The Late Woodland in southern Ontario is largely defined by the emergence of village life and the increased reliance on domesticated plants, particularly corn but with beans and squash (for food now) also playing important roles. In northern Ontario, however, this period is defined more arbitrarily on the basis of new ceramic types since there does not appear to have been as profound a change in lifestyle. This important difference is due to the fact that climate and landscape prohibited the adoption of agriculture north of the Severn River. There is, however, abundant evidence that northern people developed increasing contacts with Iroquoians and other southern agricultural groups, as will be discussed below.

Because the northern Ontario people maintained a way of life similar to those of previous periods, they will be discussed first.

The Late Woodland period did not appear at a uniform time over all of northern Ontario. Late Woodland pottery appears in some areas around A.D. 500 while Middle Woodland Laurel pottery appears to continue until A.D. 1000 in other, usually more remote, areas. The new pottery types are, from early to late, Blackduck, Selkirk and Sandy Lake. Most sites, however, also have varying amounts of Iroquoian pottery or types from Michigan and eastern Wisconsin. On one site near Sault Ste. Marie, about 400 pots were found of which only four were clearly Blackduck. The high frequency of foreign pottery types clearly indicate extensive contacts with the south long before the European fur trade.

Like the change from Middle Woodland to Princess Point pottery in southern Ontario, decoration on Blackduck pottery in northern Ontario was produced by cord wrapped sticks and punctates. Many researchers have noted a similarity between Blackduck pottery and Princess Point pottery.

In northwestern Ontario the Blackduck people maintained the practice of mound building. The Late Woodland mounds are not as large as Middle Woodland mounds, few of them were higher than two meters compared to the mounds of up to twelve meters for the Laurel, but may contain typical Late Woodland artifacts and some ceremonial objects.

Another aspect of Late Woodland spiritual life is expressed in unique archaeological sites where pictographs and petroglyphs were produced. Pictographs (literally: picture-writings) are found at sites across Ontario where people marked rock faces with paints made from hematite (red ochre) mixed with a binding agent (water, grease, blood, etc.). As the iron in the paint oxidized a strong bond between the paint and the rock face resulted. While it is possible to date the organic components of the paint, it is not generally possible (and professionally unacceptable) to remove small portions of the paint for this process. Thus, pictographs remain dated largely by internal clues such as the paintings of particular and roughly datable events such as the appearance of firearms, horses or sailing ships, the presumed lifespan of the paintings in exposed locations (presumably less than 300 years), and through often tenuous association with local archaeological sites.

Petroglyphs (literally: symbols carved in rock) are believed to have been similar in function to pictographs but the method of their construction was somewhat different. Here the rock was pecked and chipped with another implement to make impressions in the form of the desired symbols. It is not often that archaeological sites and pictographs coincide but one site on Lake of the Woods has revealed petroglyphs underneath soil which contained Paleo-Indian artifacts. While some archaeologists have suggested that this site indicates a Paleo-Indian age for the petroglyphs, others argue that the old artifacts may have washed down from an eroding bank further up. Whatever the age of the artifacts, rock art was being produced at a large number of sites from at least the end of the Late Woodland until at least A.D. 1800.

Current understanding of rock art suggest that the sites do not merely represent "artistic" endeavours but that a more or less rigorous system of symbols was being employed to convey particular meaning. The meanings transmitted appear to be largely sacred, votive or mystical, making the pictograph sites themselves "sacred" to earlier and/or present cultural groups. The relationship between these sites and modern people requires that archaeologists be sensitive in their use of the sites for data collection.

The pictographs of the Canadian Shield region constitute a kind of written language. The individual elements of the rock face can combine to form certain meanings much like the letters and words of written English can combine to mean certain sounds, objects or ideas. These meanings can be either about subsistence, geography, history or climate or can be more sacred, secret or enigmatic. At present it seems unlikely that the pictographs will be fully deciphered because the existing "Rosetta Stones" of this language, the birch bark scrolls of the Ojibwa Midewewin, can be interpreted by a diminishing number of individuals and because many of the symbols may have been symbolic "signatures" of the supplicants to the resident Maymaygwayshi.

In southern Ontario there were three general areas of cultural development, each with distinct temporal periods, and each with distinguishing cultural features. From west to east were the Western Basin Algonquians of the Younge Tradition, occurring at various times almost as far east as London Ontario, the Ontario Iroquois Tradition which covered most of the western and central parts of the province, and the St. Lawrence Iroquoians who were located from the eastern end of Lake Ontario, into the northern portions of New York state and east along the St. Lawrence river into Quebec. To the north were other Algonquian groups such as the Adawa (Ottawa) in the Bruce Peninsula, the Nipissings and other groups along the French River and Lake Nipissing, and many others along the Ottawa and related river systems. Each of these will be briefly described in the sections below.

Eastern Ontario and The St. Lawrence Iroquois

In Eastern Ontario the issue of Late Woodland development is complicated by continued use of the region by groups retaining a hunter and gatherer-based subsistence strategy. It would seem that portions of Eastern Ontario such as the Ottawa Valley featured an overlap of this subsistence practice with that of limited horticulture. Essentially, hunter/gatherers in the region are primarily regarded as Algonquian speaking populations continuing a way of life extending from the Archaic period. Historically some of these groups were known as the Matouweskarini, the Iroquet and the Kichesipirini. How these groups relate to ancestral populations such as those of the Point Peninsula Tradition remains a matter for debate. It is possible that these groups could have been an extension of the northern Laurel tradition with some cultural influences from their southern neighbours through trade and other forms of cultural contact. Understanding the prehistoric development of these groups has been hampered by a low intensity of archaeological activity. The following discussion will focus on developments in eastern Ontario that took place along the St. Lawrence River and the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

The Late Woodland Period has been divided into three sub-periods consisting of Early, Middle and Late Iroquoian. Elements of all three are represented in Eastern Ontario although their relationship with one another is not as clearly defined as sequences emerging in southcentral and southwestern Ontario.

The Early Iroquois is distinguished in Eastern Ontario by the emergence of the Pickering Complex. It is suggested that this complex may have developed in-situ from the Sand Banks Complex. Much of what is known about the Pickering Complex has come from sites in southcentral Ontario. Pickering-like components have been identified, however, in the Ottawa Valley along the Muskrat River near Pembroke and on Lake Nipissing.

Artifacts associated with this tradition include a distinct ceramic tradition, generally crudely made ceramic pipes, triangular shaped projectile points and bone tools such as awls, needles and beads. Ceramic decorative patterns shift from cord impressions to linear stamps, horizontal lines made by a "push-pull" motion, and dentate stamps and often have exterior bossing produced by interior punctates. Sites of the Pickering Complex exhibit the first evidence of ribbed paddle or check stamped surface treatment of the body sherds in southern Ontario. It might have been that this constitutes the first evidence of the use of the paddle and anvil technique for forming thinner, more compact pottery vessel walls.

It is on Pickering sites that the first definitive house structures have been identified in Eastern Ontario. It is believed that there were earlier house structures but to date none have been identified in the region. Houses have been found to be of small elliptical structure, much like Middle Woodland houses recorded in southwestern and northern Ontario, only slightly larger, with hearths placed off the centre line.

It is during this part of the sequence that evidence of villages occurs, first as loosely associated structures followed by structures with more systematic organization of space, such as the designation of midden or garbage areas. In eastern Ontario evidence for Pickering villages is lacking. Many of the sites, such as Lakeshore Lodge in Prince Edward County, or the Kingston Outer Station, are fishing stations, a continuation of the Late Middle Woodland and Transitional Period settlement pattern.

While there is some evidence for use of cultivated plants, it has been suggested that Pickering groups in Eastern Ontario still relied primarily on a hunter-gatherer subsistence strategy. Sites in areas such as Charleston Lake (Jackson's Point Rock Shelter) do suggest some differences between Point Peninsula and Pickering hunting and gathering patterns indicating the same places were being used but at different seasons.

The Middle Iroquoian period, which dates between about 1300 and 1400 A.D., featured continued change in settlement patterns and subsistence practices among Late Woodland populations. Again these differences are essentially regarded as part of a continuum, that is, in-situ development of local populations. This period is divided into two stages: Uren and later Middleport.

It is during this stage that collared ceramics become common with decorations continuing to be composed of linear stamps and incising. There is also a well developed clay pipe complex associated with the Middleport Complex.

Archaeological evidence suggests increased permanency of villages and reliance on domestic plants.

Middle Iroquoian sites are rare in Eastern Ontario. Middleport sites have been identified in Prince Edward County and more recently in the Kingston area. There is a Middleport component at Kingston Outer Station, a fishing camp located along the Cataraqui River in Kingston. Middleport ceramics have also been recovered from the Gananoque Drainage System. These groups appear to have developed into the eastern-most branches of the Hurons, which will be discussed in greater detail below.

To the east along the St. Lawrence Valley were the St. Lawrence Iroquois who bear close similarities to contemporaneous Oneida and Onondaga in New York State. Village clusters have been identified at Prescott and further east towards Cornwall in Eastern Ontario, with a large number reported for Jefferson County in New York State and farther east into Quebec.

The material culture of both the Huron and St. Lawrence Iroquois was quite similar in many ways. The St. Lawrence Iroquoian populations are distinguished from the Hurons by distinctive ceramic styles, increased size and permanency of villages and continued development of an extensive bone tool technology. Lithic industry, in particular, all but disappears among the St. Lawrence Iroquois. This may have been a consequence of disruption of earlier trading networks that brought in the better quality cherts used in the production of stone tools. There is also some indication of conflict between these populations.

Middle Iroquoian Pound Necked Vessel (14th century)

In addition to village sites, fishing camps along tributaries of the St. Lawrence River have been found at Morrisburg and between Cardinal and Prescott. It has been suggested that these fishing camps serviced the inland sites by harvesting eel, an important element in the diet of St. Lawrence Iroquois populations.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that there was conflict between different populations or groups through this period. The appearances of St. Lawrence Iroquois ceramics on Huron sites in Prince Edward County and in the Trent River System, as well as the recovery of Huron ceramics on St. Lawrence Iroquoian sites have been explained as the result of the capture of women during raids between the two groups. We do know that in the mid 1500s, after the visits by Jacques Cartier, the St. Lawrence Iroquoians disappeared. Whatever the causes of this dramatic event, there is one site in the Trent Valley, which was Huron territory, with St. Lawrence Iroquoian pottery in association with European trade goods, suggesting that at least some of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians ultimately settled among the Hurons.

The Ontario Iroquois Tradition

The Ontario Iroquoian Tradition is currently believed to have begun approximately 900 A.D. with the appearance of small villages, at least seasonally occupied over a number of years. This shift in settlement pattern is generally believed to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture. It is currently debated, however, whether increased reliance on corn and the adoption of partial village life led to population increase or vice versa. In most aspects of the material culture, however, the Early Ontario Iroquoian period, which lasts until about A.D. 1250 or 1300, appears to be a continuation from the Late Middle Woodland Princess Point Culture with some changes occurring gradually.

It is becoming apparent that in the earliest centuries of the Ontario Iroquoian period, a seasonal round similar to earlier periods was maintained with small villages being occupied only seasonally, probably during the winters. At other times of the year the population, or parts of it, would move to areas where fishing in the spring or nut collecting in the fall could augment the corn harvest. Hunting, especially deer, was still an important source of protein.

Two distinct tribal groups in southern Ontario have been identified. These two groups are the Pickering, located from the Toronto area to the Kingston area, and the Glen Meyer, who were located from the Hamilton area to as far west as the London area. These two groups are generally recognized as being distinct in at least aspects of their material culture. While many of these differences may be a factor of environmental differences, such as the Glen Meyer being located closer to high quality chert sources while the Pickering were not, or unknown factors, stylistic differences in pottery decoration appear to suggest that real social differences existed between these two groups. What these differences actually mean, however, is still uncertain.

The Early Ontario Iroquoian period, according to one reconstruction, ended when the eastern Pickering culture invaded and subjugated the western Glen Meyer culture, leading to a uniform Uren/Middleport culture across the province. Whether this "Conquest" actually occurred, however, has been under criticism since it was first proposed. Critics of this hypothesis suggest that the Pickering were not able to mount a war of this scale, especially when Glen Meyer sites appear to be far more numerous and larger. Additionally, there appears to be a lack of any real evidence for warfare having occurred except in the extreme western fringe of the Glen Meyer where warfare with the Western Basin Algonquians is suspected.

The Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1250 to 1300, was one of population growth and the fusion of smaller Early Ontario Iroquoian villages. By the end of the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period some of the largest villages ever occupied in Ontario's prehistory were established. Some of these villages contained longhouses over 100 meters long. In many areas, occupation of clay plains occurred for the first time. The reasons for this change in settlement pattern is believed to be based on the fact that clay holds water longer than sand in the summer, decreasing the impact and frequency of droughts. Villages were usually placed near a stream or river and appear to have been abandoned after 20 to 40 years occupation, when a new village was constructed a few kilometres away.

The population increases which led into this period appear to have been the result of increased reliance on corn horticulture coupled with the appearance and increased use of beans and squash. Because of the bio-chemical properties of enzymes in these plants, the nutritional benefits of these foods together are greater than that of them apart. Enzymes in beans allow people to digest corn better. While corn first appears in the Niagara Peninsula area in the Late Middle Woodland, apparently introduced from neighbouring New York, beans and squash first appear in extreme southwestern Ontario between A.D. 1000 and 1100. They do not appear to have reached the Hamilton area until just prior to the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period.

Probably related to the increase in population sizes was an increase in the geographic distribution of these peoples. Early Ontario Iroquoian occupations appear to have expanded both east and west from their origins in the Niagara area and a few seasonal camps are known in what is now Simcoe County. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period, these expansions appear to have continued and substantial population movements are believed to have occurred into Huronia (Simcoe County), western New York state and further west into southwestern Ontario. Undoubtedly these expansions were also accompanied by some degree of warfare with people already occupying or exploiting these areas.

With the possible exception of the "frontier" areas, warfare does not appear to have been a major aspect of peoples lives up to this point in time. What little direct evidence of warfare that does appear to be present was most likely the result of feuds or raiding of neighbouring groups. World-wide, this appears to have been the pattern of people at this level of complexity and population density. To some degree, this raiding and feuding may have been exacerbated by the increased population density but methods of social reorganization appear to also have been developed in order to compensate for these changes in the cultural landscape. It was probably during this time that political groups larger than individual villages, such as tribes, were developed. Various experiments in intra-village organization may also have occurred to maintain social cohesion.

It is unclear at this time how the changes in subsistence and settlement patterns would have affected the style of some artifact classes but we do know that at this time there was also a distinctive change in the construction and decoration of pottery. During the Middle Ontario Iroquoian period collars were added to the tops of pots, and the necks became more constricted and distinct from the bodies of pots. This had the effect of dividing the tops of pots, where most decoration was placed, into two distinct zones. Additionally, the majority of vessels were decorated with horizontal lines which provide a useful time marker for recognizing this period.

The Late Ontario Iroquoian period, which begins between A.D. 1400 and 1450, is the period when the historically known tribes are believed to have emerged. Villages reached their greatest size during the early parts of this stage and vast regional clusters, probably early tribal groups, appeared. Examples of these regional clusters include the Lalonde group in Huronia, the Vaughan cluster running from the Humber River to the Richmond Hill area and the Crawford Lake cluster in Halton.

During this time period, warfare appears to have become more widespread and common. Evidence of this warfare includes the appearance of larger villages, presumably as a measure of defence, the construction of palisades and earthworks around many villages and the presence of cut and burned human bones in the refuse deposits. While the latter evidence suggests that some people may have been rather cruelly treated, probably even cannibalized, the frequency of these bones does not suggest that many more than one or two people per year were treated this way in a large village.

Iroquoian Longhouse exposed during excavation Iroquoian Village Reconstruction, Ska-nah-doht, Delaware, Ontario

There is presently some debate about the nature of this warfare. Some researchers suggest that large parties of warriors from great sections of southern Ontario might have been raiding distant tribal groups such as the New York Iroquoians. Others believe that the warfare that occurred may have been larger scale raiding and feuds, primarily against neighbouring villages or tribal clusters. There is good evidence, however, that the western edges of the Ontario Iroquois Tradition were constantly pushing west against the Western Basin Algonquians in extreme southwestern Ontario.

Late in the prehistoric period, or late in the 16th century, a number of important changes occurred in the distribution of Iroquoian villages in southern Ontario. Just prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Iroquoian communities along the north shore of Lake Ontario and along the Trent River Valley appear to have disappeared, probably mostly relocating to Huronia. These people collectively became known as the Wendats or Hurons by the 17th century missionaries and explorers to the area. The primary reason for this change is usually considered to be greater participation in the fur trade.

Similarly, the Late Ontario Iroquoian people who had expanded as far west as the Chatham area in southwestern Ontario, suddenly moved east to concentrate in the Hamilton-Brantford-Hagarsville-Niagara Falls area. These people became known as the Neutrals.

Finally, a tribal group known as the Petuns appear in the Collingwood area. Currently it is unknown whether these people split from the Hurons in Simcoe County or came from one of the late prehistoric groups to the south. It is known, however, that a number of other peoples, many distinctly non-Iroquoian, joined the Petun.

Western Basin Algonquin

In most areas of northeastern North America, the introduction of corn horticulture brought about rapid population increases and by 1000 A.D, many groups were living in villages with several hundred inhabitants. In southwestern Ontario, however, people appear to have been reluctant to change their hunting and gathering way of life although by around 1000 A.D. they were growing some corn near summer campsites.

The settlement and subsistence strategies of the early Late Woodland stage continued the earlier patterns where small, seasonally mobile hunting and gathering groups took advantage of plant and animal resources available during periods of peak resource availability. After spending the winter hunting and trapping along inland drainages, family groups came together in the spring to harvest a nearly unlimited supply of spawning fish that swarmed up larger rivers like the Thames or Sydenham. This coalition of families represented a territorial band and by Late Woodland times these bands may have included several hundred people. Band cemeteries were located near the spring fishing grounds, and these special places set aside for the dead were used over the entire Late Woodland stage. During the summer, the bands moved to the lake shores where fish could be caught daily throughout the summer months.

The summer settlements consisted of one or two structures of the "longhouse" type and were occupied by one or more related families. Longhouses were about seven metres wide and twenty or thirty metres long. Like Iroquoian longhouses, these were made of poles planted in the ground, then bent together and tied at the top to form an arch and covered with reed mats or bark slabs. Several related families used each house, but most of the day to day activities took place out in the open air. Life during the summer months was likely relatively carefree and people may have moved about visiting relatives and sharing hospitality.

By the fall people began to prepare for the winter months. Bands moved inland to groves of nut trees and stored large quantities of chestnuts, hickory nuts, and walnuts. The nuts, along with dried fish and other foodstuffs, were stored in large, bark lined pits dug deep into the earth. These nut "caches" ensured that enough food was stored away to last the winter months. By late fall, the Western Basin peoples broke into extended family groups and moved inland along small drainages to build a winter house.

The winter house was a compact, five by seven metre structure made of saplings bent together to form a low, domed roof. The "wigwam" was covered with reed mats or bark and had one or two fireplaces near the centre of the floor. The winter was a quiet time for the family and they shared stored food around the fire and told stories and related traditions to pass time and educate children. This was the time when people practised what might be called a form of "human hibernation". Once the ice left the rivers and streams, fish began to move upstream to spawn and the family groups moved to their traditional spring fishing sites and the yearly cycle began once again.

As the population expanded, partly due to corn horticulture, a shift in summer settlement patterns occurred around 1200 A.D. Larger settlements appear at this time that were comprised of several houses and were located one or two kilometres inland from lake shores. Apparently, this was undertaken to provide easy access to sufficient fertile soil for horticultural crops, but also to provide easy access for the continued use of marsh, large river or lake front environments. The pattern of winter family dispersal apparently continued just as during earlier times. By about 1400 A.D., summer settlements evolved into substantial warm weather villages, often with surrounding earthworks and palisades. The development of fortifications is believed to be in response to the westward expansion of the Neutral Iroquoian group into Western Basin territory.

It is by the Late Woodland stage that ethnic identities are known for some of the people who created the prehistoric archaeological sites. The indigenous inhabitants of southwestern Ontario, however, had disappeared by the time European explorers entered the area. Because of the absence of a native population by the contact period, archaeologists can never be absolutely certain who actually lived in southwestern Ontario. On the basis of lifestyle and artifacts though, and similarities to cultures living in Michigan and Ohio, the indigenous inhabitants are thought to be related to speakers of the Central Algonquian language family. Central Algonquian speakers originally inhabited a vast area along the upper Mississippi and Ohio river valleys, and between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The Western Basin peoples living in southwestern Ontario were the easternmost Central Algonquian group.

The Neutral were continually expanding to the west over much of the Late Woodland stage and it appears that sometime soon after A.D. 1550, Western Basin peoples were forced to abandon southwestern Ontario. The entire area was not occupied by any Native group until after 1701. The success of the Neutral Iroquois was likely due to their earlier reliance on corn horticulture which resulted in a comparatively larger population by the final centuries prior to European contact. As their population grew, they expanded to the southwest at the expense of the Western Basin Central Algonkians.

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.

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