Early Archaic

6,000 B.C.-4,000 B.C.


The Setting.

The earliest evidence of the Archaic Period in Manitoba is found on the Plains and southeastern edge of the Precambrian Shield around the Winnipeg River. The spread of the Archaic traditions after 6,000 B.C. may have reflected the movement of Native peoples in search of better watered regions and more favourable food resources during the droughts of the Atlantic episode. A second climatic event, the eruption of Mount Mazama (Crater Lake) in Oregon at 4,800 B.C., may also have contributed to these animal and human migrations. (The resulting ash fall also created an important geological and archaeological time marker; archaeological remains below the ash lens date earlier than the volcanic eruption while the artifacts above the lens date to after the event.)

In response to lower moisture conditions, the grasslands in the southwestern portion of the province expanded approximately 150 km to the north and 80 km to the east of their previous distribution (Manitoba 1984:48). In the Central Plains to the south the long grasses gave way to short grass prairie which was not suitable for bison. In response to these changes the herds moved north and west to more favourable regions. The south and central Manitoba prairies became favourable for bison grazing. River valleys offered many resources for both animal and human populations. The Swan River Valley for example, afforded shelter, vegetation, and a vantage point for observing bison herds (Gryba 1977). The Red River Valley provided similar advantages and may have served as the central corridor through which the movements of peoples and technologies into the region first occurred.

Subsistence and Technology

Major changes in stone technology occurred. Smaller projectile points which featured side notches first appear in association with western Plano sites and become increasingly prevalent. The main complexes of the Early Archaic in Manitoba include characteristic side notched points known as Logan Creek and Mummy Cave which were first identified in northern Wyoming, their possible origin. Logan Creek points have been found in association with bison bone as far north as Swan River, and similar artifacts have been found in Saskatchewan. Local stone was used to manufacture the tools, and little imported material has been found. Wright (1995) has suggested that this pattern indicates a trend towards increasing regionalism. The side-notched points which were used as atlatl dart tips, were smaller than the older Plano forms. The notches on the point served to securely anchor it to the dart shaft. Regional and temporal variation in the point styles quickly followed their appearance.

The Logan Creek and Mummy Cave points were medium-sized (1.7-4.9 cm ) in length with a concave or straight base. Unnotched triangular points, and side-notched end-scrapers were also diagnostic of the Logan Creek complex. These tool types were present in the artifact assemblage at the Swan River Valley (Gryba nd: 49). Other tool types such as biface knives, wedges, cobble spall tools and random flake scrapers were recovered from the Early Plains Archaic levels of the Hawkwood site near Calgary, Alberta (Wright 1995:130). Tools manufactured from bone and wood were likely used although preservation was not good. At the Stampede site in Cypress Hills, Alberta, fragments of a bone needle were excavated (Gryba 1976). Dog or dog-wolf hybrid remains at the Gowen sites and others suggested the possibility of domestication and possibly the appearance of the travois, a triangular frame that could be hitched to a dog and loaded with burdens of up to 30 kilograms (Wright 1995:134).

Although the bison were still the primary resource, evidence of a broader resource base including small mammals, plants and birds, have been identified at some Early Plains Archaic archaeological sites, such as the Gowen Sites in Saskachewan, where deer and wolf were found (Walker 1992). In northwestern Minnesota, at the Itasca site evidence of turtle, and fish, acorns, hazel nuts, and berries were recorded (Shay 1971:64).

Bison hunting was also undergoing transformations. The smaller modern bison that were evolving were hunted communally with the use of pounds and jumps. Archaeological sites such as Head-Smashed-In and the Stampede Sites in Alberta have long stratigraphic sequences which indicate the continuous importance of the bison. The well-built bison drive lanes that stretched over several kilometers at Head-Smashed-In required large, organized groups of people to stampede and contain the animals by fluttering vegetation from behind the cairns that were placed along the runs.The meat processing took place both at the kill sites and later, at the camps. At many archaeological sites in southern Manitoba, the remains of smashed bones indicate the importance of grease from the marrow. This product is known from post contact times as a high energy food and an important ingredient in making pemmican.


Go the Late Archaic - Oxbow Phase.

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© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
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