The appearance of the Oxbow complex marks the beginning of the Late Plains Archaic. This phase involved a substantial increase in the number of sites and a noticeable rise in population. This trend may have been related to an ameliorating climate and increased food resources. Native populations on the Northern Plains appear to have concentrated in Saskatchewan, although wide-spread evidence of occupation has also been found in Alberta and Manitoba.
Oxbow projectile points were first found at the Oxbow Dam site in southern Saskatchewan. Side-notched points which appear morphologically similar to Oxbow, have been found both in the eastern United States and in the "Bitterroot", "Salmon River" and "Mummy Cave" complexes on the western Plains. The general eastward spread of the complex suggests a western origin.
In Manitoba, Oxbow artifacts are found primarily in the southwestern
and central portions of the province, although finds have be made as far
away as Southern Indian Lake in the northern part of the province and along
the Winnipeg River in the east. The distribution suggests seasonal movement
between the grasslands and forest.
|The Oxbow projectile point is recognized by its concave base and rounded
"ears" as well as the more general feature of side notching.
These points were attached to atlatl darts and were commonly re-sharpened
until very little was left of the blade. Other tools such as choppers,
knives, perforators, scrapers, drills, and hammerstones were used for meat
processing, wood-working, hide preparation and plant processing. Fire-cracked
rocks are common artifacts from Oxbow sites and campsites. The nature of
the fractures indicates extreme heat and rapid cooling similar to that
which occurs when heated rocks are dropped into cold water. These rocks
have no value for tool manufacture and are believed to have been used for
boiling water for extracting bone marrow and cooking. Stoneboiling techniques
were observed in historical times as indicated William Francis Butler's
Their manner of boiling meat was as follows: a round hole was Scooped
in the earth and into the hole was sunk a piece of Rawhide; this was filled
with water and the buffalo meat placed in it; then a fire was lighted close
by and a number of round stones, made red hot; in this state they were
dropped into or held in the water, which was thus raised to boiling temperature
and the meat cooked (from Bryan 1991:80)
The abundance of bison remains at Oxbow sites on the Plains indicates
that the occupants relied heavily upon a communal hunting strategy. However,
in spite of this evidence, no indication of actual hunting techniques have
been recovered. The Hill Sites in the Swan River Valley were near
a likely bison wintering location (Gryba 1976), as the
high promontory where they are located would have been an ideal lookout
point. Other food resources that were present, such as elk, wolf,
rabbit, fox, gooseberries, cherries and river clams were important to the
diet and indicate the diversity of food resources characteristic of Archaic
subsistence strategies. Faunal remains at Oxbow sites found within the
forest include smaller game animal, moose and caribou.
Evidence from Saskatchewan Oxbow sites suggests that groups of perhaps 40-60 people formed moderate sized campsites (Dyck 1977). In Manitoba, the Kupers Site on the banks of the Assiniboine River was inhabited by Oxbow people during the fall season (Buchner 1981). Smaller Oxbow sites in the province most likely represent settlements of individual family groups who separated from larger band in the winter. No evidence of dwelling structures have been found. Some trade is evident.
The Oxbow people had a well developed sense of spirituality and ceremonial tradition as evidenced from their burials, which date from 3,000 B.C. and provide the earliest evidence of formal interment in the province. Hundreds of burials at the Gray Site in Saskatchewan represent a cemetery which was used for over 2,000 years. The individuals were bundle buried. Red ochre was liberally scattered over grave goods such as Oxbow points, a clam shell gorget, shell beads and animal bones. No graves from the Oxbow period have been found in Manitoba.
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