The Cherry Point Site


The Cherry Point Site (DkMe-10) (Haug 1976) (Gibson 1975) represents a McKean bison processing and habitation area in the southwest corner of Manitoba occupied between 1,000 B.C. and A.D. 1,000. It is situated on the northern marshy shores of Oak Lake on a promontory that rises 5 metres above the water level along a wave-cut cliff. The region was open prairie at the time of European exploration and settlement. However, carbonized root moulds of large plants or trees in the underlying silt levels at Cherry Point suggests that an aspen parkland forest may have existed here on a fluctuating basis depending upon the prevailing climatic conditions. Thus Oak Lake was probably a transitional area between Parkland and Prairie vegetative zones during the Oxbow/McKean occupation.

The Oak Lake area was rich in plant and animal resources. The surrounding Prairie habitat consisted primarily of mixed grasses with scrub oak and aspen in the duned areas. The long list of available mammal resources includes fox, wolf, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, modern bison, mountain lion, elk, and bear (Wrigley 1974 in Haug 1976:10). The vegetation surrounding the marshy regions of the lake included reeds, sedges and meadow grasses. Currently the peninsula is dominated by pin cherry trees (Prunus pensylvanica) from which the site derives its name. The marsh attracted a wide range of small mammals as well as at least 28 species of birds including, ducks, geese, swans, and herons. The lake waters of course provided an abundant supply of fish.

The origins of the Cherry Point inhabitants are difficult to assign. A larger percentage of the lithic raw material was Knife River Flint, which indicates either trade or travel connections to the south. The occurrence of grinding stones at McKean sites in Wyoming, suggests that vegetable foods were ground and used for subsistence. McKean people who moved northwards may have become specialized in bison hunting and reduced their dependence on vegetable food processing and their use of grinding implements (Dyck 1983:101).

Subsistence and Technology

The subsistence activities at Oak Lake were documented in the remains at the Cherry Point Site in the context of three identified zones of occupation or living floors. Like other McKean groups, the Native bison hunters also made ample use of the area's full wealth of plant and animal resources.

The assemblage of artifacts in an area designated as "Occupation B" (projectile points, end scrapers, utilized flakes, hammerstones, and the forequarter section of a bison) provides evidence that bison were butchered and the meat and hides processed. The bone remains found were generally scattered small fragments. This pattern suggests that the bone was smashed during the processing to obtain the marrow core which is high in protein and fat. Remains of a fetal bison were also recovered. Bison calves are generally born in April or May, suggesting that the site was occupied in the late spring or early summer. The remains of moose, wolf, fox, badger, turtle, fish and elk indicate that many other animals were used for subsistence. Some plants and birds were near the Cherry Point Site and were likely used during the spring and early summer as well. Although no seed remains are recorded, pin cherry fruit and seeds were possibly eaten. Beads made from pin cherry seeds have been recovered from the Victoria Day Site in northern Manitoba,

The wide range of tool types found at the Cherry Point Site suggests that numerous types of activities were conducted here in the past. The projectile points from the site were classified as Oxbow, McKean, Duncan, and Hanna. An Early Archaic side-notched Logan Creek/Mummy Cave style of point is illustrated in the plates but not discussed in the text.

Interestingly, Pelican Lake type projectile points were located at Cherry Point in the soil layers below the McKean and Oxbow components. Pelican Lake points are typically associated with a later time period from 1000 B.C. to 1 A.D., usually later than McKean sites. The occurrence of McKean points in a stratigraphic location above Pelican Lake would suggest that McKean people were present in Manitoba for an extended length of time.

Fifty-six percent of all the tools at the Cherry Point Site were manufactured from Knife River Flint as was a smaller percentage (33%) of the projectile points. Haug (1976:46) suggests that tools that required a sharp edge such as knives and scrapers where made from this material because of its excellent flaking properties. Sharp edges are not as important as a sharp tip on a projectile point.

Exchange Systems

The use of North Dakota Knife River Flint at Cherry Point indicates indicates that the inhabitants either had to travel approximately 300 kms south or that they traded with other groups.

Settlement Pattern

Oak Lake provided a welcome refuge to peoples in the past. An abundance of resources including firewood, animals and plants in addition to shelter would have been available here making it attractive for habitation during the spring and early summer months. McKean people sought shelter from the the open plains in forested locales during the winter months and some likely stayed longer into the spring and summer to make use of the resources. The archaeological interpretation of the Cherry Point Site indicates that numerous activities occurred at the site relating to bison processing. In the most sheltered locations, and on top of the West Hills, Gibson suggests that cooking and household activities occurred (Gibson 1975 in Haug 1976). Hide preparation also likely occurred in these locations. The group of people that inhabited the Cherry Point Site was relatively small given the limited distribution and number of artifacts.

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© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
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