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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume I (10,000 to 1,000 B.C.)

Early and Middle Archaic Complexes (Précis, Chapter 4)

A number of poorly known Period II cultural complexes are distributed from the east coast to the Great Lakes. The evidence is so incomplete that it is premature to apply specific cultural names and, thus, the use of the word 'complex'. As late as 1983 the 10,000 to 8,000 B.P. portion of a chronological chart of the archaeology of eastern North America referred to 'traces' of Early Archaic followed by 'poorly known' bifurcated base points. For the Upper Ohio Valley, the Niagara Frontier of New York, and Southern Ontario, the chart is a blank between 6,000 and 3,000 B.C. (Funk 1983: Figure 8.1). Regardless of the limitations in the archaeological evidence it is of critical importance to attempt to understand the interregnum (Mason 1981) which existed between late Palaeo-Indian culture and the more complete archaeological record beginning about 4,000 B.C. By convention (Fowler 1959), the Archaic assemblages of this period have been subdivided into Early Archaic (8,000 to 6,000 B.C.) and Middle Archaic (6,000 to 4,000 B.C.). In late Palaeo-Indian culture as 10,000 B.P. was approached tool kits became increasingly elaborate and the spearheads thinner and more carefully manufactured. After this time the technology differentiates into a number of regional complexes that are subsumed under the broad categories of Archaic and Plano in the east and the west, respectively. In eastern Canada these regional developments out of late Palaeo-Indian culture are categorized as Eastern Early Archaic, Central Early Archaic, Western Early Archaic, and Southern Early Archaic. Middle Archaic is so poorly known in Canada that it can be summed up in a précis.

Map II - Cultural Distributions
Map II - Cultural Distributions, 8,000 to 4,000 B.C.
A Early Maritime | B Early Great Lakes-St. Lawrence | C Early Shield | D Early Plains | E Early Plateau | F Southwestern Coastal | G Northwestern Coastal | H Early Northwest Interior | I Sites with associated Plano culture and Early Archaic materials

Map II is intended to act as a geographic guide to the distributions of the cultures discussed in Period II. The patchy archaeological evidence is clearly reflected in this Map in contrast to Map III which presents the much better understood cultural distributions of Period III (4,000 to 1,000 B.C.).

(Adapted from Plate 6 of the Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume I, From the Beginning to 1800. R. Cole Harris, editor, and Geoffrey J. Matthews, cartographer/designer. University of Toronto Press, 1987. Drawing by Mr. David W. Laverie.)

The reasons for the paucity of archaeological evidence are many. With the exception of the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where coastal uplift has raised sites well above sea level, many of the likely site areas occupied lands now either submerged beneath the waters of the Atlantic and Great Lakes or destroyed or buried by erosional and depositional processes. Environmental change and cultural events have further complicated the situation. Plains-derived Plano culture 9,000 years ago extended eastward as far as the Atlantic following a narrow belt of Lichen Woodland and Boreal Forest (McAndrews et al. 1987), apparently exploiting caribou herds expanding into lands recently released by the glacial ice and the receding water levels of the Great Lakes. To the south of Plano culture, in the eastern Great Lakes region, an indigenous development out of late Palaeo-Indian culture is referred to as Central Early Archaic or the Hi-Lo complex. Around 9,500 B.P. there appears to be an actual population penetration into Southern Ontario by the Southern Early Archaic complex. There is evidence of direct contacts between the Plano culture and some of these Early Archaic complexes. Settlement pattern distributions also suggest that the Central Early Archaic complex was a contemporary of Plano culture. It was into this complex region of environmental and cultural diversity that the spearthrower weapon system was introduced from the south. Southern Ontario was in the centre of these events. To the north, earlier Palaeo-Indian hunting practices were retained by Plano culture hunters. To the south, the northward expanding deciduous forests with their increasing numbers of plant resources such as nuts and berries, expanding fish resources, and a broad range of game animals, required somewhat different adaptive systems. Along the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Québec and Labrador, on the other hand, an early maritime adaptation permitted a continuity of settlement pattern and subsistence through thousands of years. Of all the Early Archaic complexes in Canada the Eastern Early Archaic complex is best known but information is steadily increasing relative to the Southern Early Archaic complex. Middle Archaic, represented by the two thousand years from 6,000 to 4,000 B.C., is even less well known than the complexes of the Early Archaic. In addition to the submergence of sites beneath rising water levels there is a serious identification problem. Middle Archaic materials picked up from the surfaces of ploughed fields are simply not recognized as being early as many of the tools resemble much later archaeological styles. And yet, it had to be from this amorphous base that the cultures of Period III developed around 4,000 B.C.

Unlike their late Palaeo-Indian culture ancestors, the stone knappers of the Early Archaic complexes tended to rely more upon local stone. In contrast to the earlier attention to core and preform production and reduction procedures, Early Archaic people used a wide range of core varieties in quite variable fashions. There appears to have been little of the Palaeo-Indian culture concern with the curation of stone. The major goal of the stone knapper appears to have been to produce simple flakes as expedient tools to be quickly discarded when they became dull. Exotic stone does occur but it is less frequent and obtained from closer sources than was the case with Palaeo-Indian culture. New technological traits appear, such as ground stone adzes in the Eastern Early Archaic and Southern Early Archaic complexes, and stone tubular spearthrower weights in the latter. Characteristic of all of the complexes are the stone tips with which they armed their weapons. It would appear that sometime around 10,000 B.P. some ingenious individual in what is now the southeastern United States invented a new and superior weapon system. The spearthrower was a device that used the same principle as that applied to the hand basket throwing device of the Basque ball game of jai alai or pelota. In the spearthrower instance, the propelling device permitted a spear to be thrown with greater force and accuracy than was possible by hand alone. The new weapon system spread rapidly throughout most of the Western Hemisphere and particularly so throughout eastern North America. The thin, symmetrical spear heads of late Palaeo-Indian were replaced by the thick and often asymmetrical Early Archaic notched, stemmed, and lanceolate points. It is suspected that the dramatic change from late Palaeo-Indian culture lithic tool production procedures relates directly to the introduction of the new weapon technology in conjunction with changing environmental requirements.

Little direct evidence of subsistence practices exists. Settlement pattern distributions indicate that the Eastern Early Archaic complex people seasonally exploited maritime resources. Similarly, the association of Central Early Archaic complex sites with ridges and lakeshores suggests that caribou were still an important game animal. There is evidence for increasing reliance upon plant foods by the Southern Early Archaic populations but how much this characterized sites south of the Great Lakes as opposed to sites in Southern Ontario is not yet clear. As the deciduous forests, with their populations of deer, turkey, and other more southerly species, spread northward at the expense of the Boreal Forest and Tundra vegetation, with their caribou and other northern species, adaptive systems were forced to change. The disappearances of Plano culture and the Central Early Archaic complex, for example, were more likely the result of necessary adaptive changes, including major changes in the stone tool kit, rather than being due to physical replacement by encroaching southerners.

Nothing is known regarding either cosmology or human biology in the Early Archaic and Middle Archaic complexes of Canada. With reference to external relationships, there is evidence that southern contacts were maintained by colonizing groups like the Southern Early Archaic complex. Direct evidence exists of contacts between Plano culture people and Western Early Archaic complex and Southern Early Archaic complex peoples. The proximity of different groups to one another in the Great Lakes region during this period would have made culture contact situations inevitable. Cultural distributions would also have accommodated diffusion of both technology and ideas as witnessed by the spread of the spearthrower and possibly the gill net. It can only be speculated that these societies were composed of nuclear families organized into bands and that intermarriage with adjacent bands would have been the norm.

As information on Early Archaic complexes is limited the descriptive procedure applied to most of the cultures will be abbreviated as dictated by the evidence.

Middle Archaic Complexes (Précis)

The time period between 6,000 and 4,000 B.C. that incorporates the Middle Archaic is essentially an unknown entity in large areas of eastern North America. In stark contrast, along portions of the New England coast (Dincauze 1976) and the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, events during this period are relatively well known. In the interior, however, there is a virtual archaeological void. Added to the problem of drowned shoreline sites in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions, interior sites are extremely difficult to distinguish from much later sites. As such, if specimens are not recovered from datable archaeological contexts they are not generally recognized as being early.

There is some limited evidence of a coastal stemmed projectile point horizon (Dincauze 1976), dated in New England between 8,000 and 7,000 B.P., penetrating into the interior of the Lower Great Lakes and the Upper St. Lawrence Valley (Ellis et al. 1990; Wright 1978). Around 6,500 B.P. there is also some evidence of the beginnings of a transition into Early Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture. By and large, however, archaeological evidence between 8,000 and 6,000 B.P. is extremely sparse. As noted, this is mainly due to the fact that archaeologists are unable to distinguish pertinent materials from much later tools. Such a proposition receives support from the evidence from the John's Bridge site in northwestern Vermont (Thomas and Robinson 1980). This site, dated to 8,000 B.P., produced side- and corner-notched points, bifacially flaked knives including hafted varieties, a range of scraper forms, gravers, large tabular knives or choppers, abraders, graphite nodules, and a drill. If recovered from a ploughed field, most regional archaeologists would likely have classified these materials as post-dating 4,000 B.C. A personal examination of the mixed archaeological deposits from sites in the Lake St. Francis expansion of the Upper St. Lawrence River revealed the presence of virtually identical varieties of projectile points to those excavated under controlled conditions at the John's Bridge site suggesting that the assemblage may be more widely distributed but simply not recognized for what it is. The John's Bridge site also contained hearths and deep pits. A scatter of lithic debris in association with a hearth of calcined bone and pits is inferred to represent a living floor (Thomas and Robinson 1980: 123-125).

Given the limitations in archaeological evidence pertinent to the two millennia prior to 4,000 B.C. it is probably best not to belabour the issue further. Suffice to observe that the much better known cultural developments of the subsequent Period III in the interior of eastern North America owe their existence to a number of amorphous complexes subsumed under the rubric 'Middle Archaic'.

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