Upper Gap Archaeological Site



Upper Gap Archaeological Site
Upper Gap Archaeological Site
On Thursday, October 2, 2003, the Ontario Heritage Foundation unveiled a provincial plaque
in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory to commemorate the Upper Gap Archaeological Site. The
provincial plaque reads as follows:
First Nations peoples lived in this area thousands of years before the arrival of
Europeans. In 1995, archaeological evidence of Iroquoian settlement was discovered
nearby. The artifacts found reflected several periods of habitation dating from A.D.
700 to A.D. 1400 and included the remains of decorated ceramic pots, vessels for
cooking and storage, and stone tools. Hundreds of years ago, the Iroquois lived in
longhouses and practised an agricultural way of life, cultivating primarily corn, beans
and squash. This site was likely chosen for its strategic location overlooking the open
channel or Upper Gap between Amherst Island and Cressy Point. It provided access
to Lake Ontario for fishing, hunting, gathering, ceremonial purposes and for other
Aboriginal peoples.
Les peuples des Premières nations ont vécu dans cette région des milliers d’années
avant l’arrivée des Européens. En 1995, des fouilles archéologiques ont révélé la
présence d’une colonie iroquoise à proximité. Les objets découverts font état de
plusieurs périodes d’habitation allant de 700 à 1400 de notre ère, et incluent des
vestiges de pots en céramique décorés, de récipients pour la cuisine et l’entreposage
et d’outils en pierre. Il y a des centaines d’années, les Iroquois vivaient dans de
longues maisons. Ils avaient adopté un mode de vie agricole et cultivaient surtout le
maïs, les haricots et la courge. Ce site a probablement été choisi pour son
emplacement stratégique surplombant le chenal ouvert ou Passage supérieur, entre
l’île Amherst et la pointe Cressy. Il facilitait l’accès au lac Ontario pour la pêche, la
chasse, les rassemblements et les cérémonies de même que pour les autres peuples
Upper Gap Archaeological Site
Featured Plaque of the Month, April 2004
Wahonnise'kenha kenh yenakerehkwe' ne Onkwehonwe ohenton kenh wahònnewe'
ne Rononhwentsyakayonhronon. 1995 shiyohseròten' shahatirihwatshenri' tsi nonwe
tkanatayentahkwe'. Ya'etshenryonko' ne ontakhshonha ne ayekhonnyàtahkwe' tahnon
ayeyèntahkwe', oni yontstahshonha. Ne'e ki ne wahotihrori' Ratihstyen'taka'enyon tsi
eh yenakerehkwe' ne Rotihrohkwayen tsi nahe 700 tsi niyore 1400 shontayohseratye'.
Kanonhsehs tye'teronahkwe'. Onenhste, Onon'onhsera, tahnon Ohsahèta ya'eyentho'.
Wène ki watenatiyohne' ne'e tsi onton' ne ayenonhne' tsi teyotehyonhawenhe tsi
nonwe teyaoken ne Amherst tsi kawènote tahnon Cressy tsi yotonnyate. Ethòne ki
ne'e wa'akorihon' ne ayontaweya'te' tsi Skanyatario ne ayonrhyohkawinehsha',
ayontoratha', ayekhwarorokha' tahnon oni oya ya'tonsahontera'ne' ne Onkwehonwe.
Historical background
Archaeological site discovered
The Upper Gap archaeological site is located on Concession 1, Lot 22, South Fredericksburg
Township in Lennox and Addington County. The site was discovered in 1995 by Ontario
Ministry of Transportation archaeologists during preparations for the reconstruction of
Highway 33 between Bath and Conway. Highway 33 followed the transportation corridor
established during the late 18th century to link the military and commercial centre at Kingston
with the farming communities that developed along the north shore of the Bay of Quinte. The
Ontario Ministry of Transportation has recognized Highway 33 as a Heritage Highway because
of the significant role it played in the development of early Ontario.
The Upper Gap archaeological site is situated on the northern shoreline of Lake Ontario
overlooking the open channel, or Upper Gap, between Amherst Island and Cressy Point in
Prince Edward County. Archaeologists excavating the site in 1996 and 1997 found segments of
five longhouses and an extensive refuse midden, and identified three main periods of occupation
spanning the years between A.D. 700 and A.D. 1400.
Iroquois heritage
Artifacts discovered in two habitation areas helped archaeologists to identify the different
cultural groups that occupied the Upper Gap archaeological site. These two habitation areas,
the eastern and the western habitation areas, showed three or more occupations from the Late
Woodland period. The Late Woodland period dates from A.D. 700 to A.D. 1600 and is
divided into four components – the early Late Woodland period (A.D. 700 to A.D. 900), the
early phase of the Ontario Iroquois Tradition (A.D. 900 to A.D. 1200), the middle phase of the
Ontario Iroquois Tradition (A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1400), and the late phase of the Ontario
Iroquois Tradition (A.D. 1400 to A.D. 1600). Archaeological evidence shows that the Upper
Gap archaeological site was occupied during the earliest to middle phases – approximately A.D.
© Ontario Heritage Foundation
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Upper Gap Archaeological Site
Featured Plaque of the Month, April 2004
700 to A.D. 1400. In southern Ontario, habitations of the early phase, such as those
discovered at the Upper Gap archaeological site, are considered to be the ancestral heritage of
later Iroquoian speaking populations.
Habitation areas
Excavations carried out by archaeologists in the eastern habitation area revealed ceramic
material with distinct decorative motifs on the rim area of the vessel, which is characteristic of
the early and middle phases of the Ontario Iroquois Tradition. The archaeologists found
ceramics decorated with bands of repeating, oblique markings made with cord-wrapped sticks
dating from the earliest phase of the Late Woodland period (A.D. 700 to A.D. 900). Similar
ceramic styles have been found at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County, on the
lower rapids of the Moira River in Hastings County, and in northwestern New York State.
Archaeologists also found pottery with tool-impressed or incised horizontal markings from the
middle phase (A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1400).
A single longhouse, oriented along an east-west axis, was found in the eastern habitation area.
Longhouses (elongated, bark-covered structures that provided homes for extended families)
were typical Iroquois dwellings and the focal point of community activities. The longhouse
discovered during excavations was likely a temporary or seasonal dwelling dating from the
earliest known inhabitation of the Upper Gap archaeological site (A.D. 700 to A.D. 900).
During this period, the Iroquois had introduced corn to their diet. Because the crop was
unreliable, hunting and fishing were still important to the Iroquois’ livelihood, which meant they
often lived in temporary dwellings and migrated as food sources changed. To date, the Upper
Gap archaeological site is the only early Late Woodland site in the eastern Lake Ontario region
were house patterns have been identified.
Segments of two longhouses from the middle phase of the Ontario Iroquois Tradition were
also found in the eastern part of the Upper Gap archaeological site. The longhouses were
situated beside one another along a north-south axis. During this period, the Iroquois were
farming hardier varieties of corn and they began to establish larger, permanent villages. These
villages often covered 10 acres of land each and were fortified with palisades for protection
against attacks. Large agricultural villages from this time period have been documented in the
Consecon Lake area of Prince Edward County and near the southern shore of Lake Ontario in
New York State.
In the western part of the site, archaeologists found two overlapping house patterns, and
extensive midden (refuse area) and ceramic artifacts decorated with multiple bands of toolimpressed or stamped oblique motifs dating to the Early Ontario Iroquois Tradition.
Archaeological evidence, including the wide range of shards from ceramic vessels and the
© Ontario Heritage Foundation
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Upper Gap Archaeological Site
Featured Plaque of the Month, April 2004
overlapping house structures, shows that for centuries Iroquoian peoples repeatedly returned
to the Upper Gap archaeological site. Strategically located overlooking the eastern entrance to
the Bay of Quinte and the open channel between Amherst Island and Prince Edward County,
the people who lived at the Upper Gap archaeological site were favourably positioned to
exchange goods and information and to maintain relationships with other Iroquoian peoples
living on the north and south shores of Lake Ontario.
The Ontario Heritage Foundation gratefully acknowledges the research of Carl Murphy in
preparing this paper.
© Ontario Heritage Foundation, 2003
© Ontario Heritage Foundation
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