«On a foggy spring day, a young hunter
decides to explore the territory around his encampment. As
he climbs up a mountainside, he comes across an outcropping
of beautifully colored stone. Immediately attracted by the
texture of this stone, he recalls what he knows about recognizing
material suitable for tool flaking, knowledge passed down from
father to son for generations.
He takes a hammerstone in his hand and with a single
blow extracts a piece of stone that will make an ideal core
from which tools can be flaked.»
ONE OF THE OLDEST SITES
After the glaciers began to melt 13 000 years ago, groups of Paleoindians
began to spread out throughout North America. They gradually established
themselves in the northeast corner of the continent.
It is assumed that the first people to arrive in the Gaspé Peninsula
originated in the western Prairies, crossing the Ottawa Valley or
following the St. Lawrence River. Later, other groups travelled along
the Atlantic coast and reached the Strait of Belle Isle.
The village of La Martre, which sits on either side of the river
bearing the same name, has the privilege of being an ideal place
for studying some of the oldest sites of human occupation in Quebec.
Eight thousand years ago, the Gaspé Peninsula was a cold,
desert territory. The tundra environment was probably home to herds
of caribou that the hunters could spy from far away. Although bone
remains have not been found on the sites, it has been possible to
analyse microscopic blood residues left on the cutting edges of certain
implements discovered by archaeologists and thus learn about the
diversity of the wildlife hunted at the time.
The initial results of this analysis support the hypothesis that
the Paleoindians hunted a variety of animal species, including caribou,
perhaps black bear, hare, at least one species of rodent (lemming)
and possibly certain marine mammals (seal and walrus). In addition
to hunting and trapping, salmon fishing was also probably a source
EXPERT TOOL MAKERS
Paleoindians developed unparalleled skill in the art of flaking
stone. No subsequent prehistoric group fashioned tools with such
DEMONSTRATED BY MICHEL CADIEUX, ARCHÉOFACT INC.
It seems likely that the people who travelled through the region
made use of its chert quarries. Chert is a type of stone that is
ideal for making tools and weapons. Archaeological work has uncovered
several thousand blank flakes and hundreds of tools, including points
with parallel retouches, hand drills, side-scrapers and lanceolate
The most abundant raw material on Paleoindian sites in this region
is radiolarian chert, a mineral formed during the Ordovician period,
450 million years ago. The color of this local chert may be black,
beige, grey or green. Like flint, it is a siliceous stone that lends
itself to tool making.
CHERT BLOCK (DETAIL)
In the summer of 1998, archaeologists discovered a site on a mountainside
close to La Martre. The site contained an enormous quantity of blade
detachment debris, among which lay a projectile point with the narrow,
regular parallel flaking characteristic of the tradition that archaeologists
designate as Plano. This is the name given to a culture whose earliest
traces have been found on the western plains.
The Appalachians consist of an immense chain of mountains stretching
from the America southeast (Alabama) to Newfoundland. On the other
side of the Atlantic Ocean, the same formation extends from Ireland
to northern Norway. In Canada, the chain thus goes through the Eastern
Townships, the Lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé Peninsula and
the Atlantic provinces.
In North America, the Appalachians began to rise 500 million years
ago, when a zone of water-eroded debris from the Canadian Shield
was pushed upwards. With the resulting folding and faulting, magma
intruded and sedimentary layers turned into metamorphic rock.
Mont Jacques-Cartier (1 268 m), in the heart of the Gaspé Peninsula,
is the highest Appalachian summit in Quebec.
Boreal forest (mainly coniferous trees)
Mixed forest (coniferous and deciduous trees) on the north and south
shores of the peninsula
Mean annual temperature between 0.8 and 4.7°C
Warm summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between
13.6°C and 15.7°C
Cold winters, mean temperature for the three coldest months between –11.6°C
Length of average growing season between 143 and 182 days
The first archaeological discoveries were made here in the 1960s,
thanks to Father Roland Provost, then the parish priest at the village
of La Martre.
In 1969, an archaeological excavation undertaken by the Société d'archéologie
préhistorique du Québec led to the discovery of the
first parallel-flaked point. José Benmouyal conducted archaeological
work throughout the Gaspé Peninsula between 1972 and 1980.
In 1995, the Corporation du Centre d'interprétation archéologique
de la Gaspésie entrusted the Ethnoscope inc. company with
a project to research and develop the region's archaeological heritage
(1995-1996). Subsequently (1997-1999), Éric Chalifour and
his team from the anthropology department of the Université de
Montréal undertook three seasons of digging at eight Late
Paleoindian sites (between 8 000 and 10 000 years ago).
To date, nearly 25 archaeological sites have been found around La
Martre alone; at least 12 of them are associated with Late Paleoindian
Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?