Boreal Forest Woodland Period

Wanipigow Site


The Wanipigow Site (EgKx-1) (Saylor 1976, 1989) is one of many sites that dot the shorelines of the Wanipigow lake and river system in the eastern part of the province and mark the area's importance as a source of food and other resources. Three important horizons are represented in the locality:

  1. Archaic, involving only a few sites that were occupied for short periods,
  2. Initial Woodland, marked by extensive remains of Laurel ceramics and related artifacts, and
  3. Terminal Woodland, represented by Blackduck and Selkirk materials.

The Laurel occupation is particularly interesting because it provides evidence of early ceramic use in Manitoba and a sharp break with Archaic technologies and subsistence patterns involving a shift from grassland to forest and aquatic resources. This discontinuity is likely a result of the movement of new Native groups and cultures into the Province from the east.

Environmental Setting

The Site is located on the southern shore of Wanipigow Lake which flows through the Wanipigow River into Lake Winnipeg some 20 kms to the west. Its location was along a shallow area of the lake and also provided access to a small creek and a marsh to the south and heavily vegetated rock outcrops that surround the area. Local oral history the lake served as extremely productive and extensively exploited wild rice bed (Saylor 1976). A further benefit of the site location the prevailing westerly/northwesterly winds which keep away insects.

The present day Boreal Forest vegetation has not changed substantially during the past 2,500 years (Zoltai 1989). Water levels are known to have fluctuated and likely influenced the locations of the habitation sites. The vegetation surrounding the site varies according to the soil composition. Picea (spruce), Betula (birch), Populus (poplar) predominate along with numerous species of shrubs, herbs, and grasses. Two plant species Chenopodum hybridum (goose foot) and Zizania aquatica (wild rice), were particularly important in the past. Carbonized plant remains from the Wanipigow Site indicate that these plants were intensively harvested during the Terminal Woodland Period and likely comprised an important part of the Initial Woodland peoples' diet as well. Local fauna includes moose, caribou, small mammals and fish.

Technology and Subsistence

The Laurel people were the first in the Boreal Forest to incorporate ceramic technology into their assemblages. Their vessels were thin walled and conical in shape without distinct shoulders. They were made by coiling the clay. The outside surfaces of all the Laurel ceramics at EgKx-1 were smoothed prior to application of any decoration (Saylor 1989). Stamps, punctates and other incising were applied to the lip and rim of the vessels using various techniques. Because the pots had no suspension holes, they may have been propped up or positioned in the ground for cooking rather than being hung over a fire (Saylor 1989). Examples from the Wanipigow Site had incurved rims and lips were suitable for pouring liquids, a trait which suggests that they used to store wild rice.

The presence of pottery indicates that people were more sedentary than the preceramic Archaic inhabitants of the area. The vessels were bulky and difficult to carry and would not have become so widely used if they had to be transported frequently.

Along with the ceramics, end-scrapers, utilized flakes, bifaces, choppers, red ochre, and small bone fragments were recovered. Side-notched, stemmed and triangular point types were also present. The lithic material was predominately local and included quartz, rhyolite, and brown chalcedony and cherts.

Laurel subsistence patterns involved the exploitation of wild rice, moose, caribou, small mammals, and fish from the lake and nearby river (Saylor 1976). Plants were probably used to a greater extent than ever before. The Wanipigow River is known historically to have been an important wild rice area and must provided a significant resource during all phases of the Woodland Period. A good crop of wild rice would have provided as much as 50% of the dietary requirements and were probably stored to last through more than one season. The diversity of resources harvest would have involved some degree of movement around the landscape.

    Wild Rice Harvest

Settlement and Social Organization

The increased size and density of Laurel sites implies a larger population and more complex social organization in comparison with previous occupations. The quantity of resources and the site distribution at Wanipigow Lake suggests that Laurel people resided in the vicinity during the spring to fall months, probably in a fairly large band settlement. A typical Boreal Forest pattern involved the congregation of the band or numerous bands in summer base camps, such as Wanipigow, and smaller, dispersed winter camps of single or extended families. The excavation area on the beach turned up an occupational horizon with densely-packed soil and post holes, along with numerous rim sherds, stones and a hearth that suggest a lean-to shelter or wickiup type of structure (Saylor 1976:13).

Belief Systems

There is little direct evidence from the Wanipigow Site of the belief system of the Laurel people. One miniature ceramic vessel was recovered that may have been prepared for mortuary use although no burials were found at this site. Small vessels have been recovered as part of the grave goods from burial mounds.

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