First Nations artifacts tell stories

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Have you ever walked through a freshly ploughed field and noticed an oddly shaped stone lying on the ground? Stooping to pick it up, you notice its angular surface. Maybe you have discovered a rock. Or, you may have just unearthed a piece of history with a connection to another human being who lived in Oxford County hundreds, if not thousands of years ago!

Archaeologists have determined that prehistoric mankind has lived in Ontario for some 10,000 years. Little in the way of organic materials survives from this era, so much of the information comes from the stone tools that have been found and their association with the prehistoric creatures that had been hunted.

Some of these early stone tools that have been identified are narrow, leaf-shaped spear points used to hunt large game. About 10,000 years ago, the glaciers that had covered this area began to retreat, leaving behind rolling hills, or drumlins, like those around Mt. Elgin. As vegetation grew, animals appeared. Large elephant-like creatures, the mastodon were hunted by these spear-wielding natives. Can you imagine?

This time period has been classified by archaeologists as Paleo-Indian. One of the distinguishing characteristics of these particular points is the flute, or groove, which run along part of its length on both sides.

Our prehistoric brothers and sisters had no written language; nor did they think in terms of time periods. Professionals who study these ancient Natives have come up with these terms to describe the era in which they lived. The next such epoch is the Archaic Period, which extended back 3-7,000 years ago.

During these centuries, peoples developed the dugout canoe by using several different woodworking tools including stone axes, adzes and celts. Canoes enabled people to travel greater distances and trade between different tribes came into existence. One astonishing example of trade goods is Native Copper.

First Nation arrow and spear points [Credit: Ingersoll Times]

Native Copper is the term for pure copper that was quarried on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It could be easily shaped into different objects, without the need for smelting or heating it. Examples of Native Copper tools –ranging from knives, arrowheads and fish hooks –have been found in various parts of Ontario and Manitoba.

Generally however, most tools of this time period were still being made out of stone, bone and undoubtedly wood and plant fibres.

This Archaic Period can be best described as the hunting and gathering period. Natives were still hunting wild game, but they were not totally dependent upon it. They were also fishing and gathering nuts and fruit, and shell food. There has also been evidence found that the Archaic peoples also domesticated the dog.

One peculiar weapon that was used during this era has been called an atlatl. This was a spear-throwing device that increased the speed and power of the individual. Perhaps it can be best described as a wooden handle that held the spear in place, and when the spear was hurled, it increased the velocity of the throw.

The next era, the Woodland Period, has been further divided into Early, Middle and Late periods extending until historic contact with Europeans in roughly 1651. It was during this era that the bow and arrow was developed, along with pottery. There is also evidence that agriculture was practiced by these people who were now living in large villages. Carbonized remnants of corn and beans lend further credence to our knowledge. Mature corn cobs, by the way, were only the size of your little finger!

Arrowheads dating from this period come in different sizes, from small dart heads for hunting birds to larger ones for taking down deer. These points are generally triangular in shape, with the characteristic notched tang at the base.

The Woodland Period was also when tobacco was introduced. Examples of clay and stone pipes are often found at archaeological dig sites in southern Ontario. Entire nations were known to grow and trade tobacco to other tribes. The Petun or Tobacco Indians lived in the Grey- Bruce area. The people who once roamed Oxford were some of the 12,000 individuals known as Neutrals, named for their ability to maintain neutrality between the warring Iroquois south of lakes Erie and Ontario, and the Huron nation around Midland.

Source: Ingersoll Times [December 15, 2010]

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