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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume II (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500)

Late Maritime Culture (Précis, Chapter 22)

Late Maritime culture occupied the Maritime provinces, the Gaspé region of Québec, and northern Maine. Limitations in the archaeological evidence have provided considerable latitude for competing views regarding the culture history of Period IV. The major problem facing archaeology has been the destruction of much of the archaeological evidence by an encroaching sea. Crustal downwarping has resulted not only in the erosion of countless archaeological sites but also the removal of whole segments of archaeological time from certain areas. As has been aptly noted, "It is impossible to know what volumes of American prehistory now lie on the continental shelf but it would be most unwise to attempt to reconstruct that prehistory as though they never existed" (Brennan 1974: 92). Despite the influence of a number of local factors, the rates of land submergence along the coasts of the Maritime provinces appear to have been relatively constant (Scott et al. 1987). Between 4,500 and 2,000 years ago sea level rise decreased from the earlier high of 1 m per century to the present 15 cm per century. Thus the time span from late Period III to early Period IV appears to have been one of increasing coastal stability, an important factor in the establishment and maintenance of the complex ecosystems upon which Late Maritime culture populations depended. Despite widespread site destruction, there were certain locales where continuous human occupation was possible for nearly 6,000 years (Bourque 1975). With so much of the evidence 'out to sea' it is understandable why conflicting interpretations abound. Even interior sites removed from the threat of the sea, which could have the potential to at least partially rectify the coastal losses, have been ravaged by turn of the century logging, dams, and ongoing construction programmes.

Map V - Eastern Expansion of the Adena Mortuary Complex
Map V - Eastern Expansion of the Adena Mortuary Complex in Northeastern North America
1 Major cult spread from the south | 2 Diffusion of cult into Canada | 3 Likely routes of copper imports to Adena heartland | 4 Copper-bearing formations of the Lake Superior basin

A Burial Mound | B Burial Site | C Lake Superior Copper | D Marine Shell (conch) | E Ohio Fire-Clay | F Ohio Valley Flint

The map illustrates the geological sources of Lake Superior copper and the locations of Adena mortuary complex burial sites in the northern portion of northeastern North America. Also indicated is the occurrence of various exotic items as well as the probable routes of entry into Canada via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River drainage.

(Adapted from Plate 14 of the Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume I, Harris and Matthews 1987; Drawing by Mr. David W. Laverie.)

Late Maritime Culture Artifacts - Drawing: David Laverie Late Maritime Culture Artifacts

The pottery vessel on the left is an example of the dentate stamped decorated pottery characteristic of the northern pottery tradition in Late Maritime culture. The two peaks along the rim of the vessel are called castellations and are a common decorative feature not found in the southern pottery tradition. The pottery vessel was adapted from McIntosh (1909). In the centre of the Figure is a typical chipped stone projectile point while to the right is a unilaterally barbed bone harpoon with line or rivet attachment hole.

(Drawings by Mr. David W. Laverie.)

There is a consensus that with the introduction of pottery vessels to Late Maritime culture, beginning sometime prior to 500 B.C., subsequent cultural developments led directly to the Micmac, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy peoples encountered by Europeans in the early 17th century. While quite important to archaeologists, the appearance of pottery vessels simply represented an additional element of technology that was incorporated into the tool kit of the previously pre-pottery people. Throughout much of eastern North America there is an archaeological convention whereby the appearance of pottery is used as the artifact which ends the Archaic period and introduces the Woodland period. Initially it was believed that pottery manufacturing was associated with increasingly complex societies involved in horticulture and burial mound ceremonialism and that it ushered in a new stage of cultural development significantly more sophisticated than the preceding Archaic. Subsequent research has demonstrated that throughout North America pottery was simply an introduced element of technology that had no appreciable effect upon earlier lifeways. In some places the stone bowls used formerly were simply replaced with pottery replicas.

Archaeological evidence pertaining to the transition between the Archaic and Woodland periods is limited. Indeed, the period between 1,500 and 500 B.C. has been referred to as a cultural hiatus (Keenlyside 1984: 2). As was outlined in Period III (Wright 1995), there is considerable debate whether the Late or Terminal Archaic peoples of the region participated in a Middle Maritime culture (Maritime Archaic), a Middle Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (Laurentian Archaic), a Susquehanna Archaic culture, or some amalgamation of the preceding. The northward spread of the Susquehanna Archaic culture appears to only partially penetrate the Maritime provinces and is, therefore, largely peripheral to events during this period. Both the meagre evidence and the potentially treacherous crutch of parsimony suggest that the Late Archaic peoples of the Maritime provinces were derived from an indigenous Middle Maritime culture and that Late Maritime culture represents a direct descendant of that culture. This inference is premised on technological, settlement pattern, and subsistence continuities.

The Late Maritime culture tool kit is composed of large stemmed and broad side-notched or expanding stemmed projectile points, large end scrapers which become increasingly smaller and common through time, a limited number of polished stone celts, abraders, and other rough stone tools. Finely fashioned pottery vessels, generally decorated with some form of toothed implement, appear by 500 B.C. and possibly earlier. The method of pottery manufacture, as well as the motifs, techniques of decoration, and general vessel form, are all similar to pottery from sites in the upper St. Lawrence Valley of Québec and Ontario. In this regard, the early pottery of the Maritime provinces represents the easternmost extension of a widespread pottery tradition that was distinctly northern in character and distribution. A quite different pottery tradition consisting of beaker shaped vessels, most often impressed on both the interior and exterior with a cord-wrapped paddle, has been recorded from contemporary sites immediately to the south. Although there has been the suggestion that this particular pottery may have entered New Brunswick with the Meadowood complex of Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture, the presence of this complex has not been convincingly demonstrated and is largely based upon some very general burial traits and projectile point forms (Deal 1986; Ferguson 1988: 17-18; Turnbull and Allen 1988).

The aforementioned two different pottery traditions are geographically discrete with the stamped pottery occurring to the north of the southern cord-impressed pottery. An important exception to the foregoing is a northern salient of the cord impressed pottery tradition in the St. Lawrence Valley between, approximately, Trois-Rivières and Québec City. The north-south relationship of the two pottery traditions in the Maritimes is equivalent to that of the interior of North America with regard to Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence and Late Western Shield cultures relative to their southern neighbours. Plain pottery, sometimes possessing simple incised or punctate decorations, is evidently early and possibly associated with both the cord-impressed and the dentate stamped pottery traditions. It has been necessary to address this matter of pottery traditions and their distributions as pottery has frequently been used by archaeologists to identify archaeological cultures, all too often to the exclusion of other considerations.

Late Maritime culture occupation of coastal and riverine sites frequently extends into the following time Period V (A.D. 500 to European Contact). In the Passamaquoddy Bay region of southeastern New Brunswick, where extensive archaeological reconnaissance and excavation have been carried out, sites are characterized by south to southeast exposures adjacent to mud flats rich in shellfish, canoe landing/launching beaches, and in close proximity to freshwater (Sanger 1985). Faunal analysis suggests that the coastal shell midden sites represent cold weather occupations, although some sites could have been occupied on a year-round basis. Interior riverine sites, situated near swifts and rapids, were likely occupied from the spring through summer to take advantage of the spawning concentrations of fish such as capelin and smelt (Osmeridae sp.), sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus), gaspereau (Alosa pseudoharengus), shad (Alosa sapidissima), and salmon (Salmo salar). Fall and winter concentrations of Atlantic eel (Anguilla rostrata) and tomcod (Microgadus tomcod), respectively, would also have been exploited (Scott and Scott 1988).

Pertinent to the Maritimes has been the suggestion that along the New England coast shellfish gathering was a limited activity until terminal Archaic and subsequent 'Woodland' times when it became increasingly important (Braun 1974: 582). Since the majority of the coastal Archaic period sites have likely been destroyed by rising sea levels it is simply not known how long shellfish exploitation has been a significant subsistence activity. Surviving Middle Maritime culture shell midden sites in Maine, such as the Nevin Shellheap (Byers 1979) and Turner Farm (Bourque 1976), suggest that the destruction of Period III shell middens is a more appropriate explanation for the scarcity of early shell middens than any earlier disinterest in a resource that was nutritious, easy to harvest and process, and locally abundant. The opinion that intensive shellfish gathering was associated with interior riverine oriented Late Archaic populations adapting to the littoral resources of the coast, ignores the probability of a much earlier history of shellfish gathering. While the relative instability of the coast during Middle Maritime culture times could have curtailed the establishment of productive shellfish beds in many regions, it was not likely to have affected all areas.

In attempts to explain the scarcity of archaeological evidence relating to the transition from Archaic to Woodland a number of scenarios or models have been proposed. These have ranged from propositions of environmentally disrupted ecosystems forcing interior hunters to rely on coastal littoral resources, to environmental stability permitting effective exploitation of coastal resources by northward advancing pre-adapted Susquehanna Archaic peoples or their descendants who pushed the indigenous populations aside or eventually merged with them. The evidence of a major environmental flux of sufficient magnitude to elicit such drastic readjustments is weak. It is apparent that both Late Maritime culture and their ancestors possessed adaptive systems that were broadly based and flexible. The cultural hiatus which some see, or the environmentally induced rapid changes perceived by others, are not responsible for the poorly understood nature of the archaeological record of this time. Rather, it appears that inadequate analytical methods may be largely responsible for the perceived break in cultural continuity. It is not a coincidence that the confusion in interpreting the archaeological record first occurs with the disappearance of a number of Late Archaic diagnostic traits such as gouges, ground slate lances-projectile points-knives, and plummets, specific mortuary practices, and the initial appearance of a major new class of artifacts: pottery. The difficulty with the archaeological record during Period IV could be the current lack of convenient artifact 'index fossils'. As a number of researchers have noted, however, the chipped stone element of the technology exhibits clear continuities between the pre-pottery and pottery producing components of sites. This continuity is reinforced by correspondences in Late Archaic-Ceramic Period settlement patterns and subsistence.

A significant archaeological event in the Maritimes and the Gaspé involved the appearance of the Adena mortuary complex from the Ohio Valley. Why the earlier elaborate mortuary ceremonialism of Middle Maritime culture disappeared to eventually be replaced nearly 1,000 years later by mortuary practices originating in the interior of North America some 1,700 km away cannot be answered. If the Adena mortuary complex expansion to the Maritimes was related to an expanding trade network, what was the purpose of that trade, where is the archaeological evidence of secular as opposed to religious exchange, and why did the direction of contact change to the interior of the continent away from earlier routes along the Atlantic coast? What was happening during the 1,000 year gap between the two mortuary systems of Middle and Late Maritime cultures? And, as was the case with both Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture and Late Western Shield culture, why did only an apparently very small proportion of Late Maritime culture people participate in the introduced mortuary ceremonialism? Even though the highly prescribed nature of Adena mortuary ceremonialism, recognized throughout an extensive area of northeastern North America, suggests the existence of an overseeing priesthood or priest-shaman class, there is also clear evidence of local participation in ceremonial activities as reflected in implements manufactured from local materials and in local styles appearing in the graves. The relatively rigid adherence to a specific set of burial practices and the use of specific classes of grave offerings, including objects from the Ohio Valley, would appear to support the proposition that some highly structured form of sanctified behaviour emanating from an Ohio Valley centre is being reflected in the evidence. Late Maritime culture participation in this religious manifestation, albeit limited, included a burial mound near the Miramichi River which, within living memory, was still regarded as a sacred place by the resident Micmac population. This suggests the existence of a possible 2,500-year-old oral tradition. Another related burial mound, largely destroyed by construction activity, has been identified outside of Halifax (Dr. Steven Davis, St. Mary's University, Halifax: Personal communication and examination). Site distributional evidence suggests that the Adena mortuary complex spread to the Maritime provinces via the St. Lawrence River rather than northward along the Atlantic coast.

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