Episode 2.10

Rudy, Jen and Jacob travel east to Mohawk territory and Ile Saint Bernard, a small island on the Saint Lawrence near Kahnawà:ke and Montreal, Quebec.  Ile Saint Bernard is home to a range of diverse occupations stretching back 4,000 years. After digging in and exploring the island, the team journeys to a reconstructed Mohawk village in Saint Anicet to learn how to make traditional black ash baskets with elder Richard Nolan.

The Great Peacemaker

The Great Peacemaker performs a miraculous feat to demonstrate his spiritual power to the Kanien’kehá:ka. Narrated in Kanien’kéha by Trina Stacey.

Digging In

The team arrives at picturesque Ile Saint Bernard on Kahnawà:ke territory, also known as ‘Nun’s Island’. Archaeology students here have unearthed a fascinating glimpse into early colonial trade, including French gunflints, decorated Dutch smoking pipes, German ceramics, beads, ‘mouchettes’, used from the 16th to early 19th century to trim candle wicks, and even a coin from 1593.

They have also unearthed much older artifacts, suggesting pre-contact occupations: a worked beaver tooth knife or scraper, a Levanna arrowhead, a corner notched projectile point made of Onondaga chert, an unfinished stem point arrowhead, 13th century Haudenosaunee pottery, as well as decorated pottery sherds produced between 500-1000 AD. The majority of the artifacts found here are from the 17th and 18th centuries, and the oldest artifacts found thus far date back 4000 years.

“It’s a pretty complex site with historical materials, contact period, and pre-contact period going back at least 3000 years.”

– Dr. Rudy Reimer

Jen and Jacob will be digging through layers of history, quickly moving from the 20th century down into the 19th. As they continue digging, they reach the 17th century, where they find European foundations and materials as well as indigenous artifacts, leading Adrian to hypothesize that both indigenous and European groups may have cohabited this area at the same time.

“You just proved that this is a prehistoric layer!”

– Laurence Pouliot

The Cadillac of XRFs

Rudy joins Dr. Adrian Burke in his lab at the University of Montreal to check out the Cadillac of XRFs. Adrian is running a sample from a nearby quarry to see whether it’s the same material as precontact tools uncovered at Île Saint Bernard. With increased capabilities and the ability to analyze rare earth elements, high powered XRF is complementary to handheld instruments, each with its own applications for geoarchaeology.

Picturing the Past: Tsiionhiakwatha-Droulers Centre

The team heads to the Tsiionhiakwatha-Droulers Centre in Saint-Anicet, approximately 80km upriver from Ile Saint Bernard and Kahnawà:ke . The La Guerre river meanders across the land here before flowing into the Saint Lawrence. Long ago the banks of the La Guerre held the villages of the Saint Lawrence Iroquoians at the end of the Late Woodland Period (1000-1534 A.D.)

Today this place is a reconstructed village and archaeological interpretation center, complete with longhouses and a traditional garden, and its primary mission is educational. The center works closely with Akwasasne and Kahnawà:ke to ensure accurate and respectful representation of the past.

Basket Making

Kahnawà:ke elder Richard Nolan has brought along his basket making supplies: black ash in several stages of processing, including a fresh log that is currently soaking, so that he can teach Rudy, Jen and Jacob how to strip the bark, pound the ash and separate the fibers. Rudy, Jen and Jacob begin the hard work of making their own baskets. Richard judges the final result: which team member will make the best basket?

“This looks small and simple that might take half an hour, but this took 3 hours. I’m really blown away by the way we lived and the amount of effort it took to do anything.”

– Jenifer Brousseau