Return to Menu
A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume I (10,000 to 1,000 B.C.)

Plano Culture (Précis, Chapter 7)

The name 'Plano' derives from the fact that the culture was first recognized on the Plains. In part, the name is a misnomer as Plano culture extends from the Southern Plateau of British Columbia to the Atlantic coast and from Keewatin District in the Northwest Territories to the Gulf of Mexico. More so than the Early Archaic complexes of the east, Plano culture's occupation of a number of markedly different environments mimics that of its Palaeo-Indian ancestors. The core area of the culture, however, was the Plains and whether Plano culture is found on the Gaspé coast of Québec or the Barrengrounds of the Northwest Territories, its origin was originally the Plains. Although Plano culture incorporates a number of regionally different assemblages these are all held together by a highly distinctive method of chipping stone. The technological change from late Palaeo-Indian culture to early Plano culture on the Plains involved a dramatic change in projectile point form with the rest of the stone tool kit, settlement patterns and subsistence characteristics remaining unchanged. It is speculated that the change in projectile point style relates to a change in the weapon system (Frison 1990: 22), possibly the replacement of the split shaft hafting method by a socketed hafting system. Whatever the changes in the weapon system, the new point styles were rapidly adopted across the Plains and adjacent regions. These changes in point form took place shortly before 10,000 B.P., a time when the spruce forests were being replaced by grasslands with an intervening parkland belt (Epp and Dyck 1983: 66; J. Ritchie 1976).

Weapon Tips Weapon Tips of the Plains

The two specimens in the lower left corner are early Western Plano culture point types, Hell Gap to the left and Agate Basin to the right, while the two points above them are late Western Plano culture types, Eden to the left and Scottsbluff to the right. Above these is a Period III Middle Plains culture point. The bison vertebra with the iron arrowhead lodged in it illustrates the continuity of bison hunting on the Plains. All of the chipped stone specimens are plastic replicas of the original southern Saskatchewan specimens residing in the Royal Ontario Museum. Such replicas are useful in research as well as exhibits vulnerable to damage. Except for weight, the replicas are indistinguishable from the originals. The points were all manufactured from North Dakota Knife River chalcedony.

(Reproduced from Wright 1976: Colour Plate 4)

The Canadian Plains represent the northern portion of the Central Plains of North America and the northern Plano culture bands participated in the cultural developments of this extensive region. It is therefore possible to draw upon a substantial body of information from the northern Plains of the United States. There is evidence that the spread of some elements of early Plano culture into the Plains of Canada was from the south. This is seen in the abundance to tools manufactured from distinctive stone varieties whose geological sources are to the south (Ebell 1980: 18). Early Plano culture occurs south of the North Saskatchewan River in Saskatchewan and in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north to the Peace River Valley of Alberta and adjacent British Columbia. At this time, most of Manitoba was still covered by Glacial Lake Agassiz and associated glacial ice (Buchner and Pettipas 1990: Figure 6).

The regions occupied in the west were the grasslands and parklands that were most attractive to the bison herds. Around 9,000 B.P. the retreating glaciers and associated lakes permitted the expansion of plant and animal communities to the north and the east. In these newly released regions caribou would have replaced bison as the major prey animal. An eastward population shift along a relatively narrow corridor between the glacial ice and lakes to the north and the expanding Early Archaic complexes to the south, eventually would reach the east coast. There was also a possible western penetration over the Rocky Mountains into the Southern Plateau (Fladmark 1986: 24; Stryd and Rousseau: In press) but the nature of the occupation is still unclear.

Plano peoples, both on the Plains and in adjacent regions, adopted cultural traits of eastern Early Archaic origin, particularly projectile point styles. These technological changes have provided archaeologists with a basis for establishing a number of regional cultures east of the Continental Divide during the late portion of Period II. On the Plains the bison hunting way of life persisted whereas both the Eastern and Northern variants of Plano culture changed subsistence and settlement patterns, as well as their technologies, in response to markedly different environmental conditions. The development of a widely distributed Plano culture into two later regional cultures, Early Shield and Early Plains, appears to have been realized by the processes of changing technologies, such as the adoption of the spearthrower, and adaptation in the north and the east to the Lichen Woodland and Boreal Forest environments (McAndrews et al. 1987).

Volume IVolume II

Back Menu - A History of the Native People of Canada Continue