The Avonlea Period, Timeframe, Environment and Subsistence.


The prehistoric time period in North America known as the Avonlea phase is largely based on the inclusion of sites containing certain morphologically defined projectile points, specifically the Timber Ridged Side Notched point, over the Northern half of the Great Plains geographical area (Reeves 1983, Roil 1968). This area includes the Northwestern Plains of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana and Wyoming, the Middle Missouri river valley in the Dakotas, and the Eastern peripheries of the prairie grasslands in Southern Manitoba, South Dakota and Worth Dakota (Reeves 1983, Foor 1988, Johnson 1988). Other possible, but less clearly recognized geographical" regions of the Avonlea Cultural area may also include the High Plains of Colorado, the Central Plains of Nebraska and the Kootenai and Columbia flood plains of British Columbia (Reeves 1983, Davis and Fisher 1988, Roll 1988). The Avonlea period and the associated first introduction of bow and arrow technology onto the Northwestern Plains marks the boundary between the late Middle Prehistoric period and the early Last prehistoric period, and lasted approximately from A.D. 200 to A.D. 1000 (Reeves 1983, Davis and Fisher 1988, Foor 1988). The Avonlea phase itself is named after the actual site type named Avonlea (radiocarbon dated to approximately A.D. 450), which is located a short distance away from the town of Avonlea in South-Central Saskatchewan (Kehoe and McCourquadale 1961, Kehoe 1988). From this original site, the majority of Avonlea sites on the Northern

Plains fall within a 805 kilometer radius (Kehoe 1968).

Specifically in Alberta, the Avonlea phase is predominantly represented by Southern grassland sites and temporally spans from approximately A.D. 150-250 to A.D. 700-900 (Reeves 1983, Meyer, et al. 1938). Southern Alberta displays a wealth of recognized Avonlea sites including the Trout Creek, Manyfingers, H.M.S. Balzac, Morkin, Upper Kill, and Larson sites, which display a great amount of lithic and ceramic material, as well as substantial evidence of subsistence practices during the Avonlea phase (Reeves 1983, Milne 1968, Meyer and Walde, 2000).

The Avonlea phase can be further sub-divided into three separate time periods (Wilcox 1988). The early Avonlea period, lasting from A-D. 100 to A.D. 400, was characterized as being aceramic, having the classic style of Avonlea points and the intensive use of bison pounds. It was during this period that bow and arrow (smaller projectile points hafted onto arrow shafts) technology was introduced onto the Northwestern Plains. The middle Avonlea period, existing from A.D. 400 to A.D. 700, was characterized by the introduction and adoption of certain Besant projectile points such as the Samantha Side Notched, the later Old Woman's points, and shows evidence for the first introduction of ceramics onto the Northwestern Plains during the Avonlea period. The late Avonlea period, spanning from A.D. 750 to A.D. 1100 was more or less a cultural continuation of the middle period but with a possibility of increased trade with other regions.

At present time the Avonlea cultural manifestation is taxonomically recognized as a phase (an archaeological manifestation which includes a set of cultural 'traits that are shared by a group of people and which are evident in the material record, distinctively separating them spatially and temporally from other groups or cultures, Reeves 1970 and 1983). There is however a considerable amount of debate as to whether the Avonlea period is indeed a phase, or if it is a horizon, complex or techno-complex (Davis and Fisher 1988, Meyer and Walde 2000). The Avonlea phase concept itself is based primarily on the inclusion of sites containing projectile points morphologically recognized as Timber Ridged Side Notched Points (Stanfill 1988, Meyer and Walde 2000). Using this taxonomic system, the greater deviation away from the morphological pattern, the greater the probable cultural divergence between Avonlea and other cultures, or within different areas of the Avonlea geographical distribution (Stanfill 1988). This essentially makes Timber Ridges side notched points the sole factor for inclusion into the Avonlea phase, however, some authors have noted that this is a poor standard for inclusion due to material trading and technological sharing between Northwestern Plains archaeological groups (Duke 1988, Roll 1988). How however, various authors are currently re-examining the Avonlea material record, ceramics in particular, to re-evaluate the Avonlea phase definition (Meyer and Walde 2000).

Although, Timber Ridge Side Notched Points are the only conclusively recognized indicator of Avonlea occupations, Brian Reeves (1970 and 1983) has outlined a number of traits, when found in association, suggest an Avonlea occupation. These include:

    1. Low frequency of unnotched points. The presence of arrow points of two trial types; Head Smashed-In Corner Notched and Timber Ridge (Classic) Side Notched.
    2. Symmetric Bifaces which tend through time from ovate to lanceolate. Presence of Diamond shaped bifaces.
    3. Pointed unifacial flakes: bifacial and unifacial cobble, core and flake choppers.
    4. Excavated basin-shaped, rock filled hearths.
    5. Distinctive lithics in Northern Montana-Saskatchewan Basin area.
    6. Fabric or net impressed ceramics with punctate designs.
    7. A possible pit burial pattern characterized by flexed or extended primary inhumations and associated grave goods (Reeves 1983. pp. 161-162).


The manifestation of Avonlea culture and the material record indicating their lifeways and subsistence practices are closely linked to the peoples interaction with their environment. During the Avonlea period In Alberta, much like today there are three primary ecological zones, The grasslands in Southern Alberta, the boreal forest in Northern Alberta, and the aspen parkland region acting as a ecological transition zone between the two areas (Ritchie 1976). On the grasslands of Alberta prairie grass species dominate, with the tribes Festuceae, Aveneae, Hordeeae, Stipea, Dunthonieae, and Chloridea all represented (Blackman 1970). The two most important species of grasses in which the dominant prairie ungulate, the bison, feeds on are buffalo grass (Buchloe daetyoides) and blue gamma grass (Bouteloua gracilis, Pedin 1976). The boreal forest in Alberta is composed of a closed stand of trees with the increasing the farther North one proceeds (Ritchie 1976). The transitional aspen parklands regions of Alberta can be characterized as the thin band of land having open areas of grasslands separated by low lying shrub communities and small stands of aspen, which become larger as they approach Southern the edge of the boreal forest (Ritchie 1976, Landais 1994). The cultural manifestation of the Avonlea period in Alberta is primarily located in the Southern half of the province, and therefore the majority of Avonlea sites are found in the grassland and aspen parkland ecoregions (Milne, et al. 1988, Landais, 1994).

The geography of Southern Alberta has remained the same since the Laurentian ice sheet retreated, marking the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age 15 000 years B.P. Although fluctuations in climate have caused changes in the borders of the three ecoregions to shift frequently since the last large scale glaciation, the overall environment, climate, hydrology, flora and fauna of Southern Alberta has remained relatively stableover the last 5000 years, with the three vegetational zone boundaries remaining quite constant over the last 1500 years, allowing prehistoric cultures a certain amount of environmental stability during this time (Milne 198S, Landals' 1994).

The climate of this region was, and still is controlled by two primary air masses, one from the Arctic and one from the Pacific (Ritchie 1976). These air streams, in combination with overall global climate, determined the regional climate of Southeastern Alberta during the Avonlea Period. At the beginning of the Avonlea period the Sub-Atlantic climactic episode, characterized by a high level of precipitation and corresponding high levels of environmental biomass and high human populations, was coming to a close (Duke 1983). Replacing the Sub-Atlantic period was the Scandic climactic episode, consisting of a general warming trend, decreased precipitation, more arid winters, occasional drought conditions, and a possible expansion of the short grass plains of the Cypress Hills in Southeastern Alberta (Davis and Fisher 1988, Duke 1988, Milne 1988).


The Avonlea material record in Alberta indicates that sites identified with this phase are usually associated with large scale bison kill sites, with bone beds up to 6 meters thick, or their associated occupation areas / campsites <Kehoe 1968, Reeves 1990). The spatial distribution of sites within the grasslands and aspen parklands, in combination with estimates of seasonality based on bison fetal elements, indicate that the Avonlea people based their seasonal rounds around the movement of the great bison herds (Reeves 1983, Meyer, et al. 1988). Indeed bison provided the majority of material goods for the Avonlea people (Reeves 1990). Beginning in the spring and continuing into the summer months, Avonlea peoples would congregate on the Plains to communally hunt bison and build up reserves of hides and pemmican for the winter (Davis and Fisher 1988, Meyer, at al. 1988, Reeves 1990). Restricted by resource scarcity and limited mobility during the winter, Avonlea peoples split into smaller groups (probably extended families) and followed the bison into the more sheltered river valleys, the Northern edges of the grasslands / aspen parklands, or into the Cypress Hills of Southeastern Alberta beginning in the late fall (Davis and Fisher 1988, Meyer, et al. 1988, Reeves 1990). The careful planning and rationing of bison meat was essential to survive the over-wintering period, however, the availability of fire wood in wintering areas was just as important as a limiting resource, as to prevent freezing to death (Reeves 1990).

Although bison was the primary species of game utilized by Avonlea peoples, summer droughts and winter famine caused by the Scandic climactic episode, may have resulted in changes in the seasonal migration patterns of plains bison, temporarily necessitating reliance on other secondary food sources, such as pronghorn, after a succession of harsh seasons (Davis and Fisher 1988). Utilization of ponghorn by Avonlea peoples in Alberta is rare and not completely understood when compared to other areas of Avonlea occupation such as in Montana, however, such subsistence practices cannot be ruled out (Reeves 1963, Davis and Fisher 19S8). Other forms of subsistence on the Northwestern Plains of Alberta include plant, root, tuber, berry and seed gathering in the spring and summer, limited hunting of elk, moose, dear, small mammals, ground birds, water foul, and quite possibly fish utilization during the spring spawning period (Reeves 1963, Meyer and Epp 1986, Smith and Walker 1966, Reeves 1990, Landals 1994).

Bison were hunted in a variety of ways by the Avonlea people, and then processed in a assembly line like matter, with different areas assigned to different processing duties (Reeves 1990). Bison kill sites are often found in association with geographic features which facilitate mass slaughter such as bison jumps and areas naturally lending themselves to the set up of drive lanes, pounds, corals or surrounds (Reeves 1963). Although these features were used during Avonlea times, it was the introduction of the Bow and arrow that represented a substantial leap forward in the technology of subsistence practices of the time (Reeves 1990). Bow and arrow technology rapidly replaced the atlatl as the prominent hunting technology on the plains, as they were more accurate, had a greater range, allowed for more rapid discharge of projectile points, were more powerful, easier and faster to manufacture, and were more versatile (Reeves 1990). By exploiting bison more efficiently, the bow and arrow possibly may have also allowed camp and kill site density to increase, which then could have facilitated the elaboration of ideological, social and technological systems (Reeves 1990).

Although the promise of population expansion awarded by the introduction of the bow and arrow onto the Northwestern Plains did not immediately take place at the beginning of the Avonlea period, as seen by the relative scarcity of Avonlea materials compared to surrounding material phases, the phase. Supporting this proposition is the occurrence of more numerous, thicker bison bone beds than were previously seen in this region, indicating the more intensive use of bison in subsistence practices (Milne 1968, Reeves 1990). The lack of population expansion during the Avonlea phase, despite technological advances, could have been a result of the harsh environmental conditions of the Scandic climactic event (Duke 1963). During the Scandic period, it can be observed in the material record that Avonlea peoples were forced to re-adapt to Plains life by using a wider variety of traditional (bone), and local (lithic) resources, and by selecting more defensible site locations as a response to resource and population stress (Duke 1988). The subsequent Old Woman's phase may actually reflect an amalgamation of Avonlea and Besant culture due to both populations being unable to continue closed endogamous systems of mate selection (Duke 1988).

There is a surprising amount of material information surrounding the everyday life and spirituality of the Avonlea peoples. Although it is unclear what kind of habitation structures were being used in the campsites of Avonlea site components, many large basin shaped hearths and boiling pits filled with fire broken rock, indicating the extensive cooking of meat, are present at numerous sites (Reeves 1983 and 1990). Spatial analysis of Avonlea sites in relation to the material record indicate healthy lithic and ceramic traditions (see the individual sections), with specific areas of manufacture at certain areas within the sites (Reeves 1983, petroglyphs and pictographs on cliff faces near bison pounds and jumps associated with the Avonlea period (Reeves 1990: pp.187). Presumably, if ethnohistoric information can transcend back into time, ceremonial activities and rituals probably took place in the mid summer months, as bison hunting was often slow during this time of year, leaving extra time to concentrate on non-subsistence activities (Reeves 1990).

There are many competing theories of from where and from what culture the Avonlea phase was derived from, and what cultures were subsequently derived out of the Avonlea phase, most of which are beyond the scope of this discussion. Most of the theories surrounding Avonlea origins center around drawing parallels between Avonlea lithic technology and the lithic technology of previous phases within, or beyond Alberta. Some of these theories include Avonlea being derived out of the Pelican Lake phase on the Northwestern Plains (Reeves, 1990), an intrusion from the Fraser River Valley in British Columbia (Reeves 1983), or an intrusion of proto-Athapaskan people from the Northern Boreal forest (Kehoe 1966, Wilcox 1988), among others. Some authors have hypothesized that the people of the Avonlea phase were the first Apacheans, and subsequently migrated to the Southeast after the period was over, while others suggest that Avonlea culture was either absorbed by the contemporary Besant culture, or merged with them around A.D. 700, to form the Old Woman's Phase by A.D. 1000 (Wilcox 1988, Reeves 1990). There are many taxonomic difficulties surrounding the manifestation of the Avonlea phase on the Northwestern Plains of Alberta, however as the material record is expanded and new theories are proposed, many of these issues will become clearer. Never the less, the Avonlea period no doubt represents an elaborate cultural manifestation, in which some parts of the phase likely laid the foundations for what many people associate with traditional Plains culture, especially the introduction of bow and arrow technology onto the Northwestern Plains.

Lithic Types and Materials In Alberta During The Avonlea Phase.


The lithic stone tool tradition of the Avonlea period in Alberta is fairly well known and understood in terms of material type, morphology and function, with the primary emphasis surrounding the introduction of the bow and arrow (projectile point) onto the Northwestern Plains region. The analysis of projectile points from this period is especially important due to "Avonlea points" once being believed to be the unique cultural feature to the Avonlea phase, thus using their presence at a site as both a sufficient and necessary condition, and ultimately the only condition for inclusion into this period (Roll 1988). This interpretation is consistent with other periods within the Northwestern Plains chronology due to point type being considered the primary analytical focus (Kehoe 1988). However, identifying a phase based on projectile points alone is problematic because of the high probability that both lithic material and actual points were shared between Plains groups, and therefore other cultural traits, especially recent research surrounding Avonlea ceramic typology, must be used for inclusion into the Avonlea period if available (Duke 1988, Meyer and Walde 2000).

Although present in several typological forms across the Northwest Plains region, Avonlea points were first discovered at the original Avonlea site in Saskatchewan in 1956 and later named, described and demarcated as a horizon marker by Kehoe and McCorquodale in 1961. This concept of using the Avonlea point type as a horizon marker was revised by Reeves in 1970 and now is commonly associated with the Avonlea "phase". Avonlea points are most commonly associated with bison kill sites or their corresponding occupation sites, and in addition to Southern Alberta may be found in Southern Saskatchewan, Southwestern Manitoba, Montana, Northern Wyoming, Western South and North Dakota, and as far afield as Northern Idaho and Southeastern British Columbia (Kehoe 1988, Roll 1988). Smaller than the atlatl points previously used on the Northwestern Plains, new bow and arrow technology utilizing Avonlea points was first introduced to this region during the Late Prehistoric period around approximately A.D. 200, achieving dominance in the Avonlea phase and rapidly replaced atlatl technology by A.D. 600 to 1000 (Roll 1988, Reeves 1990). This reduction in size associated with the use of bows and arrows was consistent across the Avonlea lithic tool assemblage, in part because the finely finished points and elaborate flint knapping characteristic of this period facilitated the manufacture of smaller tools (Reeves 1990).


Avonlea stone tool technology is an extremely consistent lithic tradition with very uniform tool form and production. This may suggest that highly skilled specialists were the primary lithic craftsmen during the phase, as well as stone tools also possibly being exchanged for other high quality goods or services (Reeves 1990: pp. 187). Like most of the Avonlea sites on the Northwestern Plains, Avonlea sites in Alberta display strong preferences for using local lithic materials in the manufacture of stone tools (Duke 1988). The majority of these stone tools were manufactured from local cherts, quartzite', quartz, and argillite, which is quite different from the high frequencies of non-local material, particularly Knife River Flint / chalcedony used in the previous Besant phase in Alberta (although it is present in various amounts at certain Avonlea sites), and the obsidian used in great amounts during the more recent Old Woman's phase (Duke 1988, Milne 1988). Some exotic lithic materials indicating long distance trade are however present at some Avonlea sites in Alberta, such as Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, in which small quantities of Montana and Avon

chert (from quarry sources in Montana) and .Top of the World chert (from Southeast British Columbia) are present (Duke 1988). Jasper has also occasionally been found at Avonlea sites such as the Larson site (Milne 1968). In addition to the lithic materials already mentioned, black and grey silaceous siltstone, porcellanite, petrified wood, basalt, schist, andesite, slate and basalt have all been found in association with Avonlea occupations (Reeves 1983, Milne 1988, Landals 1994) Collection of the raw lithic material from quarry sources was primarily, but not exclusively, a summer activity (Reeves 1990: PP. 172).

One of the distinguishing features of Avonlea stone tool technology was the method of manufacture. Avonlea points in particular display the greatest amount of technological efficiency in manufacture out of any of the Plains archaeological cultures (Stanfill 19S8, Kooyman 2000). Beginning at the start of the Avonlea period, projectile points were reduced from pre-selected flake blanks rather than from the larger biface preforms utilized in earlier phases. Specific flakes were removed from the original core opportunistically, taking advantage of specific sized flakes lacking cortex, with natural platform angles and wide bases that were well suited to the small, very thin, flat surfaces characteristic of Avonlea points. The specific selection of flakes with these features greatly decreased the amount of time required to manufacture Avonlea points in relation to projectile points made in earlier phases (Stanfill 1988, Kooyman 2000).

Typologically Avonlea points, in addition to being relatively thin, flat and small, can be distinguished by various morphological features. The reduction of the flake blanks into projectile points is achieved throughout the entire manufacture process almost exclusively by pressure flaking, resulting in a thin, delicate point with shallow, parallel or oblique overlapping flake scars beginning at either the tip or base of the point (Duke 1988, Stanfill 1988, Kooyman 2000). This flaking pattern at times fails to proceed past the midline of the point from either margin, leaving some of the secondary flake surface remaining due to the characteristic flatness of Avonlea points (Stanfill 1988). The small nature of Avonlea points was necessary in order to successfully haft them onto the smaller arrow shafts, when compared to the earlier, larger atlatl dart technology. Similarly, the notches facilitating the attachment of Avonlea points onto the shafts were relatively shallow and close to the base of the point. This was not only to take advantage of the thickest part of the point, preventing breakage of the thin point during manufacture, but also to reduce the distance the point had to be hafted into the shaft, thus decreasing the time spent manufacturing the shaft (Stanfill 1983, Kooyman 2000). Very even, regular edge margins and extensive edge grinding in order to strengthen the platforms of points were also characteristic of Avonlea projectile manufacture. These features are seen in greater frequencies and contribute to the superior craftsmanship seen in Avonlea points in comparison to the points manufactured in previous cultural phases (Duke 1988, Stanfill 1988, Kooyman 2000).


Characteristic Avonlea projectile points themselves can be broken down into two distinct manifestations (Reeves 1983), 1). The Head Smashed-In Corner Notched variety which had convex or straight margins that may or may not be serrated, and an acute or barbed shoulder, and 2). The much more frequent and classically recognized Timber Ridge Side Notched point, which was the same as the Head Smashed-in variety but with obtuse shoulders facilitating the side notches. Both types of Avonlea points occur contemporary to each other in the Avonlea phase but may not necessarily be present together at any given site (Reeves 1983). Although Avonlea points were the most prominent type of point in the Avonlea period, other less finely worked projectile points more characteristic of previous or contemporary phases such as Pelican Lake Corner Notched and Besant notched atlatl projectile points, unnotched (although very infrequent) straight based points, Besant and Samantha Side Notched points and heavily stemmed barbed points have been found in various Avonlea components from sites such as Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump (Reeves 1983).

By examining the technological and typological similarities amongst Avonlea projectile points and the projectile points of the surrounding phases, it is hypothesized that bow and arrow technology diffused onto the Northwestern Plains from British Columbia first in the Parkland-Rocky Mountain Trench on the Alberta boarder (Reeves 1983). Furthermore, Avonlea lithic materials may be part of the TUNAXA cultural tradition, displaying cultural continuity with the earlier Pelican Lake Phase and interacting with the contemporaneous Besant phase to produce the Old Woman's phase around approximately A.D. 900-1000 (Reeves 1983, Duke 1988). However, the abrupt, non-sequential appearance of this technology during the Avonlea phase has lead some authors to propose that Avonlea peoples may have been a possible proto-Athapaskan speaking intrusion onto the Northwestern Plains and not an in-situ cultural continuation of previous Plains phases (Wilcox 1988).


In addition to projectile points, other lithic pieces present in the Avonlea tool kit include various distinctive bifaces including large ovate bifaces in the early part of the period which seem to evolve into smaller lanceolate bifaces in the later part of the phase, drills, perforators, gravers, end scrapers, limited ground stone tools, cobble and flake choppers and pointed unifacial flakes, none of which may be considered unique to the Avonlea phase (Reeves 1983). Some Avonlea components in Alberta also show evidence of microblade use not commonly seen in other Avonlea regions during this phase (Reeves 1983).

Ceramics in Alberta During the Avonlea Phase


Ceramic production during the Avonlea Phase in Alberta was initially believed to be non-existent or exceptionally rare, leading many to at first believe this period was aceramic (Reeves 1983). However, ceramic manufacture is now recognized as having occurred regularly in Avonlea sites, with a large amount of stylistic variation (Reeves 1933, Johnson 1968, Meyer and Epp 1996, Meyer and Walde 2000). On the Northwestern Plains there are more than 20 different ceramic bearing sites corresponding to the Avonlea Period, including the Alberta sites such as Head Smashed-in, Morkin, Trout Creek, H.M.S. Balzac, Manyfingers and Upper Kill, representing at least three different types of ceramics (Reeves 1983, Quigg 1988a, Meyer and Walde 2000). The majority of the pottery found in Alberta Avonlea sites and across the Northwest Plains region, are primarily found at campsite occupations and are for the most part absent from primary kill sites (Meyer and Epp 1996). The presence of pottery at a site usually indicates a warm weather or summer occupation or activity (Klimko and Hanna 1988, Meyer, et al. 1988). Ceramic manufacture is an additive technology, with new techniques and preferences shaping the outward manifestation of the pottery, allowing stylistic differentiation to be more easily recognized compared to lithic material (Duke 1988). This feature in combination with the increased knowledge and distribution of Avonlea ceramics is now allowing ceramic analysis to aid in the recognition of Avonlea sites previously identified based on the presence of Avonlea projectile points alone (Duke 1988, Meyer and Walde 2000).

There are three difference primary ceramic, wares found in Alberta during the Avonlea period. Each ware is differentiated based on production technique, vessel shape, exterior finish and the characteristics of the paste (Meyer and Walde 2000). The three different ceramic wares utilized in Alberta by Avonlea peoples include Rock Lake Net/Fabric Impressed Ware, Truman Parallel Grooved Ware, and Ethridge Cord Roughened Wear (Meyer and Walde 2000).


Rock Lake Net/Fabric Impressed Ware is the most frequently found form of ceramic vessel recognized as being utilized by Avonlea peoples in Alberta. This form of ceramic ware has been excavated and identified from the Manyfingers, H.M.S. Balzac, Trout Creek, Morkin and EcOs-41 sites in Alberta (Meyer and Walde 2000). This type of ceramic ware was common throughout Alberta, generally displayed either a conoidal or conical shape, was the most common type of pottery on the Northwestern Plains during the Avonlea phase, and persisted throughout the entire length of that period and into the subsequent Old Woman's phase (Duke 1988, Quigg 1988a, Meyer and Walde 2000). Concentrated in the grassland and parkland areas of the province, Rock Lake Net/Fabric impressed vessels display their net or fabric impressions on the exteriors of the vessels commonly have a row of punctates below or along the rim and may display more elaborate decorations such as horizontal rows of fingers pinching (Meyer and Walde 2000). These more elaborate forms of decoration are more common in Alberta Net/Fabric Impressed sites than in other regions of the Northwest Plains such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba, showing regional differences in decoration (Meyer and Walde 2000). Another notable regional difference with Net/Fabric impressed ware in Alberta is that ceramics bearing this type of surface decoration often show evidence of using cords with a larger diameter for the exterior impression of the fabric, compared to other areas, further differentiating them from other regional variants (Meyer and Walde 2000).


In addition to Rock Lake Net/Fabric Impressed ware, a second, but much less common, type of ceramic ware is also present in Alberta during the Avonlea phase. This second form of vessel is known as Truman Parallel Grooved Ware, which is present in seven Alberta sites, Including the Morkin site, but can also be commonly be found in Southern Saskatchewan and Montana (Meyer and Walde 2000). Part of the Late Woodland ceramic tradition, this type of pottery first appeared on the Plains around A.D. 400-500 and persisted across the majority of the Northwest Plains until approximately A.D. 1000 (Johnson 1988, Quigg 1988a). These types of vessels are recognized by their equidistant parallel lines, which are separated by equally spaced troughs about 5 mm apart which cover the entire exterior surface (Johnson 1988). A generally large vessel holding up to several gallons of water, the grooves are most distinct close to the rim and begin to overlap and become shallower the closer to the base they are, which is also thicker than the rim (Johnson 1988).

Other morphological features of Truman Parallel Grooved Ware include a conoidal shape, a flat or rounded lip, a slightly constricted neck, and poorly defined shoulders. There are at least two different kinds of grooves seen on Truman parallel Grooved Ware, each of which do not extend around the entire vessel but instead proceed for 5-10 cm and are then truncated by other grooves; 1). shallow semicircular grooves displaying a gentle transition from troughs to ridges, which are most likely created by bones, branches or fingers, and 2). Paddle created grooves with more geometrically straight bottoms and sides, most likely created with a paddle when the clay was still quite wet (Johnson 1988). Grey in colour, Truman Parallel Grooved ware sometimes displays firing clouds on the surface of the vessel as a result of being well fired, which consequently causes the ceramic material to become characteristically hard. The waviness of pottery sherd profiles suggest that coiling was the primary form of manufacture, and decoration is limited to a few cord impressions or rim punctates if any (Johnson 1988).


Ethridge Cord Roughened Ware is the third type of ceramic vessel present in Alberta during the Avonlea phase, and can be found at such sites as sites such as Morkin and Upper Kill (Meyer and Walde 2000). Ovoid or globular in shape, these vessels can be characterized as having a flattened, straight or elevated rims, a marginally constricted neck, a course paste, mica, feldspar or quartzite temper and a cord roughened exterior created by a cord wrapped paddle with 3-5 cm thick cords (Meyer and Walde 2000). Mostly undecorated, a few of these vessels do display moderate decoration consisting of punctates bellow the lip, fluting of the lip edge, and finger / thumbnail indentations along the rim (Meyer and Walde 2000). These vessels are primarily found in Southern Alberta and Montana, concentrating their distribution in the West-Central part of the Northwest Plains (Meyer and Walde 2000).


Although, there is a certain degree of spatial overlap between the three different types of Avonlea ceramics in Alberta and the Northwest Plains, they each seem to have a core region of concentration, in which these sites contain one type of pottery predominantly (Meyer and Walde 2000). It appears that differences in decoration and surface treatment between the three pottery types could reflect different regional influences, contacts, and origins between the Avonlea people where these regional variations are found (Johnson 1988). Indeed certain authors have recently proposed that Avonlea ceramics illustrate that the Avonlea cultural manifestation should again be considered as a horizon, with Timber Ridged Side Notched points again acting as a marker, but with the different ceramic types representing individual phases within that horizon (Meyer and Walde 2000). This concept revises Reeves (1983) popular phase definition, which is used throughout most of the Avonlea literature.

In Alberta, these new phases within the Avonlea horizon can be broken down into the Morkin Phase, characterized by the relatively highly decorated and thicker Rock Lake Net/Fabric Net Impressed Ware on the Western Edges of the Alberta grasslands, the Sjovold Phase, characterized by Truman Parallel Grooved pottery in south central Alberta, and the Upper Kill Phase, characterized by Ethridge Cord Roughened Ware present in the grasslands and foothills of Southern Alberta (Meyer and Walde 2000). In theory, these different phases represent different sociopolitical groups and material cultures on the Northwest Plains, with the Sjovold people following the seasonal movements of the Montana bison herds, and the Morkin and Upper Kill people subsisting on the bison herds living on the Alberta grasslands and Rocky Mountain Valley (Meyer and Walde 2000).

The origins of Avonlea ceramics are just as a contentious issue as their taxonomic manifestation during the period. Because Avonlea ceramics do not show any particular developmental progression throughout the temporal stages of ceramic production, thus suggesting the initial stages of a novel technique, most archaeologists believe that Avonlea ceramics were introduced onto the Northwestern Plains rather than originating in this area (Quigg 1988a). Similarities between the Rock Lake Net/Fabric Impressed ware and Truman Parallel Grooved ware with Brainerd Phase pottery from Manitoba and Minnesota suggest Avonlea pottery was introduced onto the Northwestern Plains from the East (Meyer and Walde 2000). Other archaeologists believe that the Net/Fabric impressed ware present in Southeast Alberta is part-of the Saskatchewan Basin ceramic complex (Duke 1988, Johnson 1988}. Ethridge Cord Roughened Ware may also have been introduced, possibly from Nebraska or Kansas as part of the Valley Phase (Meyer and Walde 2000). Although poorly understood on the Northwestern Plains, the introduction of different ceramic styles during the Avonlea phase, like the changes in lithic traditions during this period, most likely represents changes in subsistence strategies and may also possibly represent the displacement of various populations on to the Northwestern Plains (Johnson 1988, Meyer and Walde 2000).

Despite the taxonomic difficulties surrounding the nature of Avonlea ceramics, some generalizations can be made. The characteristic rounded or concave shape of Avonlea ceramics, the general lack of apparent coiling techniques and the analysis of pottery sherds suggest that Avonlea ceramic vessels were most likely primarily manufactured using a small anvil stone or shaped by piece building, with the overall thickness of vessels excluding molding (Quigg 1988a, Quigg 1988b). Secondary forming techniques such as paddling were also often utilized during surface finishing (Quigg 1988a, Quigg 1988b, Klimko and Hanna 1988). However, some Net/Fabric Impressed pottery sherds from sites in the Eastern range of the Northwest Plains, showing oblique breakage, suggests that coiling may have been an alternative method of manufacture adopted through contact with Laurel peoples from the East (Klimko 1985, Klimko and Hanna 1988).

For the most part, Avonlea ceramics were manufactured out of local clays, and if ethnohistoric accounts can transcend back through time, were manufactured primarily by women (Quigg 1988a, Quigg 1988b). Female ceramic production may also explain regional variations in ceramic style. Theoretically, if ceramic technology is passed down through maternal lines, then female intermarriage into a region following cultural diffusion could explain the introduction of various pottery styles on to the Northwestern Plains by A.D. 500, if examined in context with technological trade and diffusion occurring during this time period (Quigg 1988a).

Another characteristic of much Avonlea pottery is that although granite, feldspar and mica as were used as temper to increase the resistance to shrinkage and cracking during firing is present in Avonlea ceramics, temper is usually a low percentage by weight (Quigg 1988b). The high percentage of carbon in Avonlea ceramics, possibly indicating a high percentage of organic matter being present in the ceramic material, and its subsequent firing at a low temperature may help explain the low frequency of temper used (Quigg 1988b). Indeed organic material such as bone grease may have substituted for temper, acting as a shrinking control agent, without sacrificing durability at low firing temperatures (approximately 500 C). This low firing temperature produced relatively light and soft ceramic vessels, characteristic of the Avonlea period (Quigg 1988b).

Although much of the origins and subsequent manifestations of Avonlea ceramics on the Northwestern Plains is unknown or debated, enough is understood about their regional distributions and physical characteristics to aid in Avonlea type site identification, when found in context with Timber Ridge Side Notched Avonlea points. This realization departs from the original belief that classic Avonlea points were the only definite cultural marker differentiating Avonlea type sites from other phases on the Northwestern Plains (Meyer and Walde 2000).


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