Blackduck Phase

A.D. 800-1400

The most important characteristic of the latter part of Plains Woodland Period is the number of archaeologically distinct Aboriginal groups on the prairies and their high degree of representation in the artifact record. The literature documents numerous Plains cultural groups such as "Old Women's", "Mortlach", "One Gun", "Blackduck", "Arvilla","Plains Village", "Psinomani" and others. Each of these is represented in the archaeological record primarily by distinctive ceramic styles, but also through faunal remains, projectile points, and associated settlement patterns and burial practices. The sheer number of Terminal Woodland sites compared to earlier Archaic or Initial Woodland examples is due in part to population growth. However, to some degree, archaeological remains from this time are better represented because are better preserved than those from the earlier Woodland, Archaic or Palaeo periods.

Environmental Setting

The Blackduck culture is representative of Native life on the Plains during the Terminal Woodland Period after 1250 A.D. and reflects the development of new technologies and beliefs in the context of continued reliance on the bison as a primary subsistence focus. The tradition was centered in Northern Minnesota and spread to the north and west. At sites such as Aschkibokahn at the mouth of the Duck River on Lake Winnipegosis, Duck Bay ceramics were found in association with Blackduck. As well, Selkirk ceramics which have been associated with the pre-contact Cree, were often found in association with Blackduck. Regional variations are considered to represent distinct ethnic groups inhabiting specific habitats

The climate during the Terminal Woodland period was very similar to that of modern times. The climatic episode after A.D.1 is referred to as the Neo-Atlantic period and is characterized by wetter than present conditions. However, wetter episodes were interspersed with dry periods. These fluctuations in climatic conditions affected the distribution of people on the Northern Plains. During more arid times, less vegetation could be supported in some areas and fewer resources would have been available for Plains groups.

Technology and Subsistence

The generally accepted model for Terminal Woodland subsistence patterns formulates a seasonal round where Native groups hunted and gathered in numerous areas in response to regular cycles of abundance and scarcity of resources of the region (Ray 1972). The Stott Site was a case in point where bison were hunted using the Assiniboine River valley walls as a jumping point from the surrounding Plains. The thick bison bone beds and meat processing areas are documented in the archaeological record from this site. The site was not occupied continuously but used on a regular, perhaps seasonal basis from the late Archaic to the Terminal Woodland Period (Tisdale 1978 and Hamilton et al.1981). By far, the most important food resource at the Stott Site was bison. This emphasis contrasts to Blackduck remains at the McCluskey site (Dawson 1974) located in the Boreal Forest of northwestern Ontario. Here, a diffuse number of animals from a range of ecological zones were used as food resources. While these differences might seem to be problematic, in fact they support the theory that Blackduck people were flexible in adapting to environmental and cultural pressures and opportunities and were thereby able to inhabit and wide variety of regions.

Archaeological and faunal remains at Blackduck sites indicates use of a variety of animals. For example, the Stott Site's location within the Aspen Parklands shows that it provided ample and diverse resources apart from bison. Deer, fish and migratory water fowl were accessible within the forested slopes of the river valley.

Blackduck is particularly marked by its ceramic technology, which improved to the point of producing larger, thinner walled and generally better constructed vessels than earlier Woodland traditions. The projectile points were small triangular or side-notched arrow heads of the Plains Woodland type (Kehoe 1973).

Settlement Pattern and Social Organization

During the Terminal Woodland Period there was an increase in the numbers of settlements and burial mounds and a tighter clustering of populations (see Gibbon 1994). Local groups of various traditions were integrated into wider regional and long distance networks involving economic exchanges and other cultural contacts and interactions. By this time a continental trade network had developed to assume a scale that had never before been achieved. The system was centered in the Hopewellian culture of the Ohio Valley and later the Missippian complexes, both of which had an influence throughout the Woodland culture area, including Manitoba. This influence is evident in local sites in the material from which artifacts were manufactured, in the pottery styles used and in the practice of the construction of earthworks and burial mounds. Artifacts, used as trade items and grave goods, such as the shell gorgets from the Calf Mounds, Melita, Sourisford and numerous North Dakota sites decorated with Thunderbirds and a stylized "weeping eye" motif have definite parallels with the Mississippian complexes to the south. Many of the gorgets have a drilled hole which suggests use as a pendant. While it is difficult to suggest what items may have been traded to the south, possibly organic material such as hides, furs, local foods, salt may have been amongst the exports.


Stott Site
© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
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