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

Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Culture (Précis, Chapter 15)

Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture occupied the territories now consisting of Southern Ontario, southern Québec, southwestern New Brunswick, and adjacent states. It is a region covered, for the most part, by the mixed hardwood-softwood forests of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest vegetation province (Rowe 1959). While the origins of Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture in Period II are poorly defined by 4,000 B.C. a distinctive and widespread culture is identifiable. The markedly increased archaeological visibility is a phenomenon that occurs throughout eastern North America as a result of population growth and cultural elaboration associated with a more broadly based subsistence pattern including an increasing importance of plants in the diet (Griffin 1978: 231; Mason 1981). Important natural events during Period III were the expansion of the deciduous forest, including nut producing tree species, at the expense of the coniferous forests and an improved fishing potential as a result of the rising waters of the Great Lakes that changed stream gradients (Mason 1981: 145). Undoubtedly the stabilization of the landscape was the major factor responsible for the increasing archaeological visibility of sites. A stable system of rapids in a river with a concentrated seasonal fish resource, for example, would attract recurrent human occupation to specific site locations. This, in turn, resulted in the accumulation of cultural debris creating the partially false impressions of increasing social stability, sedentariness, and population growth. What was likely involved was simply the coalescence of people at particular seasonally rich and now stable locales rather than any fundamental changes in the settlement patterns or social structure.

Dog Burial Dog Burial

This large male dog was buried in a Terminal phase Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence site near the shore of Lake Huron. Dogs probably entered the Western Hemisphere with the first people. As a comrade in the hunt, a guardian of the camp, and, in some instances, a cartage animal, the dog was frequently accorded the same treatment upon death as humans. During times of dire need or ceremonial requirements, however, this first animal to be domesticated by human beings could become food.

(Reproduced from Wright 1972: Plate 4)

Despite the richer archaeological record there are a number of problems impeding an understanding of Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture or Laurentian Archaic as it is commonly known. Foremost among the problems is the fact that the majority of site materials have been recovered from the surface of ploughed fields. Even when excavated, Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture site material is usually hopelessly intermixed with earlier and later archaeological debris. Single component sites, particularly those pertaining to the earlier portion of Period III and to sites east of the Niagara Escarpment in Southern Ontario, are extremely rare. A taxonomic problem also exists whereby the different emphases placed upon certain facets of the technology can result in a site being assigned to other cultures such as Middle Maritime culture or the Lamoka culture of New York State and the adjacent Niagara Peninsula of Southern Ontario. Increasing regionalism and the difficulty in distinguishing between the diffusion of technological innovations and population intrusions has further complicated matters, particularly towards the end of Period III. There appears to be significant differences between the societies who occupied either side of the Niagara Escarpment. The richer mast forests to the west with their abundant deer, turkey, and nut resources may have permitted more dispersed settlement patterns lacking the warm month concentrations at favoured fishing locales that tend to characterize contemporary settlement patterns to the east. On the other hand, many potential warm weather fishing locales at the mouths of rivers in the west have probably been drowned. Although the archaeological visibility of sites has improved, this improvement is only relative to the preceding Period II. Water level changes in the Lower Great Lakes, particularly prior to 3,500 B.C. but as late as 1,000 B.C. in some regions, drowned many sites while water level fluctuations on Lake Huron and the increased Upper Great Lakes discharge through the Ottawa River resulted in settlement distributions that bear only a partial relationship to present shorelines and river banks. Even in areas of great stability, such as the Upper St. Lawrence River Valley, the fact that people occupied the same site locations over thousands of years has produced hopelessly mixed multi-component sites. This difficulty of isolating single component sites with significant samples has been a major contributor to the current classificatory problems.

The centre of Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture or Laurentian Archaic, was the mixed hardwood (deciduous) and softwood (coniferous) forests of the Upper St. Lawrence drainage system of Québec and Ontario, the Lower Great Lakes and the northern New England states as far east as interior Maine and New Brunswick. In the words of the originator of the concept of a Laurentian Archaic, "The Laurentian may perhaps best be regarded as an extensive Archaic cultural continuum, widely spread throughout northeastern North America, with its major area of development and diffusion within southeastern Ontario, southern Quebec, and northern New York. Its most diagnostic traits, occurring in considerable morphological variety, comprise the gouge; adze; plummet; ground slate points and knives, including the semi-lunar form or ulu, which occurs also in chipped stone; simple forms of the bannerstone; a variety of chipped-stone projectile points, mainly broad-bladed and side-notched forms; and the barbed bone point" (Ritchie 1965: 79-80).

Around the beginning of Period III Middle Great Lakes- St. Lawrence culture penetrated western New Brunswick and portions of New England. The occupation appears to have been a relatively short-lived foray although later developments in the interior are still poorly understood. People of the interconnecting lake and river networks of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest vegetation province relied upon deer and fish as well as a wide range of small game and plant foodstuffs. The early technology consisted of large side-notched dart heads, bifacially chipped knives and a number of other less common traits including certain implement categories acquired from Early and Middle Maritime culture populations in the Lower St. Lawrence Valley and the Atlantic coast. These items, represented by bayonets, projectile points and ulus, all in ground slate, and plummets and gouges have come to be regarded as the diagnostic tools of Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture despite their quantitatively limited occurrence and their origins in another culture. The distribution of these traits progressively weakens as one proceeds to the south and west (Wright 1962). There is, thus, a classificatory problem whereby sites containing typical chipped stone tool inventories are not regarded as 'classic' Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture sites simply because they lack the requisite sprinkling of 'diagnostic' ground stone implements. In an effort to accommodate this problem related Period II sites have been called proto-Laurentian (Funk 1988). This nomenclature, however, does not address the issue of widely distributed Period III sites that lack the ground stone tool elements but share in the dominant chipped stone portion of the tool kit (Dragoo 1959; 1966). A number of archaeologists have lumped the assemblages sharing the chipped stone tool technology into a Lake Forest Archaic (Snow 1980; Tuck 1978). In addition to the adoption of Middle Maritime culture traits, Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture borrowed polished stone spearthrower or atlatl weights from the south. In fact, Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture stands as an excellent example of how borrowed traits from neighbouring cultures can be grafted onto a predominantly chipped stone tool inventory to produce a tool kit whose spatial variety presents major classificatory problems for archaeologists. Contrary to a restrictive classification of Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (Ritchie 1965: 79-80) a broader definition is followed here that places the emphasis upon the dominant, albeit simple, chipped stone tool inventory rather than the relatively rare ground stone tool categories emphasized in the original definition. Consideration of this classificatory problem can be found in a number of articles (Funk 1988; Tuck 1977).

In those rare instances where bone tools have survived they include needles, unilaterally barbed harpoons with or without line holes, conical toggling harpoons with line hole, dart heads, daggers, awls, and beaver incisor tools. Native copper implements, while widely distributed, are only common in the Ottawa Valley that appears to have been a centre of copper implement manufacture and distribution (Kennedy 1962; 1966; 1970). Among the wide range of copper items awls, beads, gorges, dart heads, and knives are most common.

Near the beginning of Period III cemeteries appear in association with the larger seasonal fishing base camps. Although extended and flexed burials are most common the presence of bundle burials and cremations suggest there was some effort made to bring the remains of those who died elsewhere back to specific base camps. This suggests that, in addition to their economic functions, such sites represented 'sacred places'. The placement of grave offerings and red ochre with the deceased was variable but became increasingly frequent through time. People were robust, with heavy musculature. Severe dental attrition resulting from eating gritty food frequently led to periodontal disease but most individuals were free of recognizable pathologies excepting fractures and, among older individuals, arthritis. Biological relationships with neighbouring populations traced by physical anthropologists tend to be ambiguous (e.g. Pfeiffer 1977 versus 1979) but given the dispersed nature of the comparative samples and their generally small and fragmented nature the equivocal results are not surprising. When skeletal samples come from the same region but represent different time periods, such as the Morrison's Island-6 and Allumette-1 sites in the Ottawa Valley (Kennedy 1966; No date), a close biological relationship is apparent (Pfeiffer 1979). The distribution of certain tool varieties and exotic items indicates that Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture peoples had contacts not only with related bands but also their Middle Maritime culture and Middle Shield culture neighbours as well as people to the south.

Around 2,000 B.C. elements of Susquehanna Archaic culture spread up the coast to New Brunswick (Sanger 1975) and into the St. Lawrence Valley (Clermont et Chapdelaine 1982; Dumais 1978) and Southern Ontario (Kenyon 1980; Watson 1981). Whether this event was the product of a population movement or a technology transfer is still being debated. It does appear to have been marginal to Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture that is inferred to have continued to regionally diversify and establish the culture base for the subsequent Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture of Period IV. The archaeological demonstration of this in situ development has been confounded by the difficulty of isolating the single components necessary for the comparative process. A different interpretation of events has appeared in a recent synthesis of the Archaic in Southern Ontario (Ellis et al. 1990). Here, the chronology after 3,250 B.C. is divided into three sequential units based upon projectile point form, Narrow Point, Broad Point, and Small Point, respectively (Ibid: Figure 4.1, 69). Evidence for this sequence of point styles is predominantly drawn from surface collections from sites west of the Niagara Escarpment in Southern Ontario and by extrapolation from sites in adjacent New York State. Contrasting with this reconstruction is the evidence from the Ottawa Valley where fluctuations in the volume of water discharge altered the local settlement pattern thus permitting some isolation of components. At the Morrison's Island-6 site (Kennedy 1966) in addition to typical Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (Laurentian Archaic - Brewerton phase) projectile point types were associated points which would otherwise be classified as either 'Narrow Point' or 'Small Point'. 'Broad Point' Archaic (Susquehanna Archaic) is regarded as a 'technological diffusion' into Southern Ontario rather than being the product of a population intrusion (Ellis et al. 1990: 99-100). In a cogent consideration of the Satchell complex, an expression of the widespread Broad Point horizon (Kenyon 1980: 18), it is suggested that it may not be "...valid as a taxonomic designation for a phase or archaeological culture..." but rather an expression of a diffused hunting technology which began in the southeastern United States and spread north along the Atlantic coast and west to the lower Great Lakes. The correlation of a number of varieties of broad points with the Deciduous Forest vegetation province in contrast to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence vegetation province may suggest the richer deer populations of the former region was a factor in the spread of the point types. Conversely, the evidence from the Inderwick site in the Rideau Lakes area of eastern Southern Ontario (Watson 1981) raises the possibility of an actual intruding 'Broad Point' population. At this site an assemblage clearly related to the Susquehanna Archaic is quite distinct from local Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture materials. Unfortunately the archaeological context at the site was destroyed by elevated water levels and, as with the predominant surface materials in western Southern Ontario (Kenyon 1980: 24), leaves the question of technological diffusion or population intrusion an open issue. It is thus felt that until there is considerably more information from demonstrable single components the Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence cultural construct should be kept open and flexible.

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