Archaeological Gender-Based Spatial Analysis

Ancestral Cultures and Tool Traits

Beverly prehistory began when Northern Plano people entered the Beverly range 8000 years ago. They came from the south, changing their prey from bison to the caribou which came to graze on patchy new post-glacial vegetation. In spring, Northern Plano people tracked the herd northeast to its calving ground near the last Keewatin ice remnants. In autumn, they followed the herd south to the winter forest. Small family groups are identified by sites with Agate Basin points along with small round chithos of a distinct local red sandstone, and large triangular endscrapers. Agate Basin points are biconvex quartzite lanceolates with tapered ground stemmed bases. Collateral flaking is shallow and the base is thinned by removing 3-4 tapered flakes in a triangular area too shallow to be called channelled or fluted. Agate Basin hunters transformed their broken point tips into burins and gravers, a trait rare in southern Plano.

The Northern Plano proved their adaptability to the north when they changed their herd following from bison to caribou, but their tundra adaptation was tested for only a few summer weeks on a 100 km wide belt of open ground between the calving ground and the treeline. It was at treeline that they likely developed into Shield Archaic forest hunters under a generally warm climate. During the 6500 year-old Climatic Optimum, hunters multiplied by remaining longer at northern river crossings than those of other traditions because the water was ice-free earlier in spring and later in fall, as deduced from caribou tooth sectioning. It is also seen in many medium length notched points and linear or ovoid knives used in lancing and butchering, and tortoise-backed hide scrapers.

During the early part of a prolonged cold period about 3500 years ago, Shield Archaic peoples moved into the Manitoba forest while Pre-Dorset peoples spread south towards Saskatchewan. They, too, traced the migrating caribou into the winter forest, but not far south of the retreating treeline, where they left small surface tool scatters. Theirs is an ancient Asiatic tradition, traceable to central Siberia, and distinct in its finely retouched, tiny chert end and sideblades, microblades, microcores and burin-related tools. They used these tools earlier while maritime hunting and may have used them at water crossings, as there are equal numbers and types of end and sideblades for harpoons. They adapted partially to forest, adopting some wood-working tools in the south part of their range. About 2,700 years ago the Pre-Dorsets disappeared, probably moving to the coast under warming climate to become part of the martime Dorset tradition.

Hard on their heels are Taltheilei peoples moving north from the forests around Lake Athabasca. Finely stratified levels with slowly changing projectile points allow their tracing to the modern Chipewyan. Like the Northern Plano and Shield Archaic Indian traditions, quartzite tools dominate. From Earliest to Early phases, lanceheads widen, thin and become shouldered, knives are crude and temporary, and there is evidence of copper trade with the ancestors of the neighbouring Yellowknife (or copper knife) Chipewyan occupying the Coppermine River valley. Trade between the two continued as they merged into Middle Taltheilei.

Perhaps due to an ideal environment for caribou, Middle Taltheilei expansion was dramatic 1,800 years ago and the tundra was exploited more than previous peoples. Sites at water crossings are compatible with gathering at mass hunts during southern summer migration, as seen in symmetrical ground stem lanceheads, the greatest number and variety of butchering knives, and triangular scrapers larger than previous ones. They also had an eyeless copper needle, the earliest found on the Barrenlands, although the Pre-Dorsets probably had bone needles.

The Little Ice Age of 300 to 700 years ago forced Late Taltheilei peoples towards the forest. They are the last herd followers because their Chipewyan descendents were ravaged by epidemics and enticed south by the fur trade. Sites are numerous in the center of the range, but tools are now more poorly made. Asymmetric lanceheads have squared, stemmed, flared or wide expanding bases, while ovoid knives are crude with less retouch. Small side and corner-notched arrowheads show the influence of Prairie Indians. Indeed, the 800-1200 AD side-notched arrowheads merge imperceptibly into Plains side-notched arrowheads.  In this manner, some Chipewyan changed from hunting caribou to bison, and may have become the Navajo and Apache of the American Southwest.

The bow and arrow gave Taltheilei peoples greater freedom to kill animals from piled slab hunting blinds on the open tundra and from the forested sides of frozen lakes.  They used their bows horizontally, decreasing range, but permitting a low crouched profile to approached caribou, and later bison.  This "stealth" hunting may have served well when defending or attacking other Indians, as the Navajo and Apache did when they entered the American Southwest about 1200 AD.

European cloth, metal and glass trade goods mark Chipewyan emergence from prehistoric Late Taltheilei, occurring among collapsed tent poles or mixed with crude quartzite surface tools on archaeological sites. Samuel Hearne mentions the everyday use of bows, tents, canoes and snowshoes near brush-enclosed corrals, plus games and practices surrounding birth and death. He remarks on the few needs of the Chipewyan and the difficulty of the Hudson Bay Company in luring them into the fur trade. Eventually, they did participate, depending less on caribou and more on imported flour and local moose, birds and fish from the forest. In so doing they relinquished the freedom of herd following for the dubious security of the trading post.

The empty tundra was quickly claimed by historic Caribou Inuit who pushed south to the treeline about 1825 to 1850 A.D. Unlike other peoples, they did not follow the caribou through their cycle, as they were prevented from living in the winter range by Chipewyan fur trappers. A century later, the descendants of the Inuit incorporated Chipewyan lands into Nunavut.

from Gordon 1996. People of Sunlight; People of Starlight: Barrenland Archaeology in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Archaeological Survey of Canada, Mercury Series Paper 154. Canadian Museum of Civilization, pp.237-240.


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