P. E. I. Stone Tools and Weapons in the Archaic Period

The Palaeo Indian period, which formed the basis of my discussion of stone tools and weapons in the preceding post, was a period of incredibly dynamic changes in the geology of Prince Edward Island.

Looking again at these maps of the geological history of the region by Natural Resources Canada, we see that around 13,000 BP, with the great rise in water levels following the melting of the glaciers, the Island was three islands! Three thousand years later, the crust of the earth had rebounded to the point where there was a massive land corridor to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. This is the time when the Island was first inhabited either by people from what is now the United States or, at a much earlier date than we have imagined, people from the Solutrean culture of France and Spain.

To make these maps more intelligible it is useful to refer to the article by T. W. Anderson, Holocene vegetation and climatic history of Prince Edward Island, Canada published in 1980 by the Geological Survey of Canada. In his forward, Anderson describes the changes in climate and vegetation that took place on the Island from the beginning of the Palaeo period to the coming of the Mi’kmaq in the centuries before the time of Christ:

The earliest recognizable vegetation was tundra-like with nonarboreal birch, willow, Artemisia, and upland grasses and sedges. The vegetation changed remarkably within a short period, from tundra at 10 000 years BP, to forest-tundra (spruce – nonarboreal birch association) between 10000 and 8000 years ago, to pine at or shortly after 8000 years ago. Hemlock arrived 7000 years ago and dominated along with white pine from about 6500-4500 years BP. Beech came in about 3400 years ago and formed part of a hemlock-beech-birch association up until modem times. Sharp increases in weeds and grasses and declines in hemlock, birch, and beech denote European settlement approximately 100-150 years ago.

 A gradual warming tend is inferred for the period prior to about 8000 years BP, but rapid climatic improvement took place shortly after 8000 years ago corresponding with the pollen transition from spruce to pine. Maximum temperatures (close to 8.5° C) were reached approximately 4000 years ago when the mean annual temperature may have been almost 2.5° C warmer than present. Deterioration of the climate occurred at approximately 3000 and 1500 years ago, coinciding with increases in spruce, Ericaceae, and Sphagnum, and a decrease in pine.

It is worth adding his Summary here as well as it helps to make the picture of the world he is describing more complete.

Tundra vegetation was widespread up until about 10 000 years BP at which time it gave way to a forest-tundra transition vegetation dominated first by nonarboreal birch and later by spruce. Pine (mainly white pine) replaced spruce approximately 8000 years BP. Hemlock appeared for the first time at 7000 years ago; it declined in significance between about 4500 and 3000 years ago, reappeared, and dominated with birch and beech until modern times.

 The inferred Holocene climatic history of the island is one of gradual warming before 8000 years ago followed by rapid warming since about 8000 years BP. The warmest part of the Holocene corresponds with the resurgence of pine and birch at 3000-4000 years ago, when mean annual temperatures, possibly as much as 2.5˚ C warmer than present, were attained. Conditions are considered to have been relatively dry up to about 3000 years ago, but have been wetter since that time.

Anderson – Holocene Vegetation and Climatic History of PEI – 1980

Anderson says that a rapid climatic improvement took place shortly after 8000 years ago corresponding with the pollen transition from spruce to pine. This improvement in the climate, which would have seen the spread of all kinds of new vegetation, and the advance into the region of all sorts of animals that could now flourish in this more temperate climate, coincides with the transition from the Palaeo Period to the Archaic Period.

Looking at the Natural Resources Canada map that illustrate geological changes in the region we see that in the Archaic period also, there were very dynamic changes in the lay of the land. By 8000 BP the Island is completely attached, end to end, to the Mainland, yet, in just 2000 years, currents, and subsidence of the crust of the earth, have opened up what is now Northumberland Strait so that once again, and for the last time, the Island begins to take on the shape with which we are familiar. The Archaic Peoples witnessed, over many centuries, the birth of the Island!

 

A Note on Chronology

As you read various books and articles by different archaeologists you may be confused to discover that most of them espouse chronologies that favour different names and dates for the periods they are discussing. Chronology is a very tricky thing because, as more and more sophisticated excavations take place, possible dates for occupations, and therefore artefacts, are constantly being presented. Here are two chronologies that I have encountered in my readings. (The Merrill was on the internet and I can no longer find the site.)

You will notice that Tuck’s date for the Archaic period, combined with other traditions at roughly the same time, is much later than what Merrill proposes. To complicate matters even more, in his book from which this chronology was assembled, Tuck says clearly that the Archaic tradition may be far more ancient than thought and may be the dominant progression for the Eastern Seaboard following the end of the Palaeo Period. I cannot understand why Tuck would label a vast period of time – The Late Pre-Ceramic Period – with a name that has nothing at all to do with it.

I have chosen, probably because I am influenced by art historical chronological thinking, to see the Archaic Period as being logically in the middle, and in this case coinciding with the great climatic changes that began at the end of the Palaeo Period. I think that it is for sure the longest period in the Late Palaeolithic and agree with most accounts that we don’t know very much about it. I believe that  scarcity of evidence can be accounted for by the fact that, as the earth’s crust began to subside and water levels rose, the majority of the Archaic sites were engulfed and are now at least several kilometres out at sea. That would explain why an ulu, a large semi-lunar thick-backed scraper for working hides and very much part of the Archaic toolkit, was found in the nets of a fisherman several miles out at sea. Keenlyside discusses this find in this article.

Keenlyside – Ulus and Spearpoints – 1984

Have any Archaic sites survived on the Island in a condition unpolluted by later prehistoric occupations and with a tool kit made of stone extensive enough to give us a good idea of what these people used in the course of their daily lives? I believe strongly that there is such a place.

 

A Return to the Midgell Site – CcCp-2

(The number CcCp-2 is the Borden number for this site. Such numbers were generated for every archaeological site across the country and permitted anyone familiar with the system to go back to a particular spot.)

Since this site, apparently uncontaminated by other prehistoric cultures, has never been excavated (there was a single test trench in 1985) and since all the artefacts I discovered are in storage at the National Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa and will probably never again see the light of day, no report will be published on the subject. Its as if it never existed. As an amateur, I am using this post to share what I found with interested persons in the hope that memory of the site, and the importance I justly attach to its artefacts, will somehow not die out.

Throughout my previous blog posts devoted to my discovery and exploration of Island prehistory, I have kept coming back, again and again, to the site I discovered at Midgell in Saint Peter’s Bay in the autumn of 1983 – thirty-six years ago! I have never been able to set aside or forget that special place and recently when I revisited it with a friend after an absence of about 10 years, the magic was still present, although the spot where I found a number of amazing artefacts was now, even at low tide, well underwater where I am standing in the above photo.

At Midgell the bed of the Bay narrows so dramatically that at extremely low tides you can walk, in knee boots, to the centre and stand next to the narrow channel with its powerful currents, as I did in the photo below, taken in 1985 while National Museums was doing a very brief test excavation on what was visible of the original matrix that formed the core of a very ancient site.

It is possible that originally, perhaps six or seven thousand years ago, the site extended almost across the bay, to the very narrow channel that allowed the drainage from what must have seemed like an inner lake, fed by the Saint Peter’s River, into the larger portion of what is now the Bay. Leaping to the north side would have been an easy thing. This can be seen in this Google aerial photo of the general area at high tide. At very low tide the bottom is revealed nearly halfway across the bay.

What I discovered in 1983 was the remains of what must have been a huge site composed entirely of compacted burnt material. Much had already succumbed to the tides – and this could be clearly seen by wading out at low tide – but much still remained and appeared to continue under the bank and beyond where the vehicles are parked in the above photo.

This layer, perhaps 50 centimetres thick in the more dense portions was spread out, as far as I could estimate by pacing the limits of what was visible, about 25 meters square – or about 625 square meters!

The thick burnt mat of the matrix was so dense that the sea could not dissolve it, but rather undermined it so that pieces, rich in lithic fragments, broke off and were swept away by the water. In that way much was lost, but much was also released into the water where it was tossed about by the action of the waves.

The first such artefact I found was this very large blade, as big, or bigger than the Palaeo points, but made using the same techniques of thinning a suitable piece of stone that broke predictably in a conchoidal fracture and permitted a thin, very sharp blade where the evidence of the thinning technique could be clearly seen on the flat sides.

The second artefact I found, quite close to this blade on that cold windy day, was this massive point, designed quite probably to be attached to a thrusting spear that would be of use in killing such animals as seals and walruses.

Compared to other artefacts found in other sites in our region, it is a perfectly designed side-notched blade with a curved, hollowed base reminiscent of Palaeo material.

Several long blades, thinned at the base, were also found in the very specific area where the site matrix was being dissolved by the sea. Here is another such blade that was hastily photographed as soon as it was found.

Here is another blade in the process of being shaped. The black rhyolite has turned grey – it is not another manifestation of the Ingonish rock – and there may be a reason for its appearance which I will discuss below.

An enormous, massive point was also found, just eroded out of the hearth matrix. One wonders if something so large would have been made for heavy butchering.

The base appears to be broken and it might have been flaked to a taper for hafting purposes.

 

Another very large point was found with basal thinning intact. Hafted, it would have made a formidable tool or weapon. I can’t really say which it was. There is much ambiguity in identifying the functions of these kinds of implements.

Here are two preforms for points with thinned bases that, in their completed state, would have looked much like the one above. For some reason they were never finished.

This preform, worked about the same as the one above it seems out of place in a collection of points and blades that are all mostly blackish. This point preform and a long blade mentioned above, are a pale grey. The striations always present in this material are quite visible, as is a speckled texture that also runs through the stone.

When these artefacts were found we at first thought that this discolouration was the result of the material having been in the water, perhaps for thousands of years, and that this might be a sort of resultant bleaching. However, David Keenlyside remembered that evidence was emerging that the prehistoric peoples likely baked the stone in a charcoal fire to high temperatures in order to change the molecular structure in order to make it more favourable to flaking. In other words, heating changed the stone to such a degree that the flaking process was easier and more predictable.

There is now a considerable body of literature on this subject, with articles originating in in various countries, even South Africa. This article, Effect of heat Treatment in Siliceous Rocks Used in Prehistoric Lithic Technology by Marian Domanski and John A.Webb, is very interesting – and technical to the point of often being beyond my comprehension. The summary below however gives an idea of the arguments they present and support with laboratory analysis:

Stone tool manufacture by many prehistoric and recent societies was characterized by deliberate heating of fine grained siliceous rocks to improve their flaking properties. Extensive mechanical testing of heated and unheated cryptocrystalline and macrocrystalline quartz lithologies has shown that thermal treatment causes a consistent marked reduction in fracture toughness. This mechanical property can be used as an objective measurement of the flaking qualities of stone materials, and a reliable criterion for the recognition of intentionally heated artefacts in the archaeological record. X-ray diffraction studies and scanning electron microscopy have demonstrated that the change in fracture toughness with heating is the result of recrystallization. The poorly ordered, strongly interlocking cryptocrystalline fabric of the unheated samples becomes more equigranular and better crystallized with thermal treatment. As a consequence, fractures propagate more readily in heated samples, accounting for their better flaking properties.

Domanski and Webb – Effect of Heat Treatment on Siliceous Rocks …1992

This article from the New York Times, describing work done in Africa, clearly describes the nature of the research on heating and modifying the basic structure of the stone.

https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18obfire.html

 

Other Lithic Material from Midgell

You frequently find broken off tips of what must have been very large points, such as these, also found at the Midgell site.

Here are smaller points with a lanceolate shape. I don’t know if they were meant to be held in the hand as knives or hafted in some way for another purpose.

Another massive round headed blade was found nearby. The original is well over 100 mm in length. The base appears broken and, like the other blade above, it was probably finished to a taper. The broken bases of these two blades suggest extremely heavy use, so heavy that they would break away from the handle into which they were hafted.

Note in particular the great flake broken off the surface of the side of the point on the left. Such huge flakes were used by these people as powerful scrapers, maybe for skins or maybe for wood. A number of these scrapers were found at this site.

These banded rhyolite artefacts also come from this site. They may be spear points but show new interest in the forms adopted. Suddenly, all together, from the same time source, you have a diamond-shaped point, a stemmed point and one that is side-notched.

These spear points are both side notched, the one on the right quite dramatically.

This accounts for the majority of the points found at the Midgell site and all of them are made out of the banded rhyolite from Ingonish Island off Cape Breton. They are made of the same material that the majority of our worn Palaeo point stubs are made of and this suggests not only a continuing human contact with the Palaeo Indians but also a continuing trade contact with Nova Scotia.

There are other points and blades in the Jones Collection at the PEI Museum, and in the collection of a private collector, that I feel strongly were found at Midgell and would, if included here, perhaps expand the picture of what was going on in those centuries. However I did not want to take the risk of making a mistake in attributing material that may not belong to the sequence. But, on the other hand, there’s lots more out there.

 

The Appearance of Quartzite

The Midgell site has produced evidence that new materials and new technologies were beginning to be adopted. This involves the introduction of quartzite.

There must be a reason for this and I wonder if the trade arrangements with Ingonish Island had begun to break down and the black rhyolite was becoming scarce. This would have forced the locals to make points out of a readily available material that had been used for centuries for such objects as hammer stones.

This large partly worked preform illustrates perfectly the nature of quartzite. The material is very difficult to work but does break with a conchoidal fracture. Because of the nature of the stone these fractures are not smooth as in chert or rhyolite but have a rough surface.

A small number of quartzite points have been found at the Midgell site. This stemmed point with the tip of its base broken off started out life as a pebble or small cobble which was patiently “excavated” to achieve the desired shape.

Here are two more points from Midgell, not of the finest workmanship, along with partly worked cores or preforms that demonstrate just how difficult it was to extract a fine point. (Both these preforms are from North Lake and have been included to give an idea of how the points were extracted.)

 

Other Tools Found at Midgell

To complete the picture of the range of tools and weapons found at Midgell I insert these collages of hammer and grinding stones and hand axes. The hammer stones are found in significant numbers even today because they are now all under water and difficult to distinguish from ordinary stones. Most private collectors are not interested in them and so they survive on the site.

These hand axes, which must have been produced in significant numbers, are rare, compared to the blades and points. I found only these two at Midgell. The one on the left was found in situ in the trench dug in 1985. I was not able to photograph or measure it, but it is about 25-30 cm long. Its surface was very pitted and worn as if it had been put to other uses besides being an axe. The other tiny artefact is only about 9 cm long, showing the enormous difference in size among this genre of artefact. It is in a private collection. Using evidence from other finds the size range ran the gamut of these two hand axes.

Here is a another small hand axe, also from a private collection, about 11 cm in length, with fine polishing and a gouged surface showing secondary use.

 

This selection of pictures has included most of the artefacts found at CcCp-2 in a very short period of time, from 1983 to about 1987, and for which I have a photograph.

 

EVIDENCE FOR ARCHAIC ACTIVITY IN OTHER PEI LOCATIONS

The Jones Site, Greenwich, Saint Peter’s Bay

A significant number of stemmed quartzite points which are associated with the Archaic Period were found at the Jones Site at Greenwich in Saint Peter’s Bay by Rolley Jones who monitored the site and amassed a vast collection over many years. The Jones site, investigated by Dr. David Keenlyside of the Museum of Civilisation in 1983 and 1985, has never emerged as a clear unambiguous site. The truly vast amount of lithic material at Greenwich associated with prehistoric peoples grew over the years as the vigorous currents at the mouth of the bay tore ancient hearths apart and, by the peculiar action of currents, lay a huge number of artefacts, all mixed up together, on a tail of sand formed by the waves. You can see it on the right in this aerial photograph by Airscapes. It was history put into a blender.

The numerous trenches that were dug in the most logical places on the bank failed to reveal a hearth site although there were traces of burning and a number of artefacts that could well have been Palaeo or Archaic, were found and published by Keenlyside.

Rolley Jones found quite a few quartzite points of the stemmed and diamond-shaped variety that are dated to the Archaic Period. Of the large number of such points found the ones illustrated below are among the finest you could fine anywhere.

 

Finds at McPhee’s Shore in Savage Harbour

On the east side of Savage Harbour there was an area of farmland called McPhee’s Shore in Meacham’s ATLAS. It was interesting for two reasons, the first, for being the probable site of an early 19th Century house that belonged to the family of Bishop Angus MacEachern, the first Bishop of Charlottetown. An ancient apple tree grew out of the centre of what appeared to be a cellar that was surrounded by artefacts of early historical material. It was a shrine to Island Catholicism. Secondly, it was also the location of a large Archaic Period site. As you can see by the recent Google aerial photograph, the site has almost completely disappeared under two large houses and the bulldozing that created their extensive lawns.

In the area where the house in the top right is situated was a vast area of burnt soil, about 50 metres in diameter, from which Ingonish banded rhyolite raw material, flakes and artefacts  had worked their way to the ploughed surface.

There were also fragments of bright Nova Scotia chert, but most of all there was lots of evidence for later Archaic stemmed points of quartzite obtained from local cobbles.

These were found in the fields near to the shore and eroding out of the glacial till cliffs.

All this is now gone except for what erodes from the cliff face and is sometimes found on the shore at the edge of the water.

 

The Savage Harbour Site

Across the bay at the harbour where fishing boats dock is another ancient site with evidence perhaps of continuity between Late Palaeo worn-down points and related material and Archaic stemmed quartzite points.

I believe that there is hope for this site, whose location I do not wish to disclose, if comprehensive testing is done in the next few years before settlement begins to move into the possible site area.

 

The Last Great Importation of Foreign Lithic Material

Ramah Bay from the air. Photo by Paul Zizka.

This is a grand title for a grand story of the most distantly sourced lithic material ever used in Eastern Canada perhaps down to Florida. This is Ramah Quartzite and it comes all the way from Northern Labrador.

(This map is a bit blurred but is the best I could find that shows the extent of Ramah distribution.)

In the area of Ramah Bay in Northern Labrador there are vast deposits of a mostly colourless quartzite which was used by the northern aboriginals for most of the Archaic period, from about 7,000-3,000 BP. At some time, probably when the Gulf of Saint Lawrence land masses were so much greater in extent, trade routes were set up so that quite large quantities of the stone made their way down into the Maritimes and New England. One journal article even claimed that it had been found in Florida.

If you want to learn more about this quartzite, which has also has been called chert, these articles are very useful:

Lazenby, M. E. Colleen, “Prehistoric Sources of Chert in Northern Labrador: Field Work and Preliminary Analyses,” Arctic, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 628-645, 1980.

Lazenby – Prehistoric Sources of Chart in Northern Labrador 1980

Pilon, Jean-Luc, Ramah Quartizite Bifaces from the Lower Gatineau River, Ottawa Charter Ontario Archaeological Society, Chapters of the Past: Reports and Articles

http://www.ottawaoas.ca/Chapters/ramah/ramah.html

and, for a chemical analysis of the rock:

Anderson, Chaim Christiana and Geoff Rayner-Canham, Ramah Bay 7,000 years of Aboriginal culture — and chemistry, University of Waterloo, Chem 13 News Magazine, 2018.

https://uwaterloo.ca/chem13-news-magazine/september-2018/feature/ramah-bay-7000-years-aboriginal-culture-and-chemistry

 

I believe the first Ramah quartzite to be found on the Island was by Rolley Jones at the Greenwich site.

The stone has a mysterious quality about it, opaque yet transparent with areas of a darker grey colour. It is something that you want to look at again and again.

The Midgell site produced a single side notched point about 30 mm long. It was found by a private collector who probably sold it to collectors on the internet. I was permitted to photograph it but under difficult conditions that produced the image below.

I had known for years that Ramah quartzite had been worked at Midgell because I found several flakes eroding brightly out of the burnt matrix of the site. In the photo I am holding one of those flakes. It seems that Midgell and its people were in the Ramah trade loop.

At moments like these when, under circumstances we can’t really understand, exotic materials appear in a site, not only as a possible treasure obtained in a trade with somebody else, but as a point that was actually flaked at the site itself is something to marvel at! The map above shows the distribution of known finds – always increasing – in Eastern North America, but it cannot yet tell us how and when Archaic hunters developed a taste for this special material.

 

Conclusion

In this lengthy post I tried to gather together information that might help fill a bit of the great void that is the 4,000+ years of climactic change that was the Archaic period on the Eastern coast. I shared with you all the finds I had made, and material found by others, that can be credibly attributed to that long period of time that was born in the Late Palaeo Period and which faded out before the coming of the Mi’kmaq about 3,000 years ago. I took particular care to show you everything found in what I think may have been the only pure Archaic site found on the Island: Midgell. There was nothing cultural above it and nothing cultural below it. I only came across it as it was disappearing into Saint Peter’s Bay where no doubt many more superb artefacts lay tossed about by the tidal currents or are buried in the silt.

As well I shared with you what I knew of other sites that bore significant traces of the Archaic past. To conclude, I have to say that of the various prehistoric peoples who touched the Island, the Archaic  settlers were and always will be for me the most interesting.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

From time to time I have used photographs that I took 35 years ago of lithic material found by Rolley Jones and which has now happily found its way into the provincial collection. I wish to give credit and thanks to the Prince Edward Island Museum as I post this material in this format.

 

REFERENCE MATERIAL

Anderson, Chaim Christiana and Geoff Rayner-Canham, Ramah Bay 7,000 years of Aboriginal culture — and chemistry, University of Waterloo, Chem 13 News Magazine, 2018.

https://uwaterloo.ca/chem13-news-magazine/september-2018/feature/ramah-bay-7000-years-aboriginal-culture-and-chemistry

Anderson, T. W., “Holocene vegetation and climatic history of Prince Edward Island, Canada, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 1980, 17(9): 1152-1165.

Anderson – Holocene Vegetation and Climatic History of PEI – 1980

Domanski, Marian and John A. Webb, “Effect of Heat Treatment on Siliceous Rocks Used in Prehistoric Lithic Technology,” Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 19, pp. 601-614, 1992.

Domanski and Webb – Effect of Heat Treatment on Siliceous Rocks …1992

Fountain, Henry,” Early Humans Used Heat to Shape Their Tools,” The New York Times, August 13, 2009.

https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/science/18obfire.html

Koppel, Tom, “The Peopling of North America,” Canadian Geographic, September/October 1992, pp. 54-65.

Kranck, Kate, “Geomorphological Development and Post-Pleistocene Sea Level Changes, Northumberland Strait, Maritime Provinces,” Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 9, pp. 835-844, 1972.

Lazenby, M. E. Colleen, “Prehistoric Sources of Chert in Northern Labrador: Field Work and Preliminary Analyses,” Arctic, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 628-645, 1980.

Lazenby – Prehistoric Sources of Chart in Northern Labrador 1980

MacDonald, George F., Debert: A Palaeo-Indian Site in Central Nova Scotia, National Museum of Man, Anthropological Papers 16, Ottawa. 1968.

MacDonald, George F., “Eastern North America,” Early Man in the New World, edited by Richard Shutler, Jr., Sage Publications, Beverley Hills, California, pp. 97-108, 1983.

McGhee, Robert, Ancient Canada, Canadian Museum of Civilisation, Libre Expression, 1989.

Pearson, Richard J., “Some Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Prince Edward Island,” Anthropologica, Vol. 8, No. 1, Canadian Anthropology Society, pp. 101-109, 1966.

Pilon, Jean-Luc, Ramah Quartizite Bifaces from the Lower Gatineau River, Ottawa Charter Ontario Archaeological Society, Chapters of the Past: Reports and Articles

http://www.ottawaoas.ca/Chapters/ramah/ramah.html

Stanford, Dennis J. & Bruce Bradley, Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2012.

Tuck, James A., “Prehistoric Archaeology in Atlantic Canada Since 1975,” Canadian Journal of Archaeology, No. 6, 1982.

Tuck, James A., Maritime Provinces Prehistory, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995

Turnbull, Christopher J and Davis, Stephen A., An Archaeological Bibliography of the Maritime Provinces: Works to 1984, The Council of Maritime Premiers, Maritime Committee for Archaeological Coöperation – Reports in Archaeology 6, Fredericton, 1986.