Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center
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PresentationThousands of years agoThe Iroquoian People | Importance of the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site | Historical reconstruction

Importance of the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site

Importance of the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site

The earliest mention of an Amerindian presence in the Upper St. Lawrence region dates to the end of the 19th century in an article by Robert Stellar, a journalist and the editor of The Canadian Gleaner, the local Huntingdon newspaper. The description also appeared in his book on the history of Huntingdon County.
«There was a clearing on the top of a knoll on our lot, in which, on hoeing in corn and potatoes, we found bits of pottery, shells, and arrowheads, leading us to suppose that Indians had once had a camp there.»

(Excerpt from Robert Sellar, The History of the County of Huntingdon and of the Seigniories of Chateauguay and Beauharnois, 1888.)

Over a century passed before the first archaeological investigation was conducted in the region. When a Saint-Anicet resident, François Droulers, discovered a ground stone tool and pottery sherds on his property, research was carried out by archaeologist Michel Gagné and his team, starting in the early 1990s. Between 1995 and 2007, about 15 sites were identified in the municipality of Saint-Anicet, including those of three major Iroquoian villages situated on the hills behind the modern town: the McDonald, Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha and Mailhot-Curran sites. Since the summer of 2010, the anthropology department at the Université de Montréal has held its field school at the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site with a view to learning more about the dynamics of this village territory, estimated to have covered an area of about 15 000 m2. Between 1994 and 2011, eight archaeological campaigns were carried out on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site, bringing to light over 250 000 cultural items, unearthed in excavations covering no less than 475 m2, a figure representing around 3% of the site's total surface area.

Treasures from the Droulers / Tsiionhiakwatha site
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In the Saint-Anicet region, the Amerindians generally chose to establish their dwelling and fields on the stony hills, rather than sandy areas. This higher land offered many advantages, such as better-drained soil and a strategic position from which to survey the surrounding countryside and keep an eye out for game. In addition, the fertility of the soil in the stony ground was better suited to the cultivation of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers. However, to prepare this land for farming required an immense amount of work, since so many large stones had to be removed. The presence of numerous mounds of stones found here and there around the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha and Mailhot-Curran sites constitute eloquent evidence of the stone removal work accomplished by the Iroquoians of the Saint-Anicet region when they built their villages.

The Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site is one of the most important Iroquoian sites in Quebec, and it is considered to have been the foremost village in the region marked by the culture of the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians. Radiocarbon dating places the occupation of the site between 1450 and 1500 of our era. During this period, the cultivated land sometimes extended for as much as two kilometres beyond the village limits. Delimited to the north, east and south by a small stream that is the source of the west branch of the La Guerre River, the village contained about a dozen longhouses, some of which were as much as 30 metres in length. These dwellings were built at the top of a morainic ridge about eight kilometres south of the St. Lawrence River. At its apogee, the village could have accommodated 400 to 500 inhabitants. A detailed study of this space and its longhouses will provide better understanding of the social organization of the Iroquoian community living on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site at the dawn of the 16th century.


Iroquoian vase

The Droulers site has revealed numerous fragments of ceramic pots characterized by decorative collars that make these some of the finest domestic pottery discovered on Iroquoian sites.

Decorated vase collar

The appearance of pottery corresponded to changes in Amerindian food habits.

Decorated vase body

Vase castellation

Pots were used to cook cornmeal, which was an essential staple in the diet of all Iroquoian populations.

Effigy pipe

Baked clay pipes usually have flarings, trumpet-shaped openings or easily packed bowls.

Pipe bowl

Effigy pipe decoration

The bowls are often decorated with various motifs, as well as with animal or human figurines.

Axe head

The stone objects discovered on village sites in the region include milling implements, axes and adzes.

Axe head attachment

The last two tools were heavily used, since land had to be cleared before cultivated fields could be laid out.

Did you know?

Did you know?

How does an archaeological site develop?

In the second half of the 15th century, Iroquoian families built a village at the top of a stony ridge. A few decades later, the men, women and children abandoned the village, leaving behind thousands of bits of evidence of their former activities: pottery sherds, fragments of stone and bone tools, the remains of meals and traces of hearths and middens. Vegetation gradually reclaimed the cleared area, and perishable material like leather, matting and the wooden frames of longhouses slowly disintegrated. Year after year, the vegetative cover went through its annual cycle, causing a fairly thick layer of organic soil to build up over the remains of the abandoned village.

Archaeological dig at the Droulers site during the University of Montreal's archaeology summer school at the Droulers site.

Archaeological dig at the Droulers site

The first thing archaeologists have to do before starting to excavate a site like the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site is to remove the vegetative cover, layer by layer, until they reach the occupation level that was abandoned several centuries before. All the information related to the excavation context and all signs of human occupation are carefully noted in a field book. Measurements are constantly taken to lay out the excavation grid and survey the site, as well as to draw plans and record the spatial distribution (horizontal and vertical) of finds. Unearthed artifacts and the excavated remains are photographed at various stages during the project. Along with the plans, these photographs make it possible to document the general context of archaeological discoveries thoroughly. All these data are extremely important, since a site is in some sense destroyed by excavation; the detailed information gathered by archaeologists enables them to reconstruct the activities of the villagers who once lived on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site.