Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center
Virtual Museum of Canada

Thousands of years ago

Thousands of years ago

Approximate journey of the occupation of North America, from Alaska to South America and towards the american eastern seaboard.

Approximate journey of the occupation of North America

The first human populations to inhabit North America came from eastern Asia about 20 000 years ago. After many thousand years of slow migration across the continent, human populations arrived in what is today Quebec, leaving scattered evidence of their existence as they went. The earliest signs of human presence in Quebec date to the Early Palaeoindian period (12 000 – 10 000 years B.P.). Until that time, the ice sheet covered almost all of Northern Quebec and reached as far south as the lower Laurentian Mountains. As the ice began to gradually retreat, small groups of Palaeoindian populations moved into the newly freed land, travelling over vast territories as they sought available resources. They thus acquired invaluable knowledge of a fairly hostile environment. Depending for subsistence primarily on big game, particularly caribou, Palaeoindian hunters used a "toolbox" consisting of various flaked stone implements that were well adapted to their needs. These people left behind blades and scrapers used to hunt and process animal resources (for food, clothing and shelter), but it is their fluted projectile points in particular that serve as a diagnostic tool identifying a site as Early Palaeoindian.

Between 12 000 and 11 500 years B.P., an immense body of salt water known as the Champlain Sea invaded the St. Lawrence Lowlands. The maximum depth of this inland sea is thought to have been 220 metres in the Covey Hill region, lying about 50 kilometres southeast of Saint-Anicet, a town overlooking the Châteauguay Valley in the foothills of the Adirondacks. Numerous climatic oscillations produced considerable changes in the vegetation growing in this maritime environment; the landscape alternated between tundra and sparse forest (dwarf birch, spruce and fir). Remains associated with Early Palaeoindians have been discovered at the Reagan site in northern Vermont, a little to the east of Lake Champlain and about 10 kilometres from the Canadian border, or some 100 kilometres southeast of Saint-Anicet. In Quebec, the only evidence of fluted points attesting to the presence of Early Palaeoindians has been found in the Lake Megantic region in the Eastern Townships, around 300 kilometres from Saint-Anicet.

Elements of nature - sky, water lily, tree leaves, aquatic plant

Elements of nature

From about 9 700 B.P., the Champlain Sea slowly gave way to an inflow of fresh water, which became Lake Lampsilis, reaching its maximum depth of some 50 metres just southwest of Montreal. As the ice cap retreated, the continent gradually rose, forcing water eastward to the Atlantic drainage basins. In the Upper St. Lawrence region, a few kilometres to the west of Saint-Anicet, a site on Thompson Island has revealed evidence of a human occupation that dates to the time of Lake Lampsilis. The discovery of flaked stone spear points with fine parallel retouches, typical of the Plano tradition, indicate that Late Palaeoindian groups (10 000 – 8 000 years B.P.) occupied the site over 8 000 years ago. Like their predecessors, Late Palaeoindian populations were nomadic hunters. Evidence of their presence is also found in the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspésie region.

Between 7 000 and 5 000 years B.P., the drainage system in the area of the Montreal archipelago experienced a period of stabilization (the St. Barthélémy level) and the newly emerged land was soon colonized by more diverse vegetation. In the Upper St. Lawrence, the shores of the Châteauguay River were visited by nomadic populations of the Archaic period (8 000 – 3 000 years B.P.). These groups adapted to an environment that was markedly different from that experienced by their predecessors, and little by little they developed a hunting-fishing-gathering lifestyle, with a more varied diet (based on cervids, bears, beavers, eels, sturgeons, nuts and berries). The people of the Archaic period were also distinguished by their more complex toolbox, since they made fishhooks and needles out of copper, ground stone into implements like celts and gouges, and used bone to make items such as needles, harpoons and awls.

Over the millennia, the territorial exploration pattern observed among the first Palaeoindians gradually changed; with the advent of Archaic populations, Amerindian occupations began to experience a relative adaptive continuity. For some of these populations, such continuity meant that their nomadic lifestyle evolved into a more sedentary one, starting with the adoption of pottery for cooking food in the Woodland period (3 000 years B.P. to 1534 of our era). The transition was marked by the presence of groups known as St. Lawrence Iroquoians, who occupied the lowlands of the St. Lawrence Valley as far east as the Lower St. Lawrence. These semi-sedentary populations practised agriculture and lived in longhouses built in villages that were sometimes surrounded by a palisade, as was probably the case at the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. The St. Lawrence Iroquoians belonged to the same linguistic family as the Hurons and Iroquois, with whom they shared many cultural traditions. The St. Lawrence Iroquoians who occupied the St. Anicet region in the early 14th century of our era established villages that comprised several longhouses.

Did you know?

Did you know?

Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating is the absolute dating method most commonly used in archaeology today. The method can be applied to organic material dating from 700 to 50 000 years ago.

Radiocarbon dating is based on the life cycle of one of the carbon isotopes: carbon 14, also known as radiocarbon. The carbon-14 isotope, like all carbon, combines with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2), present in the air breathed by every living thing, whether animal or plant. Carbon dioxide is absorbed and stored by an organism throughout its existence. When the organism dies, the radiocarbon begins to disintegrate at a known rate: it takes about 5730 years for half the radioactive particles to disappear, and another 5730 years for half of those remaining to disappear, and so on.

When researchers discovered this cycle, it became possible to determine when an organism had died by calculating when it ceased to absorb carbon-14. This method gives results that are precise to within about 100 to 500 years.

Laboratory vials containing various specimens of different conifer seeds.

Specimen vials