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Before Ontario

Before Ontario: The Archaeology of a Province

Marit K. Munson
Susan M. Jamieson
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Before Ontario
    Book Description:

    Before Ontario there was ice. As the last ice age came to an end, land began to emerge from the melting glaciers. With time, plants and animals moved into the new landscape and people followed. For almost 15,000 years, the land that is now Ontario has provided a home for their descendants: hundreds of generations of First Peoples. With contributions from the province's leading archaeologists, Before Ontario provides both an outline of Ontario's ancient past and an easy to understand explanation of how archaeology works. The authors show how archaeologists are able to study items as diverse as fish bones, flakes of stone, and stains in the soil to reconstruct the events and places of a distant past - fishing parties, long-distance trade, and houses built to withstand frigid winters. Presenting new insights into archaeology’s purpose and practice, Before Ontario bridges the gap between the modern world and a past that can seem distant and unfamiliar, but is not beyond our reach. Contributors include Christopher Ellis (University of Western Ontario), Neal Ferris (University of Western Ontario/Museum of Ontario Archaeology), William Fox (Canadian Museum of Civilization/Royal Ontario Museum), Scott Hamilton (Lakehead University), Susan Jamieson (Trent University Archaeological Research Centre - TUARC), Mima Kapches (Royal Ontario Museum), Anne Keenleyside (TUARC), Stephen Monckton (Bioarchaeological Research), Marit Munson (TUARC), Kris Nahrgang (Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nation), Suzanne Needs-Howarth (Perca Zooarchaeological Research), Cath Oberholtzer (TUARC), Michael Spence (University of Western Ontario), Andrew Stewart (Strata Consulting Inc.), Gary Warrick (Wilfrid Laurier University), and Ron Williamson (Archaeological Services Inc).

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8919-3
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Figures
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Sidebars
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-1)
  6. [Illustration]
    (pp. 2-2)
  7. Introduction: Seeing Ontario’s Past Archaeologically
    (pp. 3-20)
    Neal Ferris

    What do you see when you walk along a path, drive down a country road, or fly over Ontario? There is the physical landscape, certainly – the waterways, lakes, hills, and valleys, and perhaps the Niagara Escarpment. And of course you see the many signs of how we have altered that landscape, especially in the south: the roads, homes, and graded vistas that are the direct result of our collective, continuing efforts to shape, develop, and make the world around us serve our wants and needs. This is the landscape of the present: the spaces and places we all see...

  8. Part I A Land before Ontario

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-23)
      Marit K. Munson

      Ontario is new land, geologically speaking. It began to emerge from melting glaciers about 15,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age. On a human scale, though, the land has existed since time immemorial, providing a beloved home for hundreds of generations of Aboriginal peoples. The stories of this land and its people are preserved in oral history, in written documents, and in the material remains of ancient societies.

      This book tells some of the many stories of the land that became Ontario, from the perspective of some of the province’s leading archaeologists – researchers who have...

    • 1 Water and Land
      (pp. 24-34)
      Andrew M. Stewart

      The people standing on the banks of the River Thames in southwestern Ontario in 1926, described in this newspaper article, were searching for a grave, the burial place of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, killed at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. The searchers were members of the Nahdee family of Walpole Island, descendants of Aboriginal warriors from that battle who recalled their father’s stories of Tecumseh’s secret burial following his defeat in battle during the War of 1812. They hoped to find his grave, but their search ended in confusion. Though they remembered the country from their youth, little...

    • 2 Before Pottery: Paleoindian and Archaic Hunter-Gatherers
      (pp. 35-47)
      Christopher J. Ellis

      The most ancient known peoples of southern Ontario lived in the region before pottery, before farming. They made a living by hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plants, a way of life that favoured a more or less mobile existence. People usually moved from season to season to make use of the natural resources available in different places at particular times of the year, a lifestyle that required detailed knowledge of the local environment and its variations. These early hunter-gatherers lived in Ontario from the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers that first exposed the land for human occupation through the...

    • 3 The Woodland Period, 900 bce to 1700 ce
      (pp. 48-61)
      Ronald F. Williamson

      Archaeologists call the era from 900 bce to 1650 or 1700 ce the Woodland period. It was a time marked by the introduction of clay pots in the Early Woodland (900–400 bce) and by ceremonial interaction among Great Lakes groups in both the Early Woodland and Middle Woodland (400 bce–800 ce). Archaeologists define the Late Woodland period, from 800 through the mid-to late-1600s ce, based on the gradual adoption of farming.

      Ceramic vessels, used for cooking and water storage, were first introduced into Ontario about 2,400 years ago. Thereafter, fragments of broken pots are among the most common...

    • 4 The Aboriginal Population of Ontario in Late Prehistory
      (pp. 62-76)
      Gary Warrick

      Four hundred years ago, Ontario was home to about 75,000 Aboriginal people, divided in two major language and cultural groups – Algonquians (15,000) and Iroquoians (60,000). Algonquians lived primarily in the vast expanse of northern Ontario. They hunted, gathered, and fished, moving seasonally through the forest and across the countless rivers and lakes of the Canadian Shield. During spring and summer, Algonquians lived in small bark-covered cabins, in villages of over 100 people at preferred fishing spots. In late autumn and winter, the villages broke apart into small camps of ten to thirty people.

      The Iroquoians occupied southern Ontario, sharing...

    • 5 A World Apart? Ontario’s Canadian Shield
      (pp. 77-96)
      Scott Hamilton

      For most Ontarians, the north is an afterthought – a vast and empty wilderness of lakes, muskeg, and forest, populated only by moose and mosquitoes. It is not popularly thought to be a place to live or even, beyond a camping weekend or a fishing trip, to visit. In fact, many Ontarians use “north” as a kind of shorthand for isolated and remote country.

      As with all stereotypes, this image is part fact and part imagination. The north is indeed vast, making up most of Ontario’s landmass. The region is dominated by the boreal forest that lies over the Canadian...

  9. Part II Telling Archaeological Stories

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 97-98)
      Marit K. Munson

      Any archaeologist can tell a good tale – just ask about field accidents or near-misses, mosquitoes or poison ivy and get ready for an earful. Interpreting the past is also akin to creating a story, spinning out the long narrative of prehistory like that presented in part I of this book.

      The difference between these kinds of stories, though, is that the field stories are told for entertainment and prone to exaggeration, while stories of the archaeological past are constructed through painstaking documentation, description, and analysis of material remains. Those remains – the evidence that archaeologists use – can range...

    • 6 Place, Space, and Dwelling in the Late Woodland
      (pp. 99-111)
      Neal Ferris

      That the past is a foreign place becomes clear from the space and comforts of the twenty-first century, when we try to think beyond our own time to imagine ways of living in and through the ancient landscapes of southern Ontario. How do we understand lives lived in a world so different than the one we know, when notions of home, community, place, outside, inside, territory, and landscape had very different connotations?

      Take a moment to notice your surroundings as you read this chapter. Perhaps you are in a chair inside your heated home during a cold winter’s day, the...

    • 7 Animals and Archaeologists
      (pp. 112-123)
      Suzanne Needs-Howarth

      Animal bones are common in archaeological sites. For Aboriginal people, animals have spirits and are an important part of the cosmos; their bones are alive, even after they are buried. Archaeologists a century ago seldom kept animal bones from archaeological sites, not understanding just how informative they can be about past peoples’ economies and ways of seeing the world. We now recognize, though, how much an archaeologist who specializes in animal bones – called a zooarchaeologist – can learn from these remains. The bones can tell us what people ate, to be sure, but they also show how, where, and...

    • 8 Plants and the Archaeology of the Invisible
      (pp. 124-133)
      Stephen G. Monckton

      Popular representations of archaeology are almost all about pottery, stone tools, and bones. Why is it so rare to hear about the remains of plants? After all, it’s hard to imagine any society not absolutely dependent on vegetation! When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta, I was enthralled with the idea of doing archaeology. I finally got my big chance: a professor told me that I could to join a team of archaeologists who were about to embark on a Roman excavation in south Italy – but only if I was willing to do “this thing...

    • 9 Stories in Stone and Metal
      (pp. 134-141)
      William Fox

      Stone-tool use is an ancient and longstanding tradition, stretching back millions of years and extending into the twentieth century. The working of stone by Aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas is not news to most Canadians who have visited a local museum to see a display of “Indian arrowheads”; however, few would realize the importance of stone tools to peoples of the industrialized world. As recently as the 1700s–1800s, the military in England, France, and Italy relied on millions of gunflints to fire their pistols and muskets in conflicts like the Napoleonic Wars. Master flintknappers used steel hammers to shape...

    • 10 Pots and Pipes: Artifacts Made from Clay
      (pp. 142-152)
      Mima Kapches

      When Europeans first travelled to Ontario in the early 1600s, they encountered Iroquoians making clay pots and clay smoking pipes employing a technology of unparalleled sophistication; it was a ceramic tradition that was to decline, as Aboriginal pots were quickly replaced by European-made copper and brass kettles and Aboriginal pipes were replaced by European-made pipes. By the 1650s, Aboriginal production of clay artifacts in southern Ontario was in disarray and soon disappeared, bringing to an end a tradition that had been flourishing in Ontario for over two and half millennia.

      In this chapter, I’ll start by looking at the clay-pot-making...

    • 11 The Living Landscape
      (pp. 153-164)
      Cath Oberholtzer

      Step back in time and imagine walking along a trail through the woods, the sun creating dappled patterns as it filters through the green canopy, the white birches radiant where the sunlight touches them. You catch an occasional glimpse of a lake shimmering in the distance. The solitude is punctuated by the shrill raspy call of nesting eagles, and perhaps by the melodic chant of human voices drifting toward you on the breeze.

      Suddenly, the trail widens and you walk into a clearing. There, before you, sloping gently southeastward toward the rising sun, stands a rare outcrop of crystalline limestone....

    • 12 Social and Political Lives
      (pp. 165-176)
      Susan M. Jamieson

      Archaeologists tend to concentrate on physical objects in order to explain what people did in the past – how they made pots and stone tools, how they built their houses and what their villages looked like, what they ate, and so on. In fact, my colleagues focus on many of these questions in their chapters of this book. This chapter, though, is about two of the more abstract aspects of human society – the ways in which people organized themselves into groups and governed themselves in the past. These are especially difficult to infer from archaeological remains. So how do...

    • 13 Skeletal Evidence of Health and Disease among Iroquoians
      (pp. 177-187)
      Anne Keenleyside

      Health is the product of a complex interaction between biology, the environment, and behaviour. People who study the health of modern-day populations examine a wide range of factors: lifestyle, diet and nutrition, cultural background, physical fitness, socioeconomic status, employment, education, and access to medical care. Bioarchaeologists who investigate the health of populations that are no longer living take a similar approach, looking at the interaction of biological, environmental, and social factors. We have much more limited information, however, and we rely to a large extent on key sources like early historic accounts, archaeological evidence, and the physical remains of the...

    • 14 Death and Burial in Woodland Times
      (pp. 188-200)
      Michael W. Spence

      The dead do not bury themselves. It is the survivors, the living members of the community, who plan and conduct funeral rites. They are the ones who determine how to treat the body, where to place the burial, and what things to put with it for the afterlife. When archaeologists examine an ancient burial, we are likely to learn at least as much about the society that the person lived in as we do about the deceased person in particular. In the small traditional societies that lived in southern Ontario, death would have had a profound impact on the community,...

  10. Part III The Last (But Not Final) Word

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 201-202)
      Marit K. Munson

      Most of Ontario’s past is Aboriginal. Almost 600 generations of Aboriginal people were born, lived, and died since people first moved onto the land at the end of the last ice age; another 15 generations met, fought, married, and traded with European explorers and colonizers.

      In the last century, Ontarians of all walks of life have become increasingly interested in the province’s past, eager to learn about the multitude of generations who came before. Some stories about the past come from First Nations, who maintain longstanding oral histories of their people. Other stories come from archaeologists, who have spent a...

    • 15 An Aboriginal Perspective
      (pp. 203-212)
      Kris Nahrgang

      The chapters in this book have been written by some of the most respected experts in the field of Ontario archaeology. Working diligently, these archaeologists have gathered an incredible amount of knowledge about the pasts of First Nations. Yet we need to realize that none of this information was written by a single First Nations person. It is sad to think that there are fewer than ten archaeologists of Aboriginal ancestry in all of Canada, and that our history must be gathered by others from the footprints that we left in the past.

      In this chapter, I offer you a...

  11. References
    (pp. 213-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-242)