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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Living in Prehistoric Huronia Part 3 (Fire, Stone and Sand)

So this ended up a little bigger than most, a whole ten+ minutes. The reason is I added fire because it is so extremely important to all things. Beyond the known uses of warmth and cooking, all aspects of life seemed to need a fire to process. Even the byproducts of the fire, smoke, ash are of use. Some things have to be heated, in fact, most things need some kind of heat during the process.

Stone and sand are also important, and a keen eye is needed. Some stone and clays can only be found in some places, but others are all around us. The importance of these resources would factor into the placement of villages. If you had a location where these resources could be had while still being in proximity to other resources could mean prosperity, but it could also mean danger from those wishing to take those resources.

The presence could mean prosperity, but prosperity has its issues.

Fire: Fire should be dealt with as it is an important part of spiritual, ceremonial and religious life. The fire was used daily to cook and warm villagers and sustain their lives. However, it was also used in many of the crafts the people would do. Before knapping a stone it must first be heat-treated, before using pottery it needed to be fired.

Ceremonially, fires were essential for many different aspects of life. From birth to death fire was always there. Politically, council fires were lit to call a meeting to order. Honesty and integrity were expected at council fires. The ceremony was started when the fire was lit, and the ceremony ended with the fire going out.

Even setting dyes in material and porcupine quills require heat.

The remains of fires denote human habitation more than anything else. The fire was so important that to this day, key people in the tribe are called fire-keepers. Fire making, keeping and control was a very important craft to know. Fire can give you much and has probably even taught us much, but it can also quickly take it away. A fire to a longhouse or wigwam can devastate a family or community. Even the ashes could be used for different things.

Making fire was a fairly intense thing in prehistoric Huronia. On the most part friction had to be used to gain a heat high enough to cause tinder material to ignite. The tinder material could include pine needles or birch bark, Chaga is said to be a good tinder material as well. Like all things, nature provided, you just need to know where to look.

Artist rendition, Artist lives in my house

To aid in this friction process a type of hand drill tool was used. This consisted of a board with a starter hole in it, to stabilize the spindle. One hand was placed o top of the spindle, with a rock probably serving as a hand-piece. A bow with a bit of sinew string would be moved back and forth, producing friction between the spindle and the board. By the hole, the tinder material would heat up until igniting.

The ignited tinder would then be moved to a handheld nest of pine needles, birch bark or Chaga and once that was ignited be moved to a tepee shaped bit of kindling wood. On top of the kindling would be regular wood. Then you would have a fire, which was influential in so many different things. This was only one method, but this seems to be a likely means of making fire.

Smoking is another use of fire. Tobacco, sweet-grass, sage are all burnt for different reasons, but essentially, the presence of fire is necessary. There is a whole group of reasons for this, which I may or may not get into later.

Smoke is also used in tanning hides, preserving food and all sorts of known and unknown (at least to me). Fish and game were smoked, by a specific fire, specifically made and controlled to best preserve and season the meat fish. When a shelter was made and a stake was put in the ground, it would be put in a fire first to preserve it.

Because the Wendat/Weskarini used stone tools the are considered by some stone-aged. By stone age they expect the group to be rather uncivilized. In truth, it is more a result of natural resources and a lack of surface metal. These tools were crafted and designed with much thought to the process. Even their use was deeply thought about.

Again we need to remove ourselves from what we know and understand the cultural and mechanical processes that lead to these tools.

Stone Tools were also a craft that was taught by the elders. Some jobs were probably done by individual artisans, but common knowledge was also important. Scrapers would be made on-site sometimes and often the percussion type tools required re-striking in order to re-establish the sharp edge.

The use of fire as a tool. The fire was used in many different aspects of Wendat/Weskarini life. The knapping tools needed to be heat treated before they could be worked. Pottery was fired to gain its rigidity. Lesser know is fire being used to clear a forest. No, not that way, they did not burn it all down, they would use it in conjunction with celts to down the trees. Fires were made around the trunks of trees and celts would then chip off the burnt wood. This was repeated until the tree was downed. And not all trees were downed, particularly in a field. Celts could easily take off the bark and cork (living tissue under the bark) could be removed, thereby killing the tree and leaving it standing without having its canopy over the produce fields. This would result in standing wood drying out over time and branches regularly dropping for dried firewood.

The stone tools did not lead to cord-wood as we know today. Branches and small trees were all that would be burnt. Controlling fire for a tool and for warmth was a necessary craft for existence.

Marti Latta's report (photos are from the internet, hopefully somewhat similar to what was found) on archaeological sites on the Penetanguishene Peninsula.

ADZE One broken specimen was found, only the butt end remaining. It was made of greenish-black schist and measured greater than 49 mm. long x 29 mm. wide x 4 mm. thick. The butt is not square to the plane of the tool but angled up toward the front, evidently intentionally. One side is flat, the other deeply convex

CELT Both fragments were made of schist. The whole tool measures 78 mm. x 27 mm. x 13 mm. The fragment includes a section of the bit. The whole tool is ground smooth over its entire surface, while the broken piece shows grinding only along both sides of the bits.

GRINDSTONES Two probable grindstones show scratched and smoothed surfaces. One is made of dark sandstone, one of a flat schist tablet.

HAMMER-STONE The single definite hammer-stone is made of grey felsite. It is 13 cm. long and triangular in cross-section, narrowing to a rounded, blunt point on one end. The other end is broad and rather flat. Both ends show battering.

ANVIL STONE Two anvil stones were recovered. Both are made from large, water-worn, flattish cobbles, one of granite and one of gneiss. The granite cobble shows extensive pitting on both flat sides, the gneiss stone on one side only.

KNIFE One dark grey chert flake was carefully retouched into a blade shape. Work is fine pressure flaking and mostly on the dorsal surface; ventral retouch, which may be wholly a result of wear, is present on both long sides. Part of the original bulb of percussion still remains, located asymmetrically on one edge near the end.

SIDE SCRAPERS One bifacially worked chert flake and two unifacially chipped flakes seem to have been used as side scrapers. All three tools are very roughly shaped and worked.

END SCRAPERS Three small chert flakes are unifacially retouched on the dorsal surfaces to form fairly serviceable end scrapers.

STEEP SCRAPERS In two cases, retouch along both edges of the flake formed a very abrupt angle with the ventral plane of the tool. One is quartz and the other chert. The former is slightly serrated as well. Both are unifacially worked, on the dorsal surface.


8 DRILLS Two drills were fashioned from blades of grey chert. In both cases, only the end of the blade and about 2 inches of the adjacent sides were worked, to form a rather sharp point on one specimen and a blunt, more rounded point on the second. The former was retouched on the ventral surface only, and the latter on the dorsal surface only.

BURIN One grey chert flake shows definite burination of one corner. The flake is otherwise unaltered.

SQUARES Three rather enigmatic tools exhibit the finest stone working in the collection. All three are square, roughly 1" on aside. The first is a square flake, primarily worked on two adjacent sides, which are bifacially retouched to form a sharp point. This tool could have served as a knife, or as a punch. The second and third specimens are virtually identical. Both are completely bifacially worked over their entire surfaces. Both are extremely thin, and the sides are moderately sharp. The squares are quite flat and the sides and angles are regular. Their purpose is unknown.

FLAKES Two chert flakes show bifacial retouch along one edge, while another eight exhibits some unifacial work. Two quartz flakes also appear intentionally unifacially retouched. No shaping of the flake was attempted, retouch being a very quick process to strengthen a flake for some short-term use. ' In addition, 19 chert flakes and 11 quartz flakes appear to have been utilized without retouch.

DEBITAGE 469 chert flakes show no sign of utilization and are judged to be waste flakes. Many show cortex, or are so randomly fractured so that they would have been of limited use even for a momentary need.

CORES Seven chert cores and two of quartz show flakes struck off from a single platform, usually with a minimum of platform preparation. Eighteen chert cores may be classed as bifacial, having two, or more, points of impact. In these cases as well, there seems to have been a tendency to rely on chance, as opposed to careful core preparation, to produce a suitable flake. All the cores are small, usually less than two inches in length, and many may have been fashioned from pebbles. One prismatic blade core is present as well. It is quite well-executed, with a prepared striking platform. Only the top half of the core was recovered; it had snapped in half. It would appear to have produced bladelets of about 10 mm across, and a few such blades were included in the sample, although none fit the core. It was made from local dark-grey chert. Nevertheless, it represents a rather definite departure from the local lithic tradition and seems to represent an intrusion.

FIRE-CRACKED ROCKS A number of large cobbles, or chunks of cobbles, show the characteristic spalling and blackening of fireplace rocks. These were of the following types: 1.2 Granite

7 Schist 2 Sandstone 1 Diorite 1 Diabase 1 Felsite 1 Gneiss 1 Limestone It is rather disturbing to find two rather large fragments of sandstone with fire-blackening since sandstone tends to explode when heated. Hopefully, these were not used in a household hearth.

UNWORKED ROCK The unworked rocks which were also brought back are of the following types: 23 Granite 20 Orthoclase feldspar 20 Schist 18 Limestone 15 Quartz 6 Plagioclase feldspar 6 Chert pebbles 5 Sandstone 3 Gneiss 3 Slate 1 Diabase 1 Dolorite These vary from large cobbles to tiny river pebbles but generally give the scope of locally available lithic resources.

Tools were made in three ways. Knapping, which is the process or striking hard glass-like stones in such a way as to make a sharp edge. Glass is made when a type of sand is heated, this can occur naturally so that these stones can be found. People rarely walked around without looking for all kinds of supplies, whether flora, faunal or lithic. (Modern knappers do knap glass.) Knapping involves heating a stone next to a fire to increase it's density. Then once cooled the artisan would use special tools, including antler and bone, as well as stone, to smash edges into the tool.

The second way is grinding. Tools like celts and adze are made of less brittle stone. These stones are ground into their shape. It has been said that these stones take about 40 hours to make a single adze or celt. Often this grinding would take place in summer, with the artisan in the river grinding with sand and water to shape the specifically chosen stone.

So your toolbox would be filled with the tools you had made. Some of these tools, like the adze and celts, could take as long as 40 hours to work into a finished project.

As well as the above-mentioned lithics, pipes of many different styles and shapes were found.

PIPES Pipes at the Site were generally quite large-bowled.

IROQUOIS RING TYPE Fragments of three bowls were found. All are decorated with a few horizontal bands at the top of the bowl. None show punctuates under the horizontals. The most complete specimen measures 22 mm. in inside diameter at the lip, 37 mm. greatest outside diameter, with a bowl of approximately 30 mm. height. The two other bowls are too fragmentary to measure accurately.

DECORATED BARREL TYPE A variant on the barrel pipe theme is a very large pipe whose decoration is rather reminiscent of Lalonde High Collared pottery. It is decorated with two trailed horizontal rings at the top and bottom of the bowl, opposed triangles of parallel obliques between the horizontal lines (this decorated area being 35 mm. high), and punctuates beneath the bottom horizontal line. The entire bowl has an inside diameter of about 26 mm. at the lip, a greatest outside diameter of 62 mm., and a total bowl height of about 52 mm. It is neatly and carefully fashioned. COLLARED RING PIPE One example of a collared pipe is decorated with three horizontal lines. The collar is well defined. It is greater than 28 mm. in outside diameter at the lip, and the bowl is 36 mm. high. 10

DECORATED TRUMPET PIPE This bowl fragment is decorated with parallel vertical incised lines on a thickened rim; no collar is defined. It measures greater than 24 mm. in outside bowl diameter and greater than 24 mm. bowl height. It is the only pipe from this site with any blackening on the outside.

PLAIN OR IROQUOIS TRUMPET PIPE Three very small fragments of lip of Trumpet pipes were found in the three test squares. All appear un-decorated. The pieces were too small to observe whether the characteristically flat thick lip of the Iroquois Trumpet Pipe was represented; however, they more closely resembled this type. STEMS Two large pieces of stem, one averaging 12 mm. in outside diameter and the other, 18 mm., were plain and light in colour. A piece of plain elbow and seventeen tiny stem fragments, all un-decorated, completed the pipe sample.

These remains of pipes may only be the bowl of the pipe, with a longer stem fitted onto it. These stems would be made

The archaeology shows many different pots were made and many different lithics or stone tools were made. An archaeological report by Marti Latta shows 9 different types of Pottery.

The pottery found is colourless, over time the paint used has worn off, but some remains show it was colourfully painted when in use. The artisans that made it, and the traders that obtained it showed a varying style common to all sites. Still, we can see the individual artistry by the way they are incised and the way the shapes vary. I think that learning to make pottery was something taught to all. Specialist certainly excelled and probably made the more elaborate pottery, and probably contributed to the wealth of the village. Some types and styles of pottery are found in far-ranging villages traded and copied numerous times.

Pottery making depended on many different factors. Quality of the clay used is very important. There are many areas locally where good clay is available. This clay was formed very carefully into the shapes of the jars and such. The neck and body would be precisely formed and styled to the current fashion. The shape and style would probably differ for the different uses the jar would be used for. These jars would have to be very carefully handled, as they are extremely fragile state. At this point, they need to be placed in a fire, or more accurately a fire needs to be built around the pottery. This fire then has to be brought to a fairly high temperature to fire the pot.

At any time in this process, the risk of it being broken and ruined is very high and a very gentle touch is needed. These processes have to be keenly observed and done just right in order to get the best results.

Once fired, the pots would be painted. Dyes would be obtained, like all things, in nature. Colour sand and shells etc would be used to obtain different colours. This would be mixed with grease ad other available resources and made into a paint specific for pottery. Once again the pots would be fire to set the paint.

Again the entire process needed to be just right, the clay without impurities and the water content just right, or you would end up with pottery shards and not jars. The finished project would be fairly hardy and could probably last a lifetime if not more, properly cared for.

The pottery and clothing would follow contemporary styles and would spread across the countryside, popping up in different communities. The Wendat particularly were avid traders, the trade would be done with far of places like the East Coast of the Northern United States, The St Lawrence Valley and as far west as modern-day Calgary and probably beyond. As I have said, there was no money or monetary system, so top artisans would have been a very important resource to the village.

The potter would also make a disk for games. These disks, flat and round like a coin, would be found all over and would be used in games. Created by flattening the clay and firing it the same as pottery, their disks would be used in games of chance.

Art Duval, Pipesmoke of the Past

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