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

Late Eastern Shield Culture (Précis, Chapter 24)

Late Eastern Shield culture occupied the Lichen Woodland and Boreal Forest vegetation provinces of the eastern Canadian Shield from the Labrador coast westward into eastern Northern Ontario where it merged with the related Late Western Shield culture (Laurel). Neighbouring cultures included Middle Palaeo-Eskimo culture in close proximity along the east coast and the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, more distantly, in the Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait regions, Late Maritime culture in the Gaspé, and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture in the St. Lawrence lowlands from Québec City into Ontario including the Ottawa River Valley. The interconnected river and lake systems draining the central highlands of Québec would have provided ease of communication via water travel to and from the St. Lawrence River drainage, Hudson and James Bay, and the Labrador coast. There were few physical barriers to cultural contacts between the bands of Late Eastern Shield culture and their neighbours. Unfortunately, Late Eastern Shield culture sites are generally represented by a thin veneer of scattered chipping detritus, containing few diagnostic implements and occurring in deposits that are hopelessly intermixed with earlier and later occupations. In northern Québec, for example, Period IV sites are not only rare (Denton 1989: Figure 2), but often cannot be dated either by radiocarbon or typology (Chevrier 1993: 176). The situation in adjacent Labrador is somewhat different in that the archaeological contexts for radiocarbon samples are better but the associated archaeological assemblages are equally limited in content (Fitzhugh 1972; Nagle 1978). Larger and artifact-rich sites in the western Canadian Shield of Québec (Marois et Gauthier 1989) typically contain mixed cultural debris representing thousands of years of seasonal occupations. In response to the small samples and the generally non-existent archaeological contexts that would permit assemblage definition, there has been an understandable temptation to use the scattering of Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture diagnostics found in the region to reconstruct the culture history. This has resulted in much of the archaeological remains pertinent to Period IV, as well as Period III, being assigned to what are here designated Middle and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence cultures; particularly so in the 200 to 300 km wide band extending from Lac St. Jean to Lake Abitibi southward to the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers (e.g. Côté 1993; Langevin et al. 1995). While there is little doubt that the southern margin of the Canadian Shield was a major zone of cultural interaction between Late Eastern Shield culture and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture, a scattering of southern 'diagnostics' is not a sufficient basis for reconstructing culture history. When other factors, such as the qualitative and quantitative characteristics of the total tool kit and settlement pattern evidence, are taken into consideration it is apparent that significant differences existed between these neighbouring cultures, albeit blurred by a long history of interaction and exchange. The rudimentary state of classification of stone tools, in part due to an inability to isolate single components, has further exacerbated the comparative process. Another complication was the appearance of new technologies during Period IV represented by the westward spread of the bow and arrow from the east coast and the northeasterly diffusion of pottery vessel manufacturing from the Lower Great Lakes and upper St. Lawrence River basin.

Lodge Frame

Archaeological Visibility in the Canadian Shield

While winter dwellings were probably more substantial, the summer dwellings most likely to be encountered on sites excavated by archaeologists were likely flimsy affairs leaving little trace. The lodge frame shown above would have once been covered with rolls of stitched together birch bark that would be rolled up and taken away for use at the next camp leaving just the pole frame of the dwelling. Such a pole framework would be unlikely to leave a clear archaeological record of its former presence. The bark canoe below was essential for warm weather travel and transportation of people and goods. Archaeological evidence of dwellings is limited and with reference to canoes, nil. The main point is that most of the sophisticated technology that permitted survival in the Subarctic of the Canadian Shield was based upon wood, bark, and hide products that do not survive the passage of time.

(Reproduced from Wright 1976: Plates 18 and 16)

As outlined in Volume I, Middle Shield culture, the ancestor of Late Eastern Shield culture, spread eastward into newly available territories either recovering from the affects of glaciation and its unfavourable biotic aftermath or abandoned by their previous Middle Maritime culture occupants. Much of Québec and Labrador does not appear to have been occupied by Middle Shield culture until around 2,000 B.C. with settlement becoming progressively more recent to the north and the east. It was from this cultural base that Late Eastern Shield culture peoples in most of Québec north of the St. Lawrence River and portions of Labrador were derived. People maintained regionally adapted seasonal rounds; some bands, because of their locations, seasonally exploiting coastal resources while other bands subsisted mainly on interior caribou, moose, small game and, in particular, fish.

Both Late Eastern Shield and Late Western Shield cultures developed out of the Middle Shield culture of Period III (4,000 to 1,000 B.C.). The basis for distinguishing between these two closely related cultures is largely technological as their settlement patterns and subsistence practices were very similar, if not identical, in most instances. Late Eastern Shield culture retained the older stone working traditions of their predecessors whereas Late Western Shield culture continued a late Middle Shield culture development in the west that involved abandoning the use of massive siliceous deposits, such as quartzite and rhyolite, with their resulting large bifacial and unifacial tools, in favour of Hudson Bay Lowlands nodular cherts with their comparatively diminutive tool products. While both cultures made extensive use of local veins of quartz as expedient cutting and scraping chunks and flakes, the practice appears to have been far more common in the east. Late Eastern Shield culture also rejected pottery vessels as an important item in their tool kit unlike their western kinsmen (Thibault 1978). In fact, the limited pottery from Late Eastern Shield sites may simply represent the products of Late Western Shield culture and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture women moving from their homelands in the west and south to join the bands of their husbands to the north and east. Occurrences of pottery becomes progressively sparse as one advances eastward and northward and thus further away from the homelands of the hypothesized cultures within which it represented a significant element of technology (Moreau et al. 1991: 59). As an example, whereas pottery is common in both Late Western Shield culture (Laurel) and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (e.g. Point Peninsula complex) only 14 pertinent pottery sherds are reported from the entire Lac St. Jean area (Moreau 1995: 106 and Table 1). A similar situation existed on Lake Abitibi, straddling the Ontario and Québec border (Marois et Gauthier 1989; Ridley 1966). This progressively fading pattern of pottery vessel distribution to the east maintains itself into Period V (A.D. 500 to European contact) where the East Cree, Montagnais (Naskapi), and Attikamek of Late Eastern Shield culture territory basically rejected pottery manufacturing unlike their western and southern kinsmen the West Main Cree, Algonquin, Southern and Northern Ojibwa, Western Woods Cree, and the Late Winnipeg Saulteaux. What pottery does occur is clearly related to western styles and was likely a product of women from western bands joining their husbands in the eastern bands.

Subsistence and settlement patterns remain unchanged from the preceding period and, for that matter, were to remain unchanged up to the time of European contact. Sites such as the Chicoutimi site at the juncture of the Saugenay and Chicoutimi rivers (Chapdelaine 1984) contained occupational debris spanning more than 3,000 years and terminated with a historical documented Montagnais occupation. Unfortunately the cultural deposits at this site were hopelessly intermixed. Like other large sites, the Chicoutimi site was a favourable location where a band or, more likely, a number of bands gathered on a seasonal basis.

The relationship of some of the bands of Late Eastern Shield culture with Late Western Shield culture (Laurel) and Late Great Lakes-St. Lawrence culture (e.g. Point Peninsula) appears to have involved women from the latter two cultures moving into Late Eastern Shield culture territory, along with their pots and/or pottery manufacturing knowledge, to dwell in their husbands communities. Occasional ground stone celts and tools manufactured from Onondaga chert, whose geological source is at the western end of Lake Ontario, also indicate contacts to the south and west. Such a relationship mirrors that of Period III and represents a long established pattern of close cultural contact. On a much lesser scale, in the northern interior of Québec small quantities of Ramah quartzite on Late Eastern Shield sites at locales like Lac Caniapiscau (Denton et al. 1980: 296) suggest either trade with Middle Palaeo-Eskimos on the Labrador coast, where the stone source is located, or actual coastal forays by the interior people to the quarries. It is also possible that some of the Ramah quartzite was scavenged from abandoned interior Middle Maritime culture sites. Contrary to Tuck (1976: 59), it is argued that Middle Maritime culture had abandoned the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Labrador prior to the end of Period III and that significant contacts do not appear to have taken place across the Gulf where the descendants of the more northerly Middle Maritime people are believed to have retreated. There is also evidence of participation in the Adena mortuary complex. On the northshore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence at Mingan the grave of a young girl was exposed by erosion. The body had been wrapped in bark and was provided with a copper bead necklace. Shell beads were also present and a number of large mortuary biface blades as well as red ochre. Subsequent work at the site has disclosed more graves suggesting the existence of a cemetery. Significantly, early Point Peninsula pottery was present at this site (Clermont 1990: 12-14). A discovery on the central Labrador coast represents the most northerly evidence of participation in the Adena mortuary complex. At the Daniel Rattle site, a cache consisting of 10 end scrapers, a large corner-notched biface blade, an abrader, an unmodified graphite nodule, and a quartz pebble, was found on the surface of a promontory (Loring 1989: 52). It is speculated here that the cache may represent offerings placed in a surface (log covered?) burial where all other evidence of a grave has disappeared except the stone tools. What is of particular interest is that the large corner-notched biface represents a typical Adena mortuary complex item whereas the end scrapers are typical Late Eastern Shield culture tools. All of the stone is of local origin but, unlike the scrapers, the notched biface exhibited no evidence of use.

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