23 May 2013

Glimpses of the distant past

Europeans in North America tend to focus on the history of the continent since Europeans arrived, glossing over the people and civilisations that were here beforehand. A blog post entitled 'What if people told European history like they told Native American history' sums up the problem rather neatly. I hope that particular tide is on the turn, now, but there is still a lot to learn about the people who used to live here.

Last night I went to a fascinating talk by George Reid, who is making valiant efforts to identify the sites of early settlements in Prince Edward County. He is building upon the work of the Reverend Bowen P. Squire, who lived on the north shore of Lake Consecon in the 1950s. An article written by Squire about his findings is available online [PDF] and makes for interesting reading. Squire postulates that this area would have been an easily defensible place to create settlements in and he describes (and illustrates) the site he excavated on his property (which was just a little to the west of ours, I believe). The dam which formed Lake Consecon was built in 1806 - before that, the lake would have been a creek about half the width it is now.

George described how he and his co-investigators are using a combination of Google Earth's satellite imagery and local knowledge of archaeological finds to identify the sites of such settlements around the County's shores. This is one of the images George showed last night:

The image is from 2009 and the paler field on the middle right of the picture is the hayfield at the rear of our farm (with a triangle of woodland just beneath it). In our neighbours' fields on the left and in the centre you can see dark cross-hatching in one of the fields and some dark shapes which George told us represent an old settlement.

The people who lived here were of the Wendat nation (the people dubbed the Huron by French explorers) and George explained that their longhouse settlements were surrounded by palisades and that the whole village would have been moved to a new site periodically once nearby sources of wood for fuel had been exhausted. These villages may have been home to 2,000 people - raising the possibility that the population of the County may have been almost as high then as it is now (around 25,000 people).

The Wendat people lived in this area in the period up to around 1525, according to George, and may have been here for 2,000 years. They would have lived on eels and fish from the creek and Weller's Bay, the wild animals they hunted and the food they grew: corn, beans and squash. I was sowing corn and squash on Monday in a small ploughed-up part of the hayfield in that satellite image. I now wonder if 500 or 1,000 years ago a Wendat woman might have been doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same place.

1 comment:

Esther Montgomery said...

It often strikes me how strange it is that in our history lessons we identify (admiringly) with the Roman invaders - who came and saw and conquered and went - rather than the peoples who lived here before them and stayed when they left.