Paleo-Indian Period

Overview


Paleo-Indian Caribou Hunting The first inhabitants of southern Ontario arrived about 12,000 years ago, shortly after the end of the Ice Age and the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier. They occupied a harsh, tundra-like environment. Caribou meat was the main source of food for these nomadic hunters and no part of the animal was wasted – bones and antlers would have been fashioned into tools, while hides would have provided material to make clothing and shelter. Paleo-Indian archaeological sites are rare and hard to find, suggesting that there was a very small population throughout this lengthy time period. These rare archaeological sites mainly consist of small clusters of stone tools and the debris left behind when stone tools were made, although occasionally some preserved faunal remains such as the bones of caribou, arctic fox and rabbit or hare might be found.


Time Span


·         12000 – 9500 BP

·         10000 – 7500 B.C.

 

Subdivisions

 

·         Early Paleo-Indian: Fluted Point Horizon, 12000-10500 B.P. (10000-8500 B.C.), with three distinct, successive phases known from diagnostic projectile point types: Gainey circa 10,900 B.P., Parkhill (Barnes ) circa 10,700 B.P. and Crowfield circa 10,500 B.P.

·         Late Paleo-Indian, 10500-9500 B.P. (8500-7500 B.C.). Major subdivisions are the Holcombe (circa 10,300)(Holcombe Point) and Hi-Lo (circa 10,100 B.P.) (Hi-Lo Point) Horizons, but there is also evidence for other contemporaneous cultural developments which employed unstemmed lanceolate projectile points/bifaces (similar to the Agate Basin type found in the American Midwest/West) and contracting stemmed projectile points/bifaces (similar to the Hell Gap type found in the American Plains, Midwest and Northwest).

 

Environment

·         Glacial ice melted leaving a tundra-like environment with distinct glacial shorelines and large marshy areas.

·         Humans migrate in to southern Ontario from the northern United States and central North America.

·         Southern Ontario was initially a spruce woodland similar to the modern forest tundra of the subarctic; this was gradually replaced by a boreal forest dominated by pine.

·         When the ice and water from the glaciers retreated it exposed habitats suitable for plants and animals, and human habitation.

 

Food

·         Evidence from certain southern Ontario Paleo-Indian archaeological sites (such as the Udora site in York County) verify that caribou, arctic fox and rabbit or hare were hunted.

·         Megafauna (mastodons and mammoths) were present during the early part of this period and may have been hunted by Paleo-Indian peoples. Although there is no direct archaeological evidence for this in southern Ontario, megafauna remains have been discovered at sites in New York State and elsewhere in the United States that have also produced evidence of Paleo-Indian occupations.

·         It can be reliably assumed that other sources of food would have included birds (especially waterfowl), fish and berries.

·         People followed herds of migrating caribou north in the summer and south in the winter.

·         Sites from this period were often located at places where caribou could be intercepted during their annual migration (i.e. on high, well-drained lands along glacial lake shorelines).

 

Artifacts

·         Wide variety of stone tools flaked from fine grades of chert and chalcedony.

·         Artifacts include tools used for hunting, hide processing, wood and bone working.

·         Lance shaped projectile points sometimes had channels or grooves known as flutes at the base of the points to facilitate attachment to a shaft; these are referred to as fluted points.

·         Hunting technology involved the use of darts or spears propelled by an atlatl or spear thrower.

·         Hunting technology may also have involved trapping of small game (i.e. fox, rabbit/hare)

·         Wedges made from chert or chalcedony were used for splitting wood and bone

·         Gravers made from chert or chalcedony were used to score or cut soft materials such as bone

·         Other tool kit items included bifaces, unifaces, scrapers, knives, denticulates, borers and perforators (all made from chert or chalcedony).

 

People

·         Lived in small, mobile and lightly equipped communities.

·         They were nomadic hunters who sometimes re-visited the same or nearby site locations during their annual migratory round.

·         Several Early Paleo-Indian archaeological sites have yielded evidence for multiple clusters of artifacts in distinct activity areas, but each cluster is typically quite small (less than 200 square metres in size) and has a low artifact count (less than 60 tools/performs per cluster).

·         Flaked stone tools were made with great skill from high quality chert and chalcedony.

·         People travelled vast distances and/or interacted with other groups over a large geographical area; evidence for this includes the presence of specific types of chert and chalcedony (finished tools and/or pieces of raw material from which to make tools) which originate from locations more than 200 kilometres away from the archaeological site they are found at.

·         Some Paleo-Indian archaeological sites have yielded multiple projectile point types suggesting re-use of one area and confirming the typological sequence. For example, the Banting site in Simcoe County had both Gainey and Barnes type fluted points, while the Udora site in York County had Gainey, Barnes and Crowfield type fluted points.

 

Representative Archaeological Sites

·         Early Horizon: Parkhill and Thedford II sites (with Barnes fluted points).

·         Early Horizon: Crowfield site (with Crowfield fluted points).

·         Early Horizon: Banting site (with Gainey and Barnes fluted points).

·         Early Horizon: Udora site (with Gainey, Barnes and Crowfield fluted points).

·         Late Horizon: Tedball site (with Holcombe points).

·         Late Horizon: Welke-Tonkonoh site (with Hi-Lo points).