«As the early morning mist lifts from
the surface of the lake, the outlines of the surrounding hills
become visible. At some distance, hunters wait for the caribou
to come. They have set up their camp close to a narrow corridor
where these migrating animals must pass before swimming across
the cold lake.
While one of the hunters watches the horizon intently,
the other three sharpen their spearheads by the hearth. According
to the elders, the hunt will be good this fall. »
LANDSCAPES OF SEA AND ICE
Between 16 000 and 13 000 years before the present, the glaciers
previously covering the region began to retreat and sections of what
are now the Chaudière and Saint-François rivers flowed
through the newly liberated land. About 12 500 years ago, the region
was covered with great expanses of fresh water, which eventually
became the main lakes that are found there today. Between 12 000
and 11 000 years before the present, the last glaciers gradually
melted in the Appalachian plateau of the Eastern Townships region,
while the waters of the Champlain Sea invaded the St. Lawrence Plain.
This sea was home to seals, whales and numerous species of fish.
As the climate became warmer and the ice sheets retreated, new species
of plants colonized the land. From 12 000 to 10 000 years ago, the
mosses and lichens of the tundra gave way to the sparse coniferous
forests of the taiga, which in turn was replaced by denser forests,
dominated by black spruce, white birch and balsam fir. The environment
became ideal for caribou, while the rivers and lakes were filled
with salmon, eels and sturgeon. About 8 000 to 6 000 years before
the present, the physical environment became stable, looking very
much as it does today.
CAMPS SET UP 11 000 YEARS AGO
Every prehistoric period in Quebec has been documented in the Eastern
Townships; humans have occupied the region from the early Paleoindian
period (12 000 to 10 000 years before the present) to the Late Woodland
period (1 000 to 400 years before the present). Recent research undertaken
in the Lake Megantic area has uncovered artifacts in camps dating
from about 12 000 years ago. These discoveries include fluted points,
various kinds of scrapers, drills and flakes left by stone chipping
The Paleoindian site sits at the top of a narrow strip of land separating
Spider Lake and Lake Megantic. It seems probable that the Paleoindians
living in this area hunted caribou, and there is no reason to reject
the hypothesis that they sometimes were able to kill enormous ice
age herbivores, like the mammoth and the mastadont, which still roamed
the region in herds.
In the northeast of the continent, fluted points were made by the
Paleoindian peoples who occupied the territory between 12 000 and
10 000 years ago. The fluted points found at Lake Megantic were flaked
out of a chert that may have come from northern Maine. These points
have even, symmetrical cutting edges and a concave flute that extends
over half the length of one face. This flute made it easier to attach
the point to a shaft and thus gave spears more stability.
The fluted points found at Lake Megantic resemble those discovered
in New England and around the Great Lakes, suggesting that the Quebec
population may have originated from these areas. Producing points
like these required a high degree of skill in flaking techniques
on the part of the craftsmen, since there was a risk of the point
breaking as the flute was being added.
The Paleoindians living in the region were nomadic and their mobility
was vital to their survival. They depended on contact and trade with
other groups to obtain material from faraway regions. For example,
the pieces of waxy red chert found in abundance on the region’s
main sites may have come from a source 180 km to the northeast, at
Munsungun Lake, in Maine. Large quantities of rhyolite were also
used for tool making in the region, and a source of this rock exists
near the town of Berlin, in New Hampshire.
The artifacts that have been discovered show that there was communication
between the nomadic people living in the Lake Megantic area and those
dwelling at a considerable distance in the Paleoindian period (12
000 to 10 000 years before the present). Such contact would have
encouraged these communities to share tool making techniques and
no doubt much more.
FROM MISSISQUOI BAY TO PIKE RIVER
One of the places occupied by humans during the Late Woodland period
(1 000 to 400 years before the present) was Missisquoi Bay on the
northern shore of Lake Champlain. At the Bilodeau site, archaeologists
have found the remains of a fishing camp. Traces of postholes indicate
that the occupants dwelled in an oval tent, with a hearth and storage
pits inside it. A small refuse heap containing numerous charred fish
bones was discovered not far from the postholes defining the contour
of the tent.
The pottery found at the Bilodeau site is associated with the St.
Lawrence Iroquoian tradition. The presence of Iroquoian groups in
the lowlands around Lake Champlain adds fuel to the debate concerning
the ethnic identity of the populations that occupied the area during
prehistoric era. When the St. Lawrence Iroquoians disappeared at
the end of the 16th century, this area was home to the Abenakis,
who are part of the Algonquian family. Archaeological evidence suggests
that, a few decades before their disappearance, the St. Lawrence
Iroquoians shared this territory with the Algonquians.
The Eastern Township region lies in the foothills of the Appalachian
Mountains, between the high summits of this chain and the lowlands
of the St. Lawrence Fault. The southern limit of the region is marked
by the tall mountains lying along the border separating Quebec from
the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The mountains of
the Eastern Townships rise to an average height of 760 metres. Some
of the highest peaks – Mount Hereford (868 metres), Mount Megantic
(1 105 metres) and Mount Gosford (1 186 metres) – are related
to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, while others, like Mount
Sutton (972 metres) and Mount Orford (854 metres), are a continuation
of the Green Mountains of Vermont.
• Appalachian Highlands: the first tier of the northwest flank
of the Appalachians, with a plateau sloping from 500 to 350-300 metres
• Appalachian Lowlands: a plateau north of the highlands sloping
from 300 to 200 metres in altitude.
• Appalachian piedmont: terrain at 150 to 75 metres above sea
level, sloping down to the St. Lawrence Lowlands.
Sugar maple-linden-yellow birch stands (with American white ash,
butternut, beech, red oak and eastern hemlock)
Subhumid temperate continental
Mean temperature in July: 19.2∞ C (Sherbrooke)
Mean temperature in January: -11.9∞ C (Missisquoi Bay)
Length of average growing season: 80 to 125 days
Although the first human occupation of the Eastern Townships dates
back several millennia, the archaeology of the region is still quite
young. In the 1960s, Father René Lévesque established
the Société d’archéologie de Sherbrooke.
In 1968, this archaeological society took part in the excavation
of the Bishop site in Lennoxville in collaboration with the prehistory
museum at the Institut Albert Tessier, operated by the Centre des Études
universitaires at Trois-Rivières. This was the first archaeological
excavation carried out in the region.
From 1970 to 1990, the Eastern Townships saw little archaeological
research, apart from some limited excavations required for road construction
or a few projects agreed to by the Ministère des Affaires
culturelles. However, the archaeology of the region attracted the
attention of certain collectors, such as James Hosking, Jean Cliche
and Catherine Rancourt, who often hunted for prehistoric objects
on the surface of the ground. Archaeologists Bertrand Morin and Éric
Graillon contributed to the development of regional archaeology and
documented the Cliche-Rancourt collection. Two archaeological companies,
Transit Analyse and Arkéos, undertook several inventories
in the region, and the latter was responsible for digging an important
site on the Magog River. Between 1990 and 1993, the anthropology
department of the Université de Montreal carried out a research
project in the Regional County Municipality of Brome-Missisquoi.
As of 2001, the Université de Montreal field school, under
the direction of Claude Chapdelaine, was conducted in the Lake Megantic
area. In 2003, the first fluted point was unearthed by field school
participants on the Cliche-Rancourt site in this area. This artifact
was the first evidence that humans were present in Quebec during
the Early Paleoindian era over 12 000 years before the present.
Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?