Lecture Notes Week Eight: Anthropology 3291

© 2001 Michael Deal

Introduction to the Middle and Late Woodland Periods

The Middle and Late Woodland (or Ceramic) Periods date from approximately 2000 years ago to the arrival European explorers and fishermen, around 1500 AD. The Middle and Late designations for the Woodland period are based primarily on stylistic fads in ceramic designs (e.g., Petersen and Sanger 1991). In practice, it is generally difficult to distinguish between Middle and Late occupations at archaeological sites in the province. Archaeologists working in the Maritime Provinces generally agree that there was an unbroken cultural sequence for the 1500 year span before European contact. As mentioned in this chapter, our understanding of earlier occupation is clouded by archaeological evidence of contact, and possible assimilation, with neighbouring aboriginal groups (McEachen 1996). Allen (1993:32) suggests that the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet are descended from one of the earlier, Archaic cultures, known to have inhabited southwestern New Brunswick (also see Rutherford 1989). The ancestral Mi'kmaq may have also developed out of a local Archaic culture, although some researchers believe that they are descended from groups that migrated into the area along the St. Lawrence drainage at the beginning of the Woodland period (Fiedel 1990).

Several cultural traits emerge during the Middle Woodland period that differentiate it from the Early Woodland and influence the remainder of the regional prehistory. A series of new decorative styles appear on pottery, and there is a greater variation in vessel forms, which suggest more specialized uses. Three common styles occur, namely, pseudoschallop shell, dentate, and cord-wrapped stick. Other evidence of an artistic tradition appear in the form of incised pebbles at the Holt's Point site in Passamaquoddy Bay and petroglyphs in Nova Scotia (Lee 1999). At Holt's Point, 40 siltstone or slate pebbles were discovered with distinctive geometric designs, including an arch and triangle, herringbone, crossed central arch and crosshatching motifs (Hammon-Demma 1984; Fowler 1966). The famous petroglyphs of Lake Kejimjujik are generally believed to date to the contact and historic periods, but recently discovered examples at Bedford Basin may be prehistoric (Whitehead 1992).

New pottery styles are complemented by new projectile point styles. For the early Middle Woodland, these appear to be small, straight or contracting stems points. Several variants on a contracting stem style, called "Tusket" by John Erskine (1998:88), seem to originate in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Later Woodland styles include primarily corner-notched and side-notched varieties.

There is a more widespread use of good local lithic sources during the Middle and Late Woodland. Lithics from Scotts Bay, Whiterock, Washademoak Lake, Munsungun Lake, and Ingonish Island are all heavily used. Exotic materials are less common in site collections, although they begin to appear again in some areas during the Late Woodland. However, general lithic workmanship appears to decrease by the Late Woodland.

There is an increase in small scraping tools, which may be associated with the development of birchbark technology. Wooden parts of canoes and baskets require finer workmanship. The disappearance of dugout canoe technology is also indicated by the decreased number of groundstone tools. There are very few celts, axes and adzes in Middle Woodland assemblages.

Changes in seawater temperature and rising sea levels effected shellfish bed location and the relative abundance of different shellfish species. In general, shellfish exploitation became more important to the economy of some areas within the region, such as Passamaquoddy Bay, the Northumberland Strait, and the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Huge shellmiddens were formed in these areas from generations of shellfish exploitation and shell discard. Organic preservation at shellmidden sites is much better than at non-shellbearing sites, and provides our best representation of prehistoric bone, tooth and ivory tools. These include bone projectile points, needles, awls, harpoon heads, and hafted beaver incisors.

In southern Maine, the population adopted corn, bean and squash horticulture and became more sedentary. Recent fieldwork around the historic French fort at Colonial Pemaquid indicates that corn, and possibly bean, horticulture was being practiced in that area around 1445 AD (Spiess and Cranmer 2001). Conditions for native horticulture were favorable in certain parts of the Maritimes Provinces, but as yet there is no paleoethnobotanical evidence to suggest it. However, there is evidence that groundnut vegiculture and plum arboriculture were being practiced before European contact (Leonard 1996).

The elaborate burial practices associated with the Middlesex manifestation in the region do not survive into the Middle Woodland period. Simple primary burials replace cremation and secondary burials. Grave inclusions are more basic or non-existent.

Our first solid evidence of prehistoric dwellings for the region are dated to the Middle Woodland in Passamaquoddy Bay. Several sites have semi-subterranean house pits, which are 10 to 60 cm deep. Floor plans indicate that these structures were oval in outline, with elevated benches, and hearths near the door (Sanger 1976). These are believed to be winter dwellings, with sunken floors serving to conserve heat. The exteriors were probably conical pole and birchbark constructions, insulated with hides and mosses. Interior summer dwellings appear to have been less substantial, with house poles merely sitting on the surface, with no subsurface excavation.


Allen, P.
1993. Prehistory. In Field Guide to the Quaternary Geology of Southwestern New Brunswick, edited by A.A. Seaman, B. E. Broster, L. C. Cwynar, M. Lamouthe, R. F. Miller, and J. J. Thibault, pp. 31-33. New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy, Mineral Resources, Open File Report 93-1, Fredericton.

Erskine, J. S.
1998 Memoirs on the Prehistory of Nova Scotia, 1957-1967. Edited by M. Deal. Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax.

Fiedel, S. J.
1991. Correlating Archaeology and Linguistics: The Algonquian Case. Man in the Northeast 41:9-32.

Fowler, W. S.
1966 Cache of Engraved Pebbles from New Brunswick. Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeology Society 28(1):15-17.

Hammon-Demma, D.
1984. A Ceramic Period Coastal Adaptation in Holt's Point, New Brunswick. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton.

Lee, M.
1999 Incised Designs on Stone, Ceramic, Bone, and Wood Artifacts from the Atlantic Region: A Comparative Study. Honours Essay, Archaeology Unit, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Leonard, K.
1996. Mi'kmaq Culture During the Late Woodland and Early Historic Period. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto.

McEachen, P.
1996. The Meadowood Early Woodland Manifestation in the Maritimes: A Preliminary Interpretation. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Petersen, J. B., and D. Sanger
1991. An aboriginal Ceramic Sequence for Maine and the Maritime Provinces. In Prehistory of the Maritime Provinces: Past and Present Research, edited by M. Deal, pp. 113-170. Council of Maritime Premiers, Fredericton.

Rutherford, D.
1989. The Archaic/Ceramic Period Transition in New Brunswick and Maine: An Analysis of Stemmed Biface Morphology. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Sanger, D.
1976. The Earliest Settlements: 9000 B.C. to A.D. 1600. In Maine forms of architecture, edited by D. Thompson, pp. 3-14. Cobly College Museum of Art, Waterville.

Spiess, A., and L. Cranmer
2001 Native American Occupations at Pemaquid: Review and Results. The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 41(2):1-25.

Whitehead, R. H.
1992 A New Micmac Petroglyph Site. The Occasional 13(1):7-12.


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