Dry summer shrinks N.S. lake, revealing 'works of art' in ancient Mi'kmaw artifacts
Point, arrowhead offer glimpses into the long human history in Mi'kma'ki
The dry summer shrank a lake in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, revealing ancient Mi'kmaw artifacts and starting a conversation about how to best preserve such finds.
Aaron Taylor, an archeologist, has seen both recent finds — a point likely prepared for a spear and an arrowhead.
"They're works of art," he told CBC News in a phone interview. "The person making this, their family ate or didn't eat, depending on how well their tools are [made]."
Taylor, who teaches at Saint Mary's University and Acadia University, has excavated sites such as the Grand Pré UNESCO World Heritage site, Beechville Black Refugee site and the Gaspereau Lake pre-contact site.
Both recent finds were likely made and used about 1,500 years ago, he said, as the material came from a quarry Mi'kmaw people used around that time. The larger point was left half undone.
"Which means that the person using it was trying to make it into a point, but for some reason gave up on it, Taylor said. "It's a beautiful piece, well-worked, but they didn't continue on to create what was going to be an arrowhead or a point."
Location shows Mi'kmaw trade routes
Taylor said it would likely have taken a skilled toolmaker half a day to turn the raw materials into a completed point. He speculates they may have detected a flaw in the stone that would have led it to break, so they abandoned it.
The point was found about 100 kilometres from the quarry, showing the long-distance trade routes Mi'kmaw people used, he said.
"The Mi'kmaq used rivers like we use highways," he said. "All the rivers are places with high potential to find First Nations materials: points, arrowheads, scrappers, pottery."
He said the people who made the artifacts likely lived in villages of 30-50 people and would have been well connected to other similarly sized Mi'kmaw villages and traded across Mi'kma'ki and into today's Ohio Valley.
Taylor is working to create a better way to study the land and predict where Mi'kmaw people would have lived in different periods of their 13,000 years — and counting — in this land. That will make it easier to find artifacts and learn more about their lives, he said.
Currently, most finds are like these two recent ones where people stumble over them while hunting or fishing.
"It's great to have it, but most of the information comes from what it was associated with. Where it was found, where in the stratum it was found," he said.
A window into the deep past
Many such finds are eventually preserved at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.
No one from the museum was available for an interview about these finds, but Katie Cottreau-Robins, curator of archeology at the museum, said the artifacts are "significant and speak to Mi'kmaw pre-history in the province."
She said the changing climate has been exposing artifacts that long lay covered. More people contact the museum these days to share their finds, she said in an email.
She said if someone finds such an artifact, they should leave it in place and contact the museum.
"A new find may represent a new site. New sites contribute very important information to our collective understanding of the Mi'kmaq before and after the colonial presence," she wrote.
"Some individuals have donated private collections of artifacts to the museum. The artifacts are visited and studied by the Mi'kmaq, students, community members, and the archeology professional community. They are exhibited and loaned to organizations and used in teaching and training."
Roger Lewis, curator of ethnology at the museum, said publishing the location of such finds can lead to treasure hunting and "looting," so CBC is not publishing the name of the lake where they were discovered.
Two modern fishers find ancient tools
Leah Stultz found the point while on a fishing trip in the Annapolis Valley.
"We were walking along where normally it would be filled with water, the lake bed, and I found it," she said. "I noticed the colour first. It was so vibrant and out of place."
She picked it up and put it in her pocket as a curiosity. She later learned of its significance.
Nicholas Clark found the arrowhead in the same area as he walked over the cracked earth that would usually be flooded.
"I was looking where I was walking so I wouldn't break an ankle," he said. "I noticed what looked like an arrowhead sitting in the mud."
He collected the find and has stored it in his home for now.
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