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INDIAN PREHISTORY AS·REVEALED BY ARCHAEOLOGY DIAMOND JENNESS A LTHOUGH the · many diverse languages and customs of our Indians suggest that Canada was occupied for countless centuries before its discovery by Europeans, the ·remains of its prehistoric inhabitants are seldom conspicuous, and in many districts hardly discoverable even with careful research. There are no architectural ruins similar to the cliff dwellings in the southwest of the United States, the stone temples, ·walls and highways of Central America and Peru, or the brick and stone monuments of the Old World. Stone entered into the construction· of dwellings only on the Arctic and sub-Arctic coastlines, where alone we find habitations, -still partly intact, that lead us back to the centuries preceding Columbus. The bark wigwams of the eastern Indians were impermanent structures frequently dismantled and removed to another site, and the skin tents of the plains'-and Mackenzie River tribes left no marks except circles of stones or faint depressions in the soil. West of the Rocky mountains, and in southeastern Ontario, the Indians occupied the same village sites for several years in succession; but even in these regions few traces of their dwellings remain, because the wood of which they were built rapidly disintegrated with the moisture and changing temperature. Yet if Canada is not wealthy in prehistoric remains it is by no means barren. Even though the ancient dwellings have disappeared with hardly a trace, though most of the imple1nents and utensils used by the earlier Indians have fallen into dust, many objects have been preserved that help us to reconstruct their history. Wood, horn, !64 INDIAN PREHISTORY and skin may often have disintegrated, but bone, antier, stone, pottery, ivory and shell remain, and although the story they tell is partial and one-sided, we can often fill in the gaps from our knowledge of the historic Indians. The kitchen-middens on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts contain not only the empty shells of the molluscs on which the aborigines feasted, but objects of stone) bone and native copper that were either discarded or lost when they moved away. 'The old village sites in southeastern Ontario and along the St. Lawrence river contain in addition amazing quantities of broken pottery, and pottery (which, though fragile, is almost indestructible) appears near the international boundary in all three prairie provinces . The dry soil along the Fraser river in the interior of British Columbia has preserved frag1nents of cordwoven basketry that generally crumbled to pieces in more humid regions. Thus the southern parts of Canada possess many valuable relics of the distant past; and though the northern interior is almost barren, the Arctic and sub-Arctic coastlines where the floors of the old dwellings remain perpetually frozen beneath the surface soil rival in the abundance of their treasures the richest sites anywhere in America. Graves, though generally less fertile than village or camping sites, have in many places yielded valuable remains. Much of our knowledge of the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland comes from the implements they deposited in caves and rock-shelters beside their dead. Burial customs varied greatly in different parts of Canada. Wherever cremation was common, as·on the Pacific coast, or the dead were laid on scaffolds or on the surface of the ground, comparatively little has survived. But stone cairns and shell-heaps often contain both human and other remains, and in south-eastern Ontario the plough 165 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of the fanner has exposed many pits or ossuaries where the Iroquoians had deposited the bones of their dead with the tools and utensils that they had used in life. The Indians have left other records of their ancient occupation, in addition to dwelling places and graves. In British Columbia, and more rarely on the prairies, there are petroglyphs or boulders sculptured with strange designs about which the present natives know nothing. Commoner still are pictographs or rock paintings, many also prehistoric, although some on the upper Fraser river and perhaps elsewhere were made as late as the nineteenth century. Then there are traces of old quarries where the Indians mined their soapstone, chert and other minerals, old trails over which they wandered...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 164-182
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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