Archaeology is the study of past cultures through the discovery and examination of remaining artifacts (which are things made and used by people). Archaeology also incorporates historical documents, traditional knowledge, and oral history in the interpretation of artifacts, sites, and places.
Over 12,000 years of Manitoba’s history is represented in the Archaeology collection at the Manitoba Museum. It contains objects dating from the last ice age through thousands of years of Indigenous history and the arrival and settlement of Europeans in Manitoba. The Archaeology Department is responsible for managing 2.5 million artifacts recovered from across Manitoba. Each year the collection grows, increasing our understanding of the province.
Research and analysis carried out on the collection continues each year as archaeologists unlock Manitoba’s history. Archaeological research at the Manitoba Museum has focused on the Boreal Forest, as it covers two-thirds of the province. The Museum’s collection for this region is one of the largest and most extensive in Canada. Research on these collections has improved our understanding of the human history for the area, extending back 8,500 years. Recent research in the area includes investigating ancient Indigenous quartz mining on the Churchill River.
Projects focusing on other areas of the province cover a wide range of topics and time periods. Research on collections from the Parklands area has pushed back the age of the Pelican Lake spear-point style in Manitoba by almost 500 years. Research on fur trade artifacts has highlighted the elaborate clothing and decorations worn by the Western Anishinaabe during the early 1800s. Study of collections from the Grasslands area shows that corn was grown by Indigenous peoples in southern Manitoba during the 1400s. While the cultivation of corn prior to the arrival of Europeans is well documented across North America, its discovery in Manitoba makes this its most northerly location.
Children getting a close look at bison bones in the Prairies Gallery. This is a reproduction of the Brockinton archaeological site on the Souris River, with 1200 years of occupation visible in distinct layers. Image © Manitoba Museum/Ian McCausland
The decorated handle of an atlatl (spear thrower), carved from moose antler about 4000 years ago. Artifacts like this do not usually preserve well (or at all). The original was returned to the community, but a replica is on display in the Parklands Gallery. (EcKw-14/MR26-27, 37-38) Image © Manitoba Museum
A bird-shaped stone weight for an atlatl (spear thrower), made between 2000 and 8000 years ago. While this one was found in Saskatchewan, others have been found in Manitoba and further east. “Birdstones” like this are evidence of ancient long-distance trade of materials and ideas. (A1992-2/M1) Image © Manitoba Museum
A Clovis spear head from Erickson, made from Knife River Flint from South Dakota. On display in the Orientation Gallery. This is the oldest known artifact from Manitoba, dating to about 12,000 years ago. (EdLw-1/M1) Image © Manitoba Museum
A dragon sideplate found on Wapisu Lake. Sideplates were decorative parts of muskets used by both fur traders and Indigenous hunters. This object is not on display, but others can be spotted throughout the galleries. (GkLt-23/M22) Image © Manitoba Museum
Fragments of an Ashkibokhan (Duck Bay) ceramic pot found near The Forks in Winnipeg. Different ceramics at The Forks support the stories of it being a gathering place for thousands of years. These sherds are in the Winnipeg Gallery, along with a reconstruction of the pot that they came from. (DlLg-69/MR1) Image © Manitoba Museum
A polished stone axe with raised ridges found near Melita, on display in the Prairies Gallery. Objects like this would have been used around camp and to shape wooden tools. (DgMg-161/M150) Image © Manitoba Museum
The Prairies Gallery features a reproduction of the Brockinton archaeological site on the Souris River, with 1200 years of occupation visible in distinct layers. The scene shows a slice through the different cultural layers at the site. (Image © Manitoba Museum/Ian McCausland)