«Travellers coming from the south
hail an encampment where a few families are staying beside
As the first canoes touch the shore, people hurry to welcome
the newcomers. The men stepping out of their canoes bear bundles
filled with copper, exotic stones and objects for trade.
Their faces are well-known to the families, for these
people have long been trading partners.»
A REGION OF FORESTS AND LAKES
Situated on the Canadian Shield’s watershed divide, the Abitibi-Temiscaming
region has a forest that is mixed in the south but gradually becomes
characterized by spruce to the north. The region has a rich ecology
and supports a diversity of wildlife. The various species have specific
distribution areas and their populations fluctuate with the rhythms
of environmental factors.
The distribution of wildlife affected the way humans occupied the
territory and hunted on it. At the time when the first Europeans
arrived, nomadic First Peoples lived in small, widely scattered families
for much of the year but assembled in larger groups in summer.
The families gathered together in summer, when fishing was an important
activity. The annual cycle of winter hunting in small groups and
summer fishing in communities represented an age-old pattern, although
some variations must have occurred over time.
RESOURCES OF A LAND
In the Contact period (when First Peoples encountered the influence
of European culture), the main animal species eaten by the Amerindians
were beaver, hare, moose, deer, wood caribou and various fish and
The study of faunal remains from archaeological sites has shown
that, previous to Contact, people mostly ate large cervidae (especially
caribou) in the earliest periods, hunted beaver and cervidae in the
Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods (about 3 000 years before
the present) and began to consume more fish by the Late Woodland
period (about 1 500 to 400 years before the present).
The many lakes, rivers and streams flowing through the Abitibi-Temiscaming
region were used by the inhabitants as waterways linking them to
the neighboring areas. Raw material identified on archaeological
sites is evidence of a dynamic trade network. This material includes
stones from various sources: chalcedony from the Hudson Bay Lowlands,
quartzite from Mistassini and Onondaga chert. The trade in native
copper from the Lake Superior region seems to have been well established.
Since the Abitibi-Temiscaming area covers a watershed divide, those
living in the region could travel along the waterways in different
directions and maintain the many contacts that facilitated their
lives as hunter-gatherers. There is good reason to believe that,
throughout prehistory, these people cultivated contacts and special
trade relations with a number of groups, particularly those dwelling
around the Great Lakes in the Late Woodland period (1 000 to 400
years before the present).
LOYAL TRADING PARTNERS
From earliest times, people living in the Abitibi-Temiscaming region
maintained contacts with their neighbors. During the Late Woodland
period (1 000 to 400 years before the present) and into the historic
period, trade with the people of the Great Lakes area became increasingly
important. The pottery found on Abitibi-Temiscaming sites clearly
belongs to the Ontario Iroquoian tradition.
In the historic period, it was recorded that the Hurons traded regularly
with Algonquian groups living further north, exchanging corn and
tobacco for furs and meat. The discovery of pottery characteristic
of the Hurons and their ancestors on Late Woodland sites in Abitibi-Temiscaming
supports the hypothesis that this trading relation existed before
the arrival of Europeans. The inhabitants of the Abitibi-Temiscaming
region may have made long trips when they engaged in this trade,
but it is equally possible that a role was played by Algonquian middlemen,
such as the Nipissings or the Ottawas, who lived on the very outskirts
The artifact assemblages found by archaeologists in the Abitibi-Temiscaming
region contain no pottery characteristic of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians.
Such pottery might be expected, since the Ottawa River offered a
direct route to the St. Lawrence Valley. It is known that in the
historic period the Hurons and Algonquians were allies in a struggle
with their common enemy, the Iroquois. The exclusive presence of
pottery in the Huron or “proto-Huron” tradition on these
sites suggests that the alliances and deep-seated antagonisms observed
in the historic period had their roots in earlier times.
The production of pottery has long been used to distinguish the
sedentary groups of the south from the nomadic groups living further
north. The technique of using clay to make both useful and decorative
objects has been seen as marking a step in the process by which the
groups in the Great Lakes area and the St. Lawrence Valley became
sedentary and adopted agriculture. However, the excavation of Abitibi-Temiscaming
sites has clearly revealed that small groups of nomads used pottery
as far back as 1 000 years before the present. It seems that at certain
periods it was made locally and displayed the beginnings of regional
characteristics. But in other periods, vessels were imported from
Canadian Shield (southern edge)
The Abitibi-Temiscaming region sits on some of the oldest rocks
in the world (about 3.5 to 4 billion years old).
The Canadian Shield was formed when ancient mountain chains were
eroded by great glaciers into the plateaus, hills and low mountains
to be seen today. Folds and faults enabled magma to intrude, leading
to the formation of rich mineral deposits.
Boreal forest (spruce and fir stands) Deciduous forest (maple stands
mixed with yellow birch)
Subarctic, cold continental
Mean annual temperature between 0 and 2°C
Cool summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between
13.6°C and 15.7°C
Winter very cold, mean temperature for the three coldest months
between –17.5°C and –13.6°C
Length of average growing season between 163 and 182 days
The Abitibi-Temiscaming territory was visited by only a few archaeologists,
such as Frank Ridley and Thomas Lee, until around 1970. It was then
that the first systematic scientific excavations in the regions were
undertaken by archaeologist Roger Marois. Working for the National
Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization), he explored
the area around Duparquet Lake and Lake Abitibi. In 1985, Corporation
Archéo-08 was founded. This corporation was a local initiative,
aimed at developing knowledge of the region’s heritage. Archaeologist
Marc Côté was hired in 1986 and he began field work
the same year.
Since its founding, Corporation Archéo-08 has carried out
projects throughout practically the entire Abitibi-Temiscaming region.
The some 15 sites dug so far are scattered between Duparquet Lake
and Lake Abitibi (Abitibi-West), Simon Lake (in the Val d’Or
sector), Opasatica Lake (Rouyn-Noranda sector) and Chicobi Lake (Amos
sector). Research to date has revealed that human beings have occupied
this territory for 8 000 years.
Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?