Wednesday, 28 December 2011

NIPIGON: 7000 B.C.

This article was written for the Souvenir Edition Nipigon Historical Museum Welcome newspaper June 1982, by Bill Ross, then Regional Archaeologist, now retired, for the Ministry of Culture and Recreation (1982 designation).

Sunset on Lake Nipigon.


Europeans were not the first people to settle in the Nipigon area. Rather, this area was first settled by Amerindians some nine thousand years ago. These people were descendants of the first migrants to the New World who had crossed from Asia several thousand years before. As the ice from the last glacier receded northward, plant and animal populations moved into the area, and in pursuit of these came man.


Corn, rose-hips, wild rice and beans.

Archaeologists working in this area have recorded over 1000 sites belonging to the original inhabitants of Northern Ontario and have so far only scratched the surface. Through the stone tools, broken pottery sherds, food remains and other discarded items, the long forgotten lifeways of these prehistoric peoples are slowly and painstakingly being reconstructed.


What follows is a brief summary or overview of man's past record in Northwestern Ontario. It is of course greatly simplified as even small portions of the total story could fill books, but it will, hopefully, create an interest in this fascinating story and perhaps lead people to libraries, bookshelves and museums in order to flesh out this brief sketch.


Some are tools and some are just leaverite.
(Leave-it-right-there it's not anything but a rock)

Archaeologists call the first people who lived in the Nipigon area Palaeo Indians (Palaeo meaning old) . It would appear that they first entered the area some nine thousand years ago. Little is known of these early people but we believe they were big game hunters and that roaming herds of caribou may have been their main source of food. Most of our evidence for the existence of these people are the distinctive, beautifully made lanceolate spear points that have been left behind, along with large stone knives and scraping tools. Little else remains.


Some two thousand years later, distinctive changes in the tool kit of the local people occurred. The spear points changed shape, became smaller, and a distinctive fishing technology appeared in the form of hooks, gaffs and sinkers. Archaeologists are still unclear as to why these changes occurred but some suggest that it may have been a response to a changing climate which would have affected the local plant and animal communities.[editor note - this is 1982 writing, way before the Inconvenient Truth was made]
Whatever the cause, it is distinct enough that archaeologists call this period the Archaic, and can readily separate this tool kit from the one of the Palaeo-Indian time period.


Copper tools, Reflection Lake, about 20 miles north of Nipigon.

Perhaps the most important development of the Archaic time period (5000 - 500 B.C.), was the appearance of a new industry - the production of tools from native copper. Needles, knives, axes, spear points, as well as less utilitarian items such as bracelets, all hammered from native copper, made there appearances. Although this represents some of the earliest metal working in the world, the Archaic people of Lake Superior were not the earliest metallurgists in the true sense of the word. Their tools were manufactured by heating and hammering the copper into shape, not by casting as was done in other parts of the world. There is evidence that copper tools were being traded widely across eastern North America at this early period.


Laurel  culture made a conical base vessel.
Existing before and after the Birth of Christ.

Approximately 2,500 years ago another change in technology occurs which for the archaeologist marks the end of the Archaic and the beginning of the Woodland period. This cahnge in the tool kit is marked by the sudden appearance of native pottery. The concept of ceramic vessels appears to have diffused into this area from the south and as there is not a radical change in the stone tools that marked the change from Palaeo - Indian to the Archaic, some archaeologists have suggested that the Archaic people simply added ceramics to their tool kit. Whether this is fact or fiction remains a problem to be solved by future scientific research.


The Woodland period in this area lasts until the coming of the European culture and the vast social upheavals associated with it. This is not to imply that the Woodland period remained static through its more than two thousand years of existence. There were distinct differences and cahnges that occur throughout time and space in both the way the ceramics were manufactured and lin the way they were decorated. Some of these changes may have been the result of simple evolution of the ceramic manufacturing techniques while others probably represented whole scale population movements.


Vert Island, Nipigon Bay, April

Throughout time the native people of the Nipigon area remained hunters and gatherers, living in small bands and successfully conquering the harshness of the boreal forest. This indeed was an accomplishment - imagine yourself with no tools except those you had made yourself from stone or wood or bone, and surviving a Nipigon winter. These were talented people indeed.


Although this summary is obviously simplified, it hopefully has shown the diversity of people who lived in the area the length of time that the Nipigon country has been home to man.

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