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

Middle Maritime Culture (Précis, Chapter 14)

The existence of a distinct east coast maritime adapted Archaic population was first proposed by Douglas Byers (1959) and was subsequently classified as the Maritime Archaic (Tuck 1971; 1976a). A substantial antiquity attributed to Maritime culture (Early, Middle, and Late), first suggested by Elmer Harp's work on the southern coast of Labrador (Harp 1964), has since been confirmed (Fitzhugh 1972; McGhee and Tuck 1975). There has been some dispute regarding the cultural integrity of an archaeological manifestation distributed from northern Maine to the northern coast of Labrador and from the Island of Newfoundland up the St. Lawrence River to Québec City. The acknowledged regional variations within this extensive cultural distribution would not appear to be sufficient to warrant multiple cultural classifications at this time. Two factors bear on the extensive distribution of Middle Maritime culture that do not apply to most land based hunters and gatherers. First, an exceptional degree of mobility can be achieved with seaworthy watercraft where the problem of portability of possessions is markedly reduced. Second, while the regions occupied span four major vegetation provinces (McAndrews et al. 1987), the marine resources throughout the entire area are essentially the same or have equivalents such as walrus hunting to the north and swordfish hunting to the south. With some regional variations the most important marine and land animal foods would have consisted of seal, walrus, whale, marine and anadromous fish, shellfish, beaver, bear, sea birds, caribou, deer, and moose. Archaeologically invisible but likely of great significance would have been the enormous schools of spawning capelin and smelt, as well as squid, crab, and lobster.

Middle Maritime Culture Hunters - Vidéoanthrop Inc.; CMC I-A-39, S95-23502
Middle Maritime Culture Hunters Returning to a Summer Camp

This reconstruction, set on the Labrador coast at 2,000 B.C., shows the hunters unloading seal, now-extinct great auks, and gull eggs from their skin-covered ocean going watercraft. In the background is the communal dwelling while on the beach other skin canoes are secured against the wind and elevated on stone cairns to keep their skin coverings out of reach of hungry dogs. Herring gulls wheel overhead while around the head of the man in the foreground is a ubiquitous swarm of blackflies.

(Painting produced by Vidéoanthrop Inc., Montréal, under contract with the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The painting was done by M. François Girard using sketches and technical information compiled by M. Marc Laberge and the author.)

Even given the shared marine resources, to regard the varied ecological regions occupied by Middle Maritime culture as being the homeland of a homogeneous culture would be an over-simplification. Significant regional variations of the culture are represented along the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence of Québec and adjacent Labrador and its east coast, the Island of Newfoundland, the Maritime provinces and adjacent Maine, and the St. Lawrence Estuary. To an as yet undetermined degree, this regionalism is a result of the variable archaeological evidence. It is only at the beginning of Period III that the 'Great Hiatus' of cultural evidence in the Maritime provinces following Palaeo-Indian culture ends (Tuck 1984). Another factor pertinent to the visibility of Middle Maritime culture is past local conditions as they pertain to changes in sea levels, tidal amplitudes, and ancillary effects. At 4,000 B.C., for example, the geographical appearance of certain regions were strikingly different with Prince Edward Island still being attached to the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia mainland. Labrador and the adjacent portions of coastal Québec are undoubtedly the best known region due to focused archaeological research and the emerging coastline that has isolated sites on elevated strandlines. The Island of Newfoundland, with few exceptions, has not been subjected to as concerted a research effort and also suffers from coastal submergence that would have drowned most sites dating prior to 3,000 B.C. Recent research in the St. Lawrence Estuary of Québec has only produced a limited number of substantive archaeological reports. The emerging coasts of this region, with its well demarcated and geologically dated Goldthwait/Champlain Sea strandlines, holds great promise. The generally acid soils of much of the region and a tendency for sites to have a strong stone tool manufacturing element, however, have complicated the comparative process. In both the Maritime provinces and adjacent Maine coastal submergence and erosion between 8,000 and 3,000 B.C. has undoubtedly been the single greatest limiting factor. Paradoxically, there is relatively abundant information on Middle Maritime culture mortuary practices from this region. The boneless 'Red Paint' cemeteries of Maine attracted much attention and speculation at the turn of the century (Moorehead 1922; Willoughby 1935). Despite regional cultural variability the evidence from technology, cosmology, subsistence, and settlement patterns suggest the existence of a number of independent societies who shared a more or less common culture distinct from that of their neighbours. Cultural correspondences over such a broad and variable region are likely due to the interrelated factors of a shared technology, a similar way of life, interlocking trade networks, a common cosmological view, and the mobility of marriageable females within a framework of exogamous, patrilineal hunting bands. Of primary importance relative to cultural similarities would have been the maritime transportation system. Some researchers will probably regard a construct such as Middle Maritime culture as being premature and would argue that it is too heavily based upon shared mortuary practices (Sanger 1973: 106).

A factor that has confused efforts to isolate a distinctive Middle Maritime culture has been a certain amount of trait-sharing between the coastal Middle Maritime culture and the interior Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (Laurentian Archaic). Traits such as ground stone gouges, ground slate points, bayonets, and semi-lunar knives, and plummets were, due to the historical development of archaeological research in eastern North America, first established as the diagnostic traits of the interior culture (Ritchie 1944). Subsequently it has been demonstrated that most of these particular traits date earlier from coastal sites (Harp 1964; McGhee and Tuck 1975) and were only adopted later by interior peoples. In addition to sharing most major categories of ground stone tools contacts between Middle Maritime culture and Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture are suggested by the mixture of the distinctive projectile point styles of the two cultures, as well as other chipped stone tools, on sites in the St. Lawrence River between Québec City and the Ontario border. In Maine and adjacent New Brunswick, Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence sites in the interior are but a short distance from contemporary Middle Maritime culture coastal sites. Evidence of trading relationships can be seen in the occurrence of what are most likely Lake Superior copper tools on coastal sites and walrus ivory and Labrador quartzite implements on sites in the Lower Great Lakes and Upper St. Lawrence Valley region (Wright 1994). Despite the cultural homogenizing impression created by certain shared ground stone tool categories, the overall technology of Middle Maritime culture is quite distinct from that of their interior neighbours (Bourque 1975; Carignan 1975; Fitzhugh 1972; McGhee and Tuck 1975; Wintemberg 1943).

Middle Maritime culture ceased to exist as a traceable entity on the north side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Island of Newfoundland shortly after 2,000 B.C. An exceptional series of events took place at this time that likely account for the disappearance. Along the northern Labrador coast the closing of the Altithermal climatic episode between 2,000 and 1,500 B.C. and the onset of cooler weather may have had a deleterious affect upon the northernmost Middle Maritime culture colonists. It has been noted that the spread of Middle Maritime culture in Labrador and Newfoundland correlated with a period of warm and stable climate (Fitzhugh 1978). Another critical factor would have been the roughly synchronous appearance of two alien cultures along portions of the coast. Early Palaeo-Eskimos began forays down the Labrador coast from the north around 2,250 B.C. (Fitzhugh 1985) while Middle Shield culture interior hunters appeared on the central and southern coasts at roughly the same time (Nagle 1978). Of the two intrusions the appearance of Middle Shield culture people was likely the most disruptive event and probably contributed along with climatic change to the eventual abandonment of the north side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence by Middle Maritime culture people. It is speculated that the Middle Shield culture occupation of the mainland interior with seasonal forays to the coast inhibited Middle Maritime culture people from obtaining their annual supply of caribou skins required for clothing. While maritime foods were probably capable of supporting the sustenance needs of these people it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to survive in the northern climes without access to the insulating qualities of caribou skin clothing. Although it has been proposed that the Middle Maritime culture people on the Island of Newfoundland eventually developed into the historically documented Beothuk (Tuck 1976a) a more likely proposition is that periodic failures of essential seasonal prey species to appear resulted in a number of human extinctions on the Island including late Middle Maritime culture (Tuck and Pastore 1985).

Another combination of natural and cultural events appears to have had a similar impact upon some of the Middle Maritime culture occupants of the Maritime provinces and adjacent Maine shortly before 1,500 B.C. After 3,000 B.C. increases in tidal amplitudes would have mitigated against the abundance of swordfish, an important element in Middle Maritime culture subsistence in the region, but would have favoured an increase in soft shell clams (Sanger 1975: 61). The cooling climate around 1,700 B.C. would also have had an unfavourable impact on the deer populations upon which the Middle Maritime people relied. For a neighbouring culture to the south, the Susquehanna Archaic, these changes favoured their subsistence pattern and they appear to have actually occupied Maine and a section of adjacent New Brunswick. This cultural replacement, initiated by changing environmental conditions that favoured one cultural adaptation over another, is also seen as having established the cultural base for the Algonquian-speaking peoples encountered by Europeans (Sanger 1975: 69-72). While most of Maine and a portion of adjacent New Brunswick appear to have been occupied by the Susquehanna Archaic people from the south, the remainder of the Maritime provinces was not affected. Although the evidence is equivocal, it appears that indigeneous Middle Maritime culture peoples continued to occupy most of the Maritime provinces and developed into the subsequent populations (Late Maritime culture). The rapidity and nature of the cultural changes, however, have obscured the evidence of cultural continuity (Tuck 1975a; 1984).

At this stage of research in the St. Lawrence Estuary little can be stated regarding the fate of the Middle Maritime culture population although there is evidence of Middle Shield culture people from the northern interior exploiting the coast along the northshore (Chevrier 1978). Further, the Gaspé appears to have been at least partially abandoned after the Plano culture occupation (Benmouyal 1987). At a speculative level it is suggested that Middle Shield culture bands adopted a seasonal pattern of exploiting maritime resources along portions of the northshore of the St. Lawrence Estuary, particularly near the mouths of the major rivers that would have acted as the transportation routes between the interior and the coast. An early development of this pattern appears to have provided these people with sufficient maritime skills to account for their sudden and persistent appearance along the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Labrador coast around 2,000 B.C.

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