The Early Woodland period in Ontario is generally recognized as the period when pottery was first introduced. In many ways, however, the basic life styles of the people seems to have remained unchanged from preceding periods with hunting, fishing and gathering being the primary means of subsistence. This period is believed to have lasted from about 800 or 900 B.C. until about 0 B.C.
Clear evidence of the Early Woodland has been found only in the southern parts of the province, along the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys and along the southeast shore of Lake Huron. These areas seem to correspond well with the distribution of the Carolinian Biotic Zone, which is the geographic region characterized by forests with a relatively high proportion of nut-bearing trees. Projectile points diagnostic of this period have occasionally been recovered from sites further north but these were most likely the product of sporadic contact.
The pottery of this period appears to have been relatively crude and undecorated. The pottery is distinctive in being thick, poorly fired and covered on the inside and outside by cord marking. This cord marking was probably the result of construction techniques in which clay was formed around a basket or bag before firing. Not all Early Woodland sites had pottery and some researchers suggest that it was used only for part of the year, perhaps during the processing of acorns or other nuts for their oil.
During this time period burials became even more elaborate with increased inclusion of status artifacts. Some of these exotic artifacts show clear evidence of influence and contact with even more elaborate and complex cultural groups to the south. In these areas, clearly complex and stratified societies, probably with full time chiefs and priests, had developed and were interacting with many other widely distributed groups across North America. Exchange of exotic desirable goods such as copper, silver, obsidian, sea shells and exotic, often colourful, cherts seems to have been the main goal of this "interaction sphere" but, undoubtedly, the exchange of ideas was also important in stimulating further development. Whether foods or furs for clothing was also exchanged is unknown at this time.
An important feature of trade among most nonindustrial societies is that it was seldom, if ever, conducted for profit as we know it. Trade or exchanges were usually made to seal pacts of friendship or initiate contacts with other peoples. Often these exchanges were accompanied by the exchange of marriage partners so as to further strengthen these social ties. Individuals or groups who were lucky enough to acquire more than they needed usually distributed what they didn't need to other groups and in return were recognized as great hunters and providers and as generous persons. In this way they gained greater respect and prestige. An additional and important (at least for archaeologists) way for individuals to gain prestige was to remove prestigious items from general circulation by burying them with the dead. This not only showed the generosity of the donor but created a need to obtain more such items and therefore maintain the social ties previously initiated.
Two Traditions or complexes are recognized for this period, Meadowood and Middlesex. Evidence for both of these has been found in southern Ontario.
Meadowood Complex: 900 - 500 B.C.
Meadowood points have been identified from some sites in Eastern Ontario including the York Site north of Kingston and Crystal Rock Site near Prescott and the St. Lawrence River. Early ceramics have been recovered from the Pond Lily Site located on Napanee Lake northwest of Kingston and from the Upper Ottawa Valley. More of this complex is known from sites excavated in southwestern and central Ontario and adjacent New York, particularly from Grand Island on the Niagara River.
Middlesex Complex: 500 - 0 B.C.
This complex is defined solely from mortuary sites and is therefore not directly comparable to earlier groups for which habitation sites have been identified. This complex is partially distinguished by the use of large bifacially flaked blades made of cherts usually originating in the Ohio - Indiana - Illinois area and relatively broad-bladed projectile points with lobate stems. Other artifacts associated with this complex include pop-eye birdstones, bar amulets and gorgets.
The origin of the raw materials being used, as well as similarities of some of the large bifaces, suggests an association of these people with the Adena Culture, which was centred in the Ohio Valley. Archaeologists have attempted to explain this phenomena as a religious cult spreading out from the Ohio Valley area. However, it is more likely explained by indigenous populations simply being influenced to varying degrees by the material culture originating from the American mid-west.
Sites identified in Eastern Ontario, where this complex seems more common, include a "cluster" in the Kingston area consisting of the See Mound, Pikes Farm and Button Bay in the Thousand Islands and the York site near Verona. A single burial has been identified on Morrison's Island in the Ottawa Valley. These sites appear to bear their greatest relationships to sites south of the St. Lawrence valley. In southcentral and southwestern Ontario, sites of this "tradition" have not been as well explored but appear to be loosely related to "lobate-stemmed" Early Woodland populations in southern Michigan.
This summary of Ontario Archaeology was taken from the Discovering Ontario Archaeology - Speakers Kit. The original texts were written by Jeff Bursey, Hugh Daechsel, Andrew Hinshelwood and Carl Murphy.
INTRODUCTION¦ POST ICE-AGE GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT¦ FIRST PEOPLE OF NORTH AMERICA¦ FIRST PEOPLE OF ONTARIO: THE PALEO-INDIANS¦ THE ARCHAIC PERIOD¦ EARLY WOODLAND PERIOD¦ MIDDLE WOODLAND PERIOD¦ LATE WOODLAND PERIOD¦ THE CONTACT PERIOD¦ THE FRENCH PERIOD (A.D.1650 TO 1763) ¦ THE ENGLISH PERIOD (A.D. 1760 TO 1867)
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