Late Taltheilei

A.D. 200 - 1717

Across the northern transitional forest zone, projectile points which are characteristic of the Late Taltheilei occupation have been identified in close approximation to caribou crossings and good fisheries in an environmental setting that showed little change from previous periods. A general increase in the number of sites occurs, suggesting a population increase. However, large camps are absent. Excavated sites include Little Duck Lake (700 A.D) and Shethanei, Caribou and Egenolf Lakes (A.D. 1100 - 1500). Southern Indian Lake represents the most southerly known occupation of Taltheilei people. This large body of water had one of the richest fisheries of the region and represents the the northern limits of sturgeon.

In northern Manitoba, the Late Taltheilei period ends with European contact along the Hudson Bay coast, especially at York Factory and Churchill. Initially, the Europeans had very little influence over the Late Taltheilei people. Unlike the their Cree counterparts, who were enthusiastic fur traders, the early Dene continued their subsistence economy in much the same manner they had before European contact.


The technology of the Taltheilei contained a spear point similar to Plano Agate Basin examples and also incorporated the introduction of the bow and arrow adopted from Plains groups (Gordon 1996). Sites such as Little Duck Lake which contain both unnotched and unnotched points, indicating a mix of old and new projectile point technologies.

Most of the Late Taltheilei tools which have been found in Manitoba were fashioned out of local quartz as well as quartzite, chert and red mudstone. No native copper tools have ever been found. However, the historic Dene used copper from the Coppermine River (Glover 1958). Little is known about the organic components of Late Taltheilei technology. Samuel Hearne noted the use of leather shields which were painted with dream symbols (Glover 1958).

Clothing consisted of processed caribou hides, from which the Dene derive their designation as "Chipewyan", or people with the pointed furs, because of the manner in which they stretched them. Footwear consisted of moccasins, which were tied around the ankles. Bone fleshers and beamers were used to scrape the fat off the animal hides. These were made of animal long bones. Stone scrapers were also used to remove the hair from the hides.

The Late Taltheilei people do not seem to have had any use for native clay ceramics, possibly because they were too mobile to support a fragile storage technology. In fact they do not appear to have had many portable assets at all. Even historical Dene sites rarely contain a wealth of material culture.

Settlement Pattern and Social Organization

There are many continuities with previous phases in the period in spite of the increasing population. Caribou remained the the main subsistence resource and herd movements dictated those of the Native peoples who depended upon them. Excavations provide direct evidence of conical tents constructed of spruce poles on which caribou skins were placed to make spring and summer dwellings. Little is known about winter shelters, and tents may have been used all year long. Later "log tents" may have been copied from European structures. Winter tents may have been subterranean like the historical log cabin structures found at Kasmere Lake (Petch 1992).

The Taltheilei people, like their Dene descendants, probably had skirmishes with the Algonguin groups on their southern border. The historical record shows that while the Cree took their Dene captives as slaves, the Dene usually killed their enemies (Glover 1958).

During the late 1700s the Dene were almost decimated by European disease. As a result, much of their traditional land, especially in the tundra region, became vacant. During the next century, several Inuit groups from Hudson's Bay, under pressure from local food scarcities, move into the interior to hunt caribou on a full time basis. As they proceeded south near the area which now marks the Manitoba/N.W.T. boundary, their hunting and fishing areas overlapped with the Dene. The two linguistic and cultural groups shared many aspects of subsistence. They are known to have even borrowed hand games and drum songs from each other. In fact when van den Steenhoven(1968) worked with the Caribou Inuit at Ennadai Lake in 1955, he was told that they had learned their dances from the Dene down at Nueltin Lake, where the Hudson's Bay Company had a trade post.

Belief System

Little is known about the belief system of the Late Taltheilei people, as nothing has survived in the archaeological record. They appear to have been constantly on the move, following the caribou, and their legends place a great emphasis on this animal. No burial sites have ever been found, a pattern which suggests continuity with early historical Dene practice of leaving the dead where they fell. Present-day elders say that the reason that the dead were not buried was that conditions were so severe that there was little time to organized funerals or to mourn the departed.

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© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
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Text and Graphics: Brian Schwimmer, Virginia Petch, Linda Larcombe
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