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A Canadian Archaeological Treasure

For the week of Monday, June 6, 2016

On June 8, 2007, the village of Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha was designated as a National Historic Site. The largest known pre-contact Iroquois village in Quebec, it is located near the St. Lawrence River, south-west of Montréal. The site dates from the mid-to-late 15th century, and has helped researchers understand the everyday lives of early horticulturalists.

A reconstructed Iroquois village acts as an interpretive centre near the site
© Michel Gagné / Parks Canada

Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha is named after the land owner, François Droulers, and the First Nations name Tsiionhiakwatha, “the place where we gather berries.” Researchers believe between 400 and 600 people lived in the palisaded village based on the evidence from 15 longhouses and two middens (rubbish heaps).

So far, more than 500,000 artifacts have been unearthed at the site. These items were excellently preserved because they were buried in alkaline (rather than acidic) soil, which preserved organic material such as bone and seeds. Objects made out of beaver, deer, and bear bone included needles, harpoons, hair clips, and toys. Cooking pots were engraved with patterns and figures, while clay and soapstone tobacco pipes were decorated with red ochre. The bowl of one pipe was sculpted to resemble a porcupine or other small mammal.

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A view of the Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha site
© Michel Gagné / Parks Canada

Seeds and carbonized plant fragments show that the community grew the “Three Sisters,” namely squash, maize, and beans, as well as tobacco and sunflowers. Bone remains show evidence of hunting and fishing, but cultivated plants made up 65-75 percent of the villagers’ diet. The site was ideal for growing food because its hill position allowed for soil drainage. Abundant wild fruits and berries added variety to the diet. It is estimated that fields of crops stretched for two kilometres around the village in order to feed its residents.

The St. Lawrence Iroquois were semi-sedentary and lived in one location for about 20 years. The village at Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha was abandoned when the land lost its fertility for intensive food cultivation, forcing the residents to move to a new location in the region.

June is Aboriginal History Month! To learn about another First Nations archaeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site read “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump” in the This Week in History archives.

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