Vignette: Economic Analysis

One of the major developments of the modern professional era in the Maritime Provinces is the systematic recovery and analysis of prehistoric plant (floral) and animal (faunal) remains. These studies have given us a glimpse at the diet of prehistoric peoples on the region, as well as the use of plants for medicines, and the use of plants and animals in tool manufacture and construction activities. Further, species ubiquity (presence or absence) relate to the seasonality of site use, and the site environment at the time of occupation. Unfortunately, the acidic soils of the region are not kind to bone and plant remains. The best source of specimens is coastal shell midden deposits were the lime from deteriorating shell counteracts the natural acidity of the soils, or from charred plant and animal remains recovered from hearth features. Specimens from interior (non-shell midden) sites are relatively rare. There are also few surviving pre-Woodland Period sites.

An interest in animal bones and shell, known today as zooarchaeology, has its beginnings in the late nineteenth century (Murphy and Black 1996). Several naturalists of the period made identifications of vertebrate and invertebrate species and even looked at cut marks on bone. Matthew (1884:23) was the first researcher to send faunal material outside of the region for expert advice; to Dr. Daniel Wilson (Toronto) and Dr. J. W. Dawson (Montreal). After this promising beginning there was a hiatus until the publication of the Smith and Wintemberg (1929) volume on shell midden excavations at Mahone Bay and Merigomish Harbour in Nova Scotia. Both authors gave careful treatment to the faunal remains and tools made bone and teeth. John Erskine carried on the shell midden studies in Nova Scotia during the 1950s and 1960s (Erskine 1960). He was aware of the importance of the faunal materials collected, but had difficulty finding experts to help him with species identifications. Eventually, he received the assistance from Evan Hazard (University of Michigan) with the mammal bones, while Pierce Brodkorb and Lowell Bernstein (University of Florida) identified the bird species represented, A. H. Leim (St. Andrews Biological Station) made initial identifications of shellfish specimens, and J. C. Mdecof (Department of Fisheries) helped him with the fish specimens (Erskine 1998:90-92). With the modern professional era, after 1960, faunal analysis became a routine part of most archaeological excavations. Several studies have focussed on site seasonality and paleodiet (e.g., Black 1992; Rojo 1987; Stewart 1989).

The botanist, R. P. Gorham, was the first researcher to recognize the significance of archaeological plant remains in the region. In a now classic paper, Gorham (1943) reported charred plum pits (Prunus nigra), recovered by avocational archaeologist Frederick Clarke, in "ash pits" (hearths) at the late prehistoric Meductic site. The common occurrence of plum trees at native sites and the recovery of charred specimens at Meductic, lead Gorham to suggest that the prehistoric native peoples of New Brunswick were intentionally planting this species around their campsites. In other words, they were practising a form of arboriculture. Gorham (1928) was also responsible for salvaging two sections of matting from a Protohistoric "Copper Kettle" burial discovered at Redbank, on the Miramichi River, in 1927. These were later studied by Wendell S. Hadlock and botanist W. E. Steckbeck, of the University of Pennsylvania (Hadlock 1947). J. R. Harper (1956:40-51) also recovered a fiber-woven specimen from a Protohistoric burial at Portland Point. He compared this fibre-woven artifact with those recovered at Redbank, and others from the Protohistoric Hopps burial site (BkCp-1), Pictou, Nova Scotia (Harper 1957). During the 1970s, textiles were also recovered from an Early Woodland burial mound at Redbank, New Brunswick (Turnbull 1976). The Hopps materials have recently been re-studied (Whitehead 1987) and another Protohistoric specimen was identified from a burial at Northport, Nova Scotia (Whitehead 1993:43).

During the 1980s, Hal Hinds, a botanist from the University of New Brunswick identified charred seeds recovered from the Fulton Island, Diggity, and Mud Lake Stream sites, in western New Brunswick (Deal et al. 1991:175; Foulkes 1981). Hinds' work inspired the author and David Christianson (Nova Scotia Museum) to begin paleoethnobotanical research in Nova Scotia. With the help of the Curator of Botany at the Nova Scotia Museum, Alex Wilson, a comparative collection of modern seeds was put together from the museum's herbarium collection of dried plants. Speck and Dexter's (1951, 1952) reports on modern Mi'kmaq and Maliseet plant use served as a guide for the selection of specimens for the reference collection. This collection was first used in 1985 for the identification of archaeobotanical materials from the Bliss Islands, Passamaquoddy Bay (Warman 1986) and the Melanson and Indian Gardens (BaDg-2) sites in Nova Scotia (Wells 1987; Deal 1990). During the 1990s, additional paleoethnobotanical laboratory work has been undertaken by archaeology students at Memorial University. Unpublished student reports concerning nine New Brunswick sites and six Nova Scotia sites were summarized by Rob Lackowicz (1991). More recent analyses have identified additional macrobotanical remains from five sites on the Bliss Islands (Black 1993:52-55; Blair and Black 1991), the Skull Island burial, Shediac Bay (Leonard 1996), and the Jemseg and Meadows sites, on the Saint John drainage (Monckton 1999, 2000).

As indicated above, archaeological plant remains consist primarily of macrobotanical materials, such as charred seeds, wood, nut shells, and plant fibers. A wide variety of recovery methods have been used in the region. Early analyses used simple water flotation in large basins or buckets, while larger specimens of wood, nutshells, and seeds were merely gathered in level bags during excavation, or recovered from on-site dry screening. In 1990, the MUN laboratory began using an IDOT style flotation device (Figure 1; see Pearsall 1989:37), which allows for the agitation of the sediment samples in a large screen with a .5 mm copper mesh. A portion of each sample was also dry-screened through geological sieves. Kevin Leonard (1995) devised a froth flotation device from an old wringer washing machine for his work at the Skull Island site. In 2004 the MUN lab began using a forced-air flotation machine, which can also be used for froth flotation. Since these methods lead to different recovery rates, it is difficult to compare results from several sites. The most reliable comparative technique is ubiquity, or simple presence/absence of genera (or species) at sites.

Archaeological interpretations follow a number of basic assumptions concerning the preservation and recovery of plant remains. Some plant specimens may enter a site from the local environment without human intervention, such as insect predation or seed rain, while others are intentionally brought on-site due to their economic importance (see Miksicek 1987). For example, conifer needles might be blown into a campfire, or come from boughs used as bedding. As a rule, only charred botanical specimens are assumed to date to the time of occupation of a given prehistoric site (Minnis 1981). Hearth features are the most likely source of charred plant remains, at least for species that are generally prepared and/or consumed around the fire. Charred seeds recovered from hearth features may represent foods that were eaten raw, such as berries, or the ingredients of cooked meals or heated medicines. Charred plant remains might also be recovered from hearth deposits that were scattered after abandonment or disposed of in middens. Other food species that were not prepared or consumed around the hearth are less likely to be represented at sites. Residue analyses have also been used to supplement paleoethnobotanical and zooarchaeological information on prehistoric economy of the region (Deal and Silk 1988; Deal et al. 1991).



1992 Living Close to the Ledge: Prehistoric Human Ecology of the Bliss Islands, Quoddy Region, New Brunswick, Canada. Occasional Papers in Northeastern Archaeology 6. Copetown Press, Dundas.

1993 What Images Return: a Study of the Stratigraphy and Seasonality of a Shell Midden in the Insular Quoddy Region, New Brunswick. Manuscripts in Archaeology 27, Archaeological Services, Department of Municipalities, Culture and Housing. New Brunswick, Fredericton.

Blair, C., and D. B. Black
1991 The Northeast Point Site: a Single Component Occupation Without Middens, on the Bliss Islands. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association, St. John's.

Deal, M.
1990 Preliminary report on the macroplant remains from the Melanson site, Kings County, Nova Scotia. In Melanson: a large Micmac village in King's County, Nova Scotia, R. J. Nash and F. L. Stewart (eds), 177-186. Halifax: Nova Scotia Museum, Curatorial Report 67.

2002 Aboriginal Land and Resource Use in New Brunswick during the Late Prehistoric and Early Contact Periods. In Early Late Prehistoric Subsistence and Settlement Change in the Northeast, edited by J. P. Hart and C. B. Rieth, New York State Museum, Albany.

2005 Paleoethnobotanical Research in the Maritime Provinces. North Atlantic Prehistory. In press.

Deal, M., J. Morton, and E. Foulkes.
1991 The Role of Ceramics among the Prehistoric Hunter-gatherers of the Maine-Maritime Region: a View from the New Brunswick Interior. In Prehistoric Archaeology in the Maritime Provinces: Past and Present Research, edited by M. Deal and S. Blair, pp. 171-196. Reports in Archaeology 8. Council of Maritime Premiers, Fredericton.

Erkine, J. S.
1960 Shell-heap archaeology of southwestern Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Institute of Science, Proceedings 24(Part 4):339-375.

1998 Memoirs on the Prehistory of Nova Scotia, 1957-1967, edited by M. Deal. Nova Scotia Museum, Special Report. Halifax.

Foulkes, E. B.
1981 Fulton Island. A Stratified Site in the Saint John River Valley of New Brunswick. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Trent University, Peterborough.

Gorham, R. P.
1928 Record of a Brass Tub Indian Burial, Red Bank, Northumberland Co., New Brunswick. MS on file, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Fredericton.

1943 The History of Plum Culture in New Brunswick. Acadian Naturalist 1(2):59-69.

Hadlock, W. S.
1947 The Significance of Certain Textiles found at Redbank, New Brunswick, in Relation to the History of the Culture Area. Acadian Naturalist 2(8):49-62.

Harper, J. R.
1956 Portland Point: Crossroads of New Brunswick History. Preliminary Report of the 1955 Excavation. The New Brunswick Museum, Historical Studies 9, Saint John.

1957 Two Seventeenth Century Copper-kettle Burials. Anthropologica 4:11-36.

Lackowicz, R.
1991 Plant Use Amongst the Recent and Prehistoric Aboriginal Populations of Acadia: a General Overview, Synthesis and Critique. B.A. Honours thesis, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Leonard, K.
1995b A Cheap and Efficient Flotation System. Canadian Archaeological Association, Newsletter 15(1):9-12.

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

Matthew, G. F.
1884 Discoveries at a Village of the Stone Age at Bocabec, N.B.. Bulletin of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick 3:6-29.

Miksicek, C. H.
1987 Formation processes of the archaeobotanical record. In Advances in archaeological method and theory, Vol. 10, edited by M. B. Schiffer, pp. 211-247. Academic Press, New York.

Minnis, P. E.
1981 Seeds in archaeological sites: sources and some interpretative problems. American Antiquity 46, 143-152.

Monckton, S. G.
1992 Huron palaeoethnobotany. Ontario Archaeological Reports 1, Ontario Heritage Foundations, Toronto.

1997 Floral analysis. In JCAP Preliminary Technical Report, edited by S. Blair. Archaeological Services, Department of Municipalities, Culture, and Housing, Fredericton. In press.

2000 Meadows Site Plant Remains. Report submitted to Jacques Whitford, Dartmouth.

Murphy, B. M., and D. W. Black
1996 Zooarcheology in the Canadian Maritimes. Canadian Zooarchaeology 9(Spring):2-20.

Nash, R. J., and V. P. Miller
1987 Model Building and the Case of the Micmac Economy. Man in the Northeast (34):41-56.

Nash, R. J., F. Stewart, and M. Deal
1991 Melanson: a central place in southwestern Nova Scotia. In Prehistoric Archaeology in the Maritime Provinces: Past and Present Research, edited by M. Deal and S. Blair, pp. 213-220. Reports in Archaeology 8. Council of Maritime Premiers, Fredericton.

Pearsall, D. M.
1989 Paleoethnobotany: A handbook of procedures. Academic Press, New York.

Rojo, A.
1987 Excavated fish vertebra as predictors in bioarchaeological research. North American Archaeologist 8:209-226.

Speck, F. G., and R. W. Dexter
1951 Utilization of animals and plants by the Micmac Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41: 250-259

1952 Utilization of animals and plants by the Malecite Indians of New Brunswick. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 42, 1-7.

Stewart, F. L.
1989 Seasonal Movements of Indians in Acadia as Evidenced by Historical Documents and Vertebrate Faunal Remains from Archaeological Sites. Man in the Northeast 38:55-77.

Turnbull, C. J.
1976 The Augustine Site: a Mound from the Maritimes. Archaeology of Eastern North America 4:50-62.

Warman, C.
1986 Untitled Report on Macroplant Remains from Five Sites on the Bliss Islands, Letang Harbour, N.B.: BgDq-4; BgDq-6; BgDq-7; BgDr-60; BgDr-62. Ms. on file, Archaeology Unit, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's.

Wells, B.
1987 Botanical Remains. In Archaeological Investigations at the Low Terrace Site (BaDg2) Indian Gardens, Queen's County, Nova Scotia, by M. Deal, J. Corkum, D. Kemp, J. McClair, S. McIlquham, A. Murchison, and B. Wells, pp. 166-173. Nova Scotia Museum, Curatorial Report 63:149-228.

Whitehead, R. H.
1987 Plant Fibre Textiles from the Hopps Site: BkCp-1. Curatorial Report 59, The Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax.

1993 Nova Scotia: the Protohistoric Period (1500-1630). Curatorial Report 75, The Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax.


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