Lecture Notes Week Eleven: Anthropology 3291 © 2001 Michael Deal

Protohistoric Period

If parents have a daughter marriageable they seek a husband for her who is a good hunter. If she has been educated to make monoodah (Indian bags), birch dishes, to lace snow-shoes, make Indian shoes, string wampum belts, sew birch canoes, and boil the kettle, she is esteemed a lady of fine accomplishments. If the man sought out for husband have a gun and ammunition, a canoe, spear, and hatchet, a monoodah, a crooked knife, looking glass and paint, a pipe, tobacco, and knot-bowl to toss a kind of dice in, he is accounted a gentleman of a plentiful fortune.

In the quote above, John Gyles is describing the ideal Maliseet couple of the 1690s, less then a century after the first European attempted settlement on St. Croix Island and two centuries since the first period of sustained European exploration and trade. Many of the material items mentioned in his description were introduced during the 16th century, including the metal kettle, gun and ammunition, metal hatchet, and looking glass. Gone were the distinctive ceramic pots and stone arrowheads of the prehistoric period.

Based on archaeological evidence, the first Europeans to make contact with the native populations of the Atlantic region were Norse explorers from Greenland, ca. A.D. 1000. The only confirmed Norse archaeological site in the region is a small staging site at L'Anse aux Meadows, near the tip of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. This was excavated first by Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad in the 1960's, and later by Birgitta Wallace of Parks Canada . Wallace believes that "Vineland" of the Norse sagas refers to the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence area, including the east coast of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and possibly eastern Nova Scotia . The best evidence for this is the recovery of butternuts at L'Anse aux Meadows, which have an eastward growing limit of eastern New Brunswick. A Norse coin was also recovered at the Goddard site in Maine, which may have been acquired in trade from the Mi'kmaq . Norse contact with the natives of the region was probably sporadic and does not seem to have had much effect on the traditional lifeways.

In the century prior to permanent European settlement, there was a continuous of flow of traffic from Europe to catch fish off the shores of the Maritime Provinces from 1501-1509. At first, this was a wet fishery, and the sailors did not need a land base. However, they would come ashore for water and to hunting. With the switch to dry fishing and seasonal use of coastal areas for building fish stages, there was increased contact with native cultures. The Portugese had a short lived settlement (ca. 1525) on Cape Breton Island for making soap (i.e., the Fagundes Colony). In the late 1500s, the Basques began whaling in the Strait of Belle Isle, and established a seasonal site at Red Bay for rendering and barrelling oil. They also left a cemetery with 60 graves at Saddle Island. Underwater explorations at the site focussed on the recovery of the San Juan, which sank in 1565.

By the 1560's, the fur trade was well established. By the late 1500s, Mi'kmaq middlemen, known as Tarrentines, began trading European goods for furs along the coast of Maine. They used special canoes rigged with sails, called shallops. When the English got involved in the fur trade, they discovered that a pidgin dialect, based on Portuguese, was already being used by the natives in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region. Lumber was also sought, and especially the white pine of Maine and New Brunswick, which was used for the masts of sailing ships.

Sustained contact with European fishermen and traders had dramatic and long-term effects on the native population. By 1550, Mi'kmaq groups who normally wintered on the coast, were spending the late winter and early spring inland to harvest furs and moving to the coast in the late spring and summer to trade with the Europeans. They traded furs and supplied meat and fish to Europeans for dried foods, like hardtack biscuits, and metal tools. Alcohol was also acquired, which led in some areas to social disintegration. There was a tremendous population decrease over the next 75 years due to the introduction of European diseases.

Single component protohistic sites are rare in the Maritimes, since the native population continued to use Late Woodland sites or camped beside European forts and trading posts. At sites like Burnt Bone Beach, on Gaspereau Lake, this period is represented by a few trade beads and a copper tinkling cone (i.e., a rolled piece of copper kettle used a decoration on clothing). The most distinct sites of this period are the burials. Archaeologists refer to a Copper Kettle Burial Tradition, dating from around 1500 to the late 1600s. This tradition seems to be associated primarily with the Mi'kmaq, who occupied most of the coastal areas of Maritimes and where heavily involved in the fur trade. Copper Kettle burial sites are known from Red Bank, Restigouche, and Tabusintac in New Brunswick, Pictou, Northport, Avonport, and Tracadie in Nova Scotia, and the Shepard site in Prince Edward Island. Such sites are less common elsewhere, but have been reported from Maine, New England and New York. The most spectacular site is the Hopps site in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where Douglas Harper reported a burial consisting of a layer of branches and twigs, followed by a layer of birch bark, and burials under large overturned kettles, and covered another layer of birch bark and stones. These graves also included a cache of European trade goods, including glass beads, iron swords, knives and daggers.



1. Gyles 1875:27; John Gyles was taken into captivity at the age of nine by a band of Maliseets during King William's War. He was originally taken at Pemaquid, on the Penobscot River, in 1694, but spent most of the next six years living a seasonally mobile lifestyle along the St. John River.

2. Fitzhugh and Ward 2000; McGhee 1984; McGovern 1990

3. A. S. Ingstad 1977, 1985; H. Ingstad 1969; Wallace 1991, 1993

4. Wallace 2000

5. Sigurodson 1998

6. Wallace 1991

7. Cox 2000


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