated that the bow and arrow weapon system was also introduced to the Plains from the east, possibly late in Period III from Middle Shield culture or from the subsequent Late Western Shield culture. Pit house villages of Late Plateau culture increased in size and complexity, particularly so in the Lillooet region where some have argued for the existence of ranked societies. While a reliance upon salmon continued from the preceding period there is evidence that after 500 B.C. plant foods, such as bitterroot, mountain potato, wild onion, and balsam root became increasingly important.

Throughout most of Period IV, developments in Late West Coast culture clearly anticipate the historically documented cultural pattern of the West Coast. Large plank house villages become common. The shaping of stone implements and ornaments by pecking and polishing increases in popularity. There is also evidence for an intensification of the processes responsible for the appearance of socially ranked societies and an associated increase in warfare. Around the end of Period IV the bow and arrow was introduced to the coast from the Canadian Plateau. The most dramatic event within Late Northwest Interior culture was its expansion to the east into the barrengrounds and northern forest margins of the eastern Mackenzie and southern Keewatin districts of the Northwest Territories as well as into the northern margins of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Middle Palaeo-Eskimo culture was concentrated in an extensive region centred on Baffin Island during Period IV. While sharing many traits with their Early Palaeo-Eskimo ancestors they differed in a number of respects such as constructing semi-subterranean winter houses and shaping many stone tools by grinding. On some sites permafrost conditions have preserved objects manufactured from driftwood and provide a glimpse of a rich woodworking industry that included microblade and burin handles, kayak and sled parts, and other objects not encountered in the usual archaeological deposits.

For the most part, the cultural developments of Period IV consisted of an intensification and elaboration of developments identified in the preceding Period III. Cultural regionalism continued apace. For the first time, however, new burial ceremonialism that included the construction of earth burial mounds was added to the earlier mortuary systems. Such influences had their ultimate origins to the south but by the time they reached eastern Canada they had been modified to accommodate local needs. It is speculated that mortuary elaboration in both the Rice Lake and the Rainy River regions of Ontario was supported by the invention of methods that permitted the preservation of wild rice. As production of a surplus of food in the form of parched rice equalled wealth it appears to have resulted in status inequalities. The evidence for the existence of ascribed status, with its accompanying social inequality, was very local and alien, as a whole, to both Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture and Late Western Shield culture. It was only temporarily maintained in the east but continued into Period V in the Rainy River region of Northern Ontario.

The foregoing highlights the point that while cultural influences did range across the enormous expanses of North America via the process of diffusion, regional cultural forces moulded the external influences in distinctively local ways. No region of Canada was unaffected by cultural diffusion, whether the innovations originated in South America or Asia, and whether they pertained to technology or cosmological belief systems.

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