«On the evening of the summer solstice,
1 000 years ago, a group of families is setting up their annual
summer fishing camp on a point of land jutting out into the
rapids of a river.
Everyone who arrives takes part in the preparations. Dwellings
were built, fishing devices were made and drying flakes and
smoke racks for processing fish were erected.
Communal meals were organized so that people could share
the sturgeon and catfish they caught. These festivities strengthened
bonds within the group.»
AN IMMENSE GARDEN
Several rivers, including the St. Lawrence, flow through this region,
providing a favorable environment for abundant wildlife and plant
species, as well as a wealth of aquatic resources.
The various groups of First Peoples who succeeded each other here
used these rivers as waterways giving them access both to trade and
to the natural resources of their environment.
A PRELUDE TO HORTICULTURE
About 1 500 years ago, previously nomadic Amerindian groups began
to move less frequently, staying for extended periods at the best
fishing spots. Pointe-du-Buisson was one of their favorite places
for setting up seasonal fishing camps, occupied from spring to fall.
Fishing does not seem to have been a major activity for the earliest
peoples in the inland regions of the Northeast. However, from the
Late Archaic period (6 500 to 3 000 years before the present) to
the Middle Woodland (around 1000 years before the present), its importance
as an economic activity grew. Pointe-du-Buisson was one of the few
places in Iroquois country where food-gathering, or predator, communities
placed more importance on fishing than on hunting.
As horticulture developed and the population expanded, the role
of fishing diminished somewhat. But it was still very important for
the Iroquoians at the time of their first contact with Europeans
in what is now Quebec. This was especially true of communities along
the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, where fish stocks were enormous.
Bone studies (zooarchaeological analysis) of the skeletal fish remains
found by archaeologists in refuse pits show that three types of fish
were particularly popular. Amerindians preferred to eat channel catfish,
redhorse (copper redhorse, white sucker, river redhorse and greater
redhorse, the largest fish in the Catostomidae family) and lake sturgeon.
All of these fish have fairly oily flesh (although not as oily
as eel) and represent good food value for the effort of catching
them. The copper redhorse is today in danger of disappearing.
Pointe-du-Buisson has seen a long series of occupations, beginning
over 5000 years ago. Archaeological excavations have unearthed an
immense quantity of remains that testify to the region’s prehistory.
Some of these remains, especially the oldest ones, strongly resemble
artifacts found in Ontario and the State of New York.
These remains thus indicate that vast networks of trade and contact
must have existed between the populations inhabiting the northeast
region of North America. This hypothesis is supported by material
dating from 1500 years ago, when the most populous Amerindian groups
began to become sedentary and regional identities started to take
shape. The potters of Pointe-du-Buisson made and decorated their
vessels in ways that distinguished them from vessels produced in
neighboring regions. Slowly, the regional differences observed in
the culture of today’s various Amerindian nations evolved.
TURNING AWAY FROM SHORES AND ISLANDS
In the final centuries of this region's prehistory, there was continuous
cultural change. The population grew, houses became longer so that
several families could dwell under the same roof and new forms of
social organization and material culture developed. At the same time,
war became more frequent and settlement patterns changed as a result.
When choosing a site for a hamlet, Iroquoian communities began to
have criteria that were different from those used previously.
OF A VILLAGE'S PALISADE (DETAIL)
By about 1 000 years ago, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians had begun
to rely on horticulture and they gradually moved inland, establishing
hamlets and semipermanent villages at some distance from the islands
and shores of the St. Lawrence River. They continued to seek locations
with good sources of drinking water, near streams and rivers. The
village sites discovered in the municipality of Saint-Anicet, south
of Lake Saint-François are situated far inland, always close
to the banks of the meandering La Guerre River. The choice of a location
for a village was determined by military and ecological considerations.
Higher land provided both a good defensive position and proper drainage.
When further precautions were felt necessary, villagers put up palisades
around the settlements that were most vulnerable to enemy attacks.
The Droulers site, occupied about 650 years before the present,
is located on a terrace more than seven kilometres from the shores
of Lake Saint-François. Covering an area of at least 1.2 hectares
(over 12000 m2), this site is largest prehistoric village discovered
to date in the territory of Quebec.
KIONHEKWA: THE THREE SISTERS
Iroquoian women sowed runner beans around corn so that the plants
could twine up the corn stalks. The bean enriched the soil by adding
nitrogen, a nutrient often exhausted by corn. Squash were usually
cultivated in the same fields as the corn and beans. The broad leaves
of low-growing squash reduced water evaporation and kept weeds in
check. This “companion planting” naturally enhanced productivity
and helped save time and space.
THE THREE SISTERS:
CORN, SQUASH AND BEANS
This method was underpinned by a belief. Corn, beans and squash
were said to represent the spirits of three inseparable sisters,
called the “life givers” which is expressed in Mohawk
by the term Kionhekwa. For this reason, it was believed, the three
cultivated plants could not grow apart from one another.
Corn, beans and squash originated in Mexico several thousand years
ago and gradually spread across the Americas. The “three sisters” were
imported by the people of the American Midwest before being introduced
to those living in the Northeast. The cultigens and the knowledge
required to grow them were obtained by the St. Lawrence Iroquoians
through trade networks.
St. Lawrence Lowlands, the Appalachians
The archaeological sites described here are located in lowlands.
The St. Lawrence Lowlands represent a fault trough bordered by the
Logan Fault to the south and a fault zone to the north.
The Lowlands lie on the Precambrian rock of the Canadian Shield
and were formed by sediments from the Shield and the Appalachians
65 million years ago.
The area sank under the weight of glaciers 12 500 years ago and
was flooded by the Champlain Sea when the climate warmed up. When
this sea receded, it left a layer of clay over the sedimentary and
Mixed forest (coniferous and deciduous trees)
Mean annual temperature between 4.7 and 6.6°C
Warm summers, mean temperature for the three warmest months between
17.7°C and 19.8°C
Cold winters, mean temperature for the three coldest months between –9.7°C
Length of average growing season between 202 and 221 days
In 1964, a salvage excavation conducted by Ontarian archaeologist
J. F. Pendergast on a site two kilometres inland from Lake Saint-François
revealed a major Iroquoian site apparently dating from the 14th century.
Around 1965, the first systematic archaeological excavations were
carried out in the Montérégie region. From 1965 to
1968, the Société d’archéologie du Québec
(S.A.P.Q.) did archaeological work at Pointe-du-Buisson. From 1977,
Norman Clermont, a professor at the Université de Montréal,
undertook a research program at Pointe-du-Buisson.
It was here that Quebec's first prehistoric archaeology field school
saw the light as a result of efforts on the part of students, professors
and university researchers. From that time, encouragement has been
given to research programs in the area. Although only a small proportion
of the territory has undergone systematic inventories and excavations
to date, nonetheless, over 300 archaeological sites have been identified
so far on the Montreal plain, in the Montérégie region.
Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?