Lecture Notes Week Seven: Anthropology 3291

© 2001 Michael Deal


Early Woodland: Northeastern Middlesex Tradition

Towards the end of the Early Woodland, many of the inhabitants of the Maritime Peninsula adopted a new mortuary pattern. Researchers in the Maritimes tend to view this cultural manifestation as a diffusion of Ohio Valley Adena ritual elements into the region, rather than a migration of people (Clermont 1978; Rutherford 1990; Turnbull 1976; Wright 1999). It is basically seen as an Adena mortuary system with distinctive burial inclusions, grafted into a Meadowood cultural system, which is referred to in the literature as Middlesex. Wright (1999:555) suggests that this mortuary complex may represent travelling priest-shamen who were overseeing a formal religious system with a prescribed set of burial items. In the Maritime Peninsula, Middlesex sites are found primarily along the St. Lawrence River drainage, the eastern coast of New Brunswick and south central Nova Scotia. The northeastern sites tend to be found in clusters, including the Boucher, Swanton, and Orwell sites in northern Vermont, the Augustine and McKinlay sites in New Brunswick, and the Esson and Whites Lake (or Skora) sites in Nova Scotia.

The Northeastern Middlesex burial assemblage has certain characteristics that distinguish it from Ohio Valley burials. For example, the pecked and polished adze blades of the Adena are replaced by chipped and ground adze blades. This may be significant, since chipped and ground adzes appear to be the most wide-spread Middlesex artifact found in private collections in the Maritimes. The large stemmed projectile points of the Adena have lobate shaped bases, while most eastern versions, notably excluding the Boucher specimens, tend to be square-based. Further, pottery appears among the burial goods on the Maritime Peninsula, but is rarely found in Adean burials. The reel-shaped gorgets that are common in the Ohio Valley are replaced by angular-shaped slate gorgets in the northeast. Wright (1999:595) suggests that the incorporation of local elements may reflect the adaptability of the Adena religious system. Other artifacts, including the blocked end tubular pipes and large bifaces, appear to come directly from the Ohio area, while copper beads are made from Great Lakes copper. A similar range of burial inclusions have been recovered from contemporary sites in New England (Ritchie and Dragoo 1959).

The Champlain drainage in Vermont was probably an important segment of the Adena trade network, which extended along the southeastern Great Lakes, and the Hudson, Ohio, and St. Lawrence Rivers (Heckenberger et al. 1990). Middlesex burials were discovered in 1861 at Swanton and Orwell (Willoughby 1935:85-86, 92-100). Forty-four graves were identified at Swanton, including both primary and cremation burials and two burials were found at Orwell. Twelve tubular pipes were recovered at Swanton, including one with a thunderbird (fish-hawk) motif. Other offerings include gorgets, amulets, boatstones, pendants, and copper and shell beads. The Boucher site features 69 graves, of which 44 are primary and 23 are cremations, and two burial include both primary and cremation burials (Heckenberger et al. 1990). Red ochre and black graphic were commonly used in burials. The diagnostic grave inclusions include at least 12 complete and fragmented tubular pipes and more than 3000 beads of rolled copper and shell. A nearly complete, conical-shaped, pottery vessel, identified as Vinette 1 style, was decorated with triangular designs (Haviland and Power 1994:99). Organic remains included an extensive collection of cloth made from vegetable fibre, leather bags, and cordage. Faunal materials included beaver incisors, bear teeth and jaw fragments, dog bones, and whole snakes and fish. An animal "medicine" hide bag from Feature 94 contained a bone fish hook and bones from several animals, including coiled snakes (Heckenberger 1990:200).

Middlesex sites seem to be relatively rare in Maine. Best known is the Mason site, near Orland (Moorehead 1922:46ff.). Mason is a Late Archaic cemetery, but at least three graves are intrusive Early Woodland features. Tubular pipes link these burials with the Middlesex tradition. Other offerings include copper beads and a chert blade. Across the Maine-New Brunswick border, at Minister's Island, Saint Andrews, a Middlesex burial was discovered beneath a Middle/Late Woodland shellmidden (Sanger 1986). This feature has been radiocarbon dated to 1930 +/- 110 B. P. The grave inclusions consist of 31 complete and 126 fragmented copper beads, two giant shark teeth, two bifaces, one bipoint, a cigar-shaped rod, a strike-a-light, and five celts. The latter included one pecked and ground piece, three cobbles with ground blades, and one chipped and ground specimen. The only organic material was a portion of matting. Red ochre was also used in the burial.

Clarke (1969:79) had collected a chipped and ground adze blade from the Fork site, on the Southwest Miramichi River, but the first recognized evidence for Middlesex in New Brunswick was found in Red Bank. The Augustine mound site is located on a high terrace above the Southwest Miramichi River (Turnbull 1976, 1978). The mound contained 11 burials, some with lavish grave offerings. The diagnostic Middlesex artifacts included blocked-end tubular pipes, gorgets, bifaces, large square-stemmed projectile points, and chipped and ground stone adze blades. Copper salts from the thousands of copper beads aided the preservation of organic materials, including braided thongs for beads, textile fragments, cedar bark matting, twilled and pleated basketry, hafted beaver teeth, and a wood spear shaft fragment. Some of the burials were block-lifted and sent to the Canadian Conservation Institute for laboratory excavation..

Materials from a second Red Bank area Middlesex grave are housed in the British Museum. The artifacts were purchased from a local man in 1909 and were not known to Canadian archaeologists until after the Augustine excavation. Wright (1999:600) notes the high similarity been the Augustine and McKinlay assemblages. The McKinlay site consisted of two individuals encased in birch bark, in a pit about 60 cm deep (Turnbull 1988). The museum collection includes four tubular pipes, copper beads, gorgets, a boatstone, stemmed projectile points, scrapers, bifaces, and five celts. The collection also includes pottery sherds of a local ware, similar to others recovered at Augustine and the bottom level at Oxbow. One sherd was decorated with a trailed sectioned triangle motif simliar to the decoration on the Boucher vessel.

Two Middlesex burial mounds are also known from the Halifax-Dartmouth area in Nova Scotia. In the late 19th century the Esson mound was destroyed by construction work. The only artifact surviving from that site is a blocked-end tubular pipe, now in the Nova Scotia Museum (Preston 1974). A second mound was opened by a bulldozer during land clearing for a subdivision at Whites Lake, outside of Halifax. This mound, known as the Skora site, featured a cremation burial with a large collection of burial inclusions (Davis 1991a). The latter included three chipped and ground stone adze blades and seven square-stemmed projectile points. A second burial contained calcined human bone fragments and seven chalcedony flakes. Two radiocarbon samples date the site to around 2200 B.P.

Single artifacts from sites around the Minas Basin also suggest Middlesex burial practices in that area. Chipped and ground stone adze blades were recorded in three collections during a 1988-89 survey (Deal 1999). An Adena style projectile point was also found by George McDonald at the mouth of the North River, on Gaspereau Lake in 1965. Further to the south, a blocked-end tubular pipe and two large projectile points were reported in Yarmouth County collections (Davis 1991b).


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1968 Someone Before Us: Our Maritime Indians. Unipress, Fredericton.

Clermont, N.
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Deal, M.
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