Life in Southern Ontario, Somewhere Around 11,000 years ago
Archaeologists call the earliest findings of human habitation for southern Ontario the “Paleo-Indian Period .” It is that part of the archaeological record covering those first centuries after humans could live in this region at the end of the last ice age. This is a time so long ago as to be beyond any memory, in effect being from a time immemorial. Archaeological findings from this period are limited, and reflect a material culture used by people who lived in a thin spruce & pine forest environment much more similar to today’s southern edge of the Arctic, than to the environment we know for southern Ontario now. Archaeology gives us a partial glimpse into what life must have been like for those first 50 or more generations of people who called this land home, based primarily on the stone tools and debris people left behind and have survived through the countless centuries since. From that archaeological record, we build through that material data, inference, and comparisons with other regions our interpretations of what life was like here back then. Building from that research we can then use our imagination to tell many stories of people who lived in this ancient place where even the land, rivers and lakes were of a different place and time. This may be one of them…
It’s a warm, sunny day. Well, as warm as they get in early summer. You can still see a few patches of snow on the hills that face north as you look out across the wide marsh. You like this place. You
remember three, maybe four years ago when you last came here, after you saw that mastodon far up the river. You camped on the other side of the marsh that year, but you remember walking over here to collect berries growing among the lichen and the grass.
You like the scraggly spruce and pine trees that take cover from winter’s howling winds in little valleys. You’re glad that those winds aren’t biting you now, but you know that you only have a few more weeks before the weather turns again, and the long winter returns. But you won’t be here by then. The caribou are going to move any day now, and you will be following them.
“It’s a warm, sunny day.
Well, as warm as they get in early summer”.
The sudden sound of a snapping rock draws your attention back to where you’re sitting. Your sister is showing your little brother how to turn a broken hunting spear into a hide scraper. Little chips of stone debris fly off the tool as she skillfully presses a piece of antler into it, sharpening it as she shapes it into a new tool. These stones are true multi-tools. Your father is so good at working them that he can make a dozen tools from one rock, and when those tools break or get dull they can be turned into something else: knives for cutting meat, carving tools for turning wood and bone into useful things, scraping tools for cleaning caribou hides, and piercing tools to help make clothes.
Not just any stone will do. Only a stone that can break into sharp pieces and be shaped into various tools will do. There are only a handful of places where the very best stone for this purpose can be found. As it is, your family’s supply is starting to dwindle and everyone is tired of re-working the small bits into tools to keep from running out completely. Fortunately, the caribou often move north towards the huge lake near the ice, and there is a ridge near there where the very best stone can be found. Your family will spend a few days there, finding the best rocks and trimming them down so that you can take away as much as possible. After all, you will need a supply to hold you over for an entire year or more until you return!