The oldest ceramics in Canada were found in the northern Yukon, within view of the Arctic Ocean. Ceramics of the late Arctic Small Tool tradition (the fragments to the right) were recovered from the Engigstciak site, a location which people have used for more than 9,000 years. Archaeologists have traced the origins of such ceramics to the Siberian Neolithic, and estimate that this technology was introduced to Alaska about 1500 B.C. Although ceramic-making went through many distinct phases in far northwestern North America, it did not spread south.
South of the Arctic, ceramic-making entered what is now Canada some 2,500 years ago. The oldest Canadian ceramics (south of the Arctic) share numerous traits in common with early pottery in the Ohio and Illinois valleys including shape, manufacturing technique, and decorative motifs. Was it a new people moving north from a heartland somewhere in the Mississippi drainage? Was it the spread of a number of ideas that happened to include this new technology? These are good questions without easy answers. Known as Vinette I, these early ceramics have been found in the lower Great Lakes and in the Maritimes. This exhibit contains a rare and beautiful example of Vinette I (the pot on the left) found in the Pembroke area of the Ottawa Valley.
Following the appearance of these ceramics, the technology spread quickly to just about every region of the country and was adapted to suit local lifestyles and conditions. Most of the containers on display here date from the last few centuries before contact with Europeans. In some areas ceramics became quite important components of the material culture, while in others, people appear to have had little use for these fragile containers.