Cultures of the Manitoba Woodland Period

The Woodland Period is represented in the Plains and Forest regions of the Province. It can be divided into two subperiods:

  1. Initial Woodland: 200 B.C. - A.D. 800 and
  2. Terminal Woodland: A.D. 800 - 1750.

Initial Woodland (200 B.C. - A.D. 800).

This period marks the introduction of many technological items and the development of new culture patterns. The use of the bow and arrow and clay pottery spread rapidly in many areas of the province. The arrowheads which tipped the shafts were much smaller than the darts and spearheads of previous time. The new weaponry meant that a variety of smaller mammals could be hunted and the range of the hunting grounds increased. The Plains people in the western region of the province continued to hunt bison using pounds and surrounds to capture the animals. Two early groups of people referred to as Besant and Sonota dominated the prairie landscape. The Richards Kill Site, a bison pound, and the Avery Site, a campsite, are examples of the Initial Woodland on the Plains. In southwestern Manitoba, the Avonlea culture reflected important contacts and influences from Sasketchwan and Alberta.

Sonota Points

In the Boreal Forest of the east and southeast section of Manitoba, Woodland people were hunting game, fishing and harvesting wild rice and a variety of nuts and berries. At the Wanipigow Site, carbonized wild rice and numerous other plant remains were excavated along with animal bones indicating a diverse and flexible use of resources. Local cultures of the period are characterized by a specific type of clay pottery known as Laurel, which is named after a town in Minnesota where the style was first discovered. Burial and ceremonial mounds are closely associated with this cultural group.

Terminal Woodland (A.D. 800 - A.D. 1750)

The final phases of the Woodland Period were marked by even more dramatic changes. Maize farming spread northwards into Manitoba. Small-scale gardening demanded a commitment from the people who planted the crops, to return at some point to tend the gardens and harvest them. The Lockport Site, on the east bank of the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba is the best example of local horticultural ways of life. Mound-building spread across the southern portion of the province. The most northerly example located to date is the Arden Mound near Neepawa, Manitoba.

An interesting cultural group which had its roots in the Boreal Forest also used the resources of the Plains. The Blackduck culture produced a distinctive, highly decorative type of ceramic vessel, which may have originated in southern Ontario and northern Michigan or developed in northwestern Ontario out of the Laurel tradition. The ceramic style spread across the Lake Superior Basin and into parts of south and central Manitoba possibly in the course of the migration of the historic Ojibwe people. The Stott Site on the Assiniboine River near Brandon is an excellent example of these Boreal Forest migrants adapting to a Plains environment during this period.

Blackduck Pottery

Northern Traditions.

At the same time as Woodland complexes were spreading throughout the southern half of the province, the northern portion became settled by new cultural and linguistic families.

At the end of the Archaic Period, the Pre-Dorset culture disappeared and was replaced by a new Arctic coastal people, the Dorset (ca 800 B.C. - A.D. 800). In Manitoba, the maritime economy of the Dorset people is represented only in the Churchill area and is considered to be short lived.

The Taltheilei, the probable ancestors of today's Dene people, occupied a vast tract of land which stretched from the barren grounds far to the north in the Northwest Territories, to as far south as Southern Indian Lake . Their technology was quite different from the Woodland groups to the south, and no pottery has ever been found at any Taltheilei sites. The people followed the barren ground caribou migrations and supplemented the meat from the herds with fish.

The End of an Era

The Woodland Period represents the final era of Manitoba's precontact history. It ended in the 18th century with the coming of the fur traders, who opened the Postcontact Period and formed the first wave of European influence that was to eventually lead to the resettlement of Manitoba and the decline of a vital and fascinating way of life.

Ice Sculpture of an Early Fur Trader
Festival de Voyageur

Learn more about the Woodland Period

Go to the General Overview

© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
Web Development: Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Text and Graphics: Brian Schwimmer, Virginia Petch, Linda Larcombe
Comments welcome