Looking to Elders to Discover the Amazing Burial Mounds and Forgotten Woodland Traditions of Canada
While the burial mounds and earthworks of the Adena and Hopewell Cultures are usually associated with the Ohio River Valley, there are lesser-known—but equally as fantastic—manifestations of these ancient cultures in other regions. One of these areas is maritime Canada and others can be found in the province of Ontario.
The Augustine Mound: Ancestral Ties in New Brunswick
In 1972, two-term Chief, Joseph Augustine of the Metepenagiag (Red Bank) Mi'kmaq Nation took radical measures to halt the destruction of an ancient mound in Northumberland by a gravel operation. As a young boy, Joseph frequently visited the mound with his father, who told him stories of ancient ancestors dancing near the structure while the two shared tea.
The Augustine Mound during excavations. ( Parks Canada )
Unlike the corporate destroyers, Joseph understood that tradition, rather than hurried surveys, was the best guide to the ancient past, and in order to preserve history, he decided to obtain evidence of the site’s archaeological significance himself.
Digging into the tumulus, Joseph retrieved stone and copper artifacts, as well as samples of textiles. These materials were presented to the Department of Anthropology of Saint Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Dr. Chris Turnbull, the Provincial Archaeologist of New Brunswick. Thanks to Joseph Augustine’s efforts, a unique collaboration began in 1975, when people of the Mi'kmaq Nation worked alongside New Brunswick University students and archaeologists to excavate the mound. Among the team was Mr. Augustine and two of his children, Howard and Madeline.
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Mi’kmaq Elder Joseph M. Augustine excavating at the site in 1975. ( Archaeological Services )
Excavations revealed that the mound contained primary and secondary burials of at least 13 individuals, including partly articulated and cremated remains. The 11 ft. (3.35 m.) in diameter tumulus was found to contain between 9 and 11 burial pits. Artifacts retrieved include: blocked-end tubular pipes, shell beads, shell pendants, stone gorgets, and thousands of rolled copper beads and other copper objects, as well as red ochre. Moreover, copper artifacts in the mound preserved portions of baskets, matting, and fabrics.
Copper adornment strips crimped onto organic material. ( Tricia L. Jarratt )
The copper assemblage from the tumulus includes a projectile point 95.12 mm (3.74 inches) in length featuring bladed edges, a straight stem, and a flat base. The point was found still attached to a portion of the haft. The team also found a 1mm (0.04 inch) thick copper crescent. Twenty of the copper beads were cone shaped. A 50.4 mm (1.98 inch) long copper “rod” or awl (possibly a pin for a garment) was found in the primary tomb as well.
Radiocarbon dating placed the Augustine Mound to between 2950 +/- 75 BP and 2330 +/- 110 BP. Remarkably, the mound has been attributed to the Adena Culture, usually associated with the Ohio Valley and typically identified by the same diagnostic artifacts found at the Augustine site. The dating for the mound places it early in the conventional Adena timeline. In 1988, Chief Joseph Augustine was given the Provincial Minister’s Award for Heritage for his efforts to preserve ancient history, which also included the discovery of the Oxbow site near the Augustine Mound. He left the realm of mortals to join the great ancestors on January 14th, 1995.
The basic sequence of projectile points found at the Oxbow site, New Brunswick. ( Patricia M. Allen )
Panpipe Masters of Le Vesconte Mound
Located in Northumberland, just six miles (9.65 km) east of Campbellford and overlooking the Trent River, one can see Le Vesconte Mound (120 AD +/-50 years). This mound has been attributed to a mingling of the great Hopewell tradition with the local Point Peninsula cultural spectrum.
Map showing location of Woodland Period Complexes, including the Saugeen and Point Peninsula. (Herb Roe/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
The mound measured 40 x 30 x 4 feet (12.19 x 9.14 x 1.21 m.), and yielded the remains of at least 61 individuals. Among the many fascinating artifacts excavated from the mound were objects of silver - including three panpipe covers. An adult female 45-60 years of age was found to be buried with a further three copper and one silver panpipe covers. The remaining panpipes from the tumulus were buried with children.
Copper from two of the covers was subsequently traced by optical emission spectroscopy to Ontoganong County, Michigan. Due to these finds and others from nearby sites, it has been suggested that the Hopewell/Point Peninsula tradition in Ontario included regular gatherings of panpipers, perhaps in a ceremonial fashion. Could the passing of the seasons and celestial events have been commemorated with special songs? Perhaps great oral epics were told to the sound of melodic music. The panpipes with the children and the older female at Le Vesconte may have also been offerings from other regional musicians who honored the talents of the deceased.