PART TWO – ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES WITH WELL-PRESERVED ARTIFACTS OR COSMOLOGICAL FUNCTION
Artifacts and Cosmology
Although burials, ossuaries, and cremations, of various kinds, provide a great deal of information about traditional cosmology across Canada, there are other kinds of archaeological deposits, and artifacts, which provide a rare glimpse of First Nations’ beliefs. These include the hunting magic of the Palaeo-Eskimo and Palaeo-Indian periods (McGhee 1978: 32; Wright 1995: 441) which is evident in their expert workmanship and characteristic selection of high quality cherts (Figure 11), and other lustrous lithic material. Similarly, at the Fisher Site in Ontario, it appears that channel flakes (long thin flakes struck from a specially prepared platform on the base of some projectile points to create a longitudinal ‘flute’) were used as amulets by Palaeo-Indian hunters (Storck 1994). These characteristics seem to go beyond any functional requirements – power was associated with perfection (Hayden 1982). The same ‘hunting magic’ is expressed in the subsequent Middle Archaic by elaborate, polished, stone objects (Figure 12), such as ‘bird-stone’ spear-thrower weights, ‘plummets’, and gorgets of ground slate. Other, ubiquitous, materials found on archaeological sites are quartz crystals, red ochre (or haematite) which, although often put to mundane uses, nevertheless have cosmological associations. People made simple cutting and scraping instruments from quartz crystal for instance, but they are also associated with medicine bags and shamanism; and ochre was used as a wood preservative and for painting canoes and mundane containers; but the dead the world over have been anointed and buried with red ochre since time immemorial.
|Figure 11: Expertly made Plano Palaeo-Indian projectile points made from high quality chert.|
[ Colour Plate 4, from J.V. Wright, Six Chapters of Canada’s Prehistory, 1976 ]
|Figure 12: Polished stone artifacts: bird stone, boat stone,|
barstones and gorget.
[ Colour Plate III, from J.V. Wright, Ontario Prehistory: an eleven-thousand-year archaeological outline, 1972 ]