Susan Goldenberg talks about archeological discovery of Indigenous cultures
Indigenous artifacts from as early as 1300 to 1500 A.D. have been discovered in North York by archaeologists in excavation digs. They include fragments of wood palisades, tools made of stone and animal bone, pottery, pipes, and human remains.
The one thought to be oldest, circa 1300, a village plus an ossuary, was uncovered by chance in 1997, near Leslie Street and York Mills Road, when a hole was dug on what seemed vacant land for a soccer field fence post. The ossuary was one foot beneath the surface at the periphery of the site.
The settlement probably was located there because of the nearby East Don River, a handy source of water and fish.
Archeologists obtained permission from the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Council to examine the human remains. There were bones and teeth of 90 people of all ages in the ossuary. The study determined that maize was the main food — 50 to 70 per cent of the total — and found signs of juvenile anemia, adult tuberculosis, no dental hygiene and only one person who had cancer.
Salmon, eel, bear and mouse bones also were found, plus a pipe bowl with a turtle effigy, an Indigenous symbol of longevity.
Haudenosaunee relics from the 1400s were found in the 1950s at three sites near one another in North York’s west side Black Creek area. Black Creek ran alongside the Indigenous-created Toronto Carrying Place Trail, a portage alongside the Humber River from Lake Ontario through North York to Lake Simcoe.
Evidence was found of longhouses and sweat lodges surrounded by a defensive wooden palisade. Pottery and pipe fragments also were found.
In 1973, a small site circa 1550 was discovered at Bathurst and Finch avenues near the West Don River — pipe bowls and stems plus beaver, red fox, woodchuck, turtle and fish bones were uncovered, but no human remains.
Since then, no more historic Indigenous artifact discoveries have been reported in North York.
The North York Central Library is one of three Toronto public libraries with a “Native Peoples Collection.”
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on September 30, 2021, on toronto.com.