|Micmac pipe uncovered this week. (photo by Aaron Howard)|
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Of Rain and Pipes
Hello all, Jesse Westendorp again. We’ve had a bit of an exciting time lately, as I’m sure you’re all aware. The rain has made our task...interesting to say the least. However, in between the increasingly hard to ignore sense of impending doom, there was a bright spot in the day that served to distract a few of us from Mother Nature’s increasingly desperate attempts to bog our work down. Yesterday a very particular piece of Native American, or rather, native-French culture was unearthed at the Fort St. Joseph site. It was so precisely cut that at first thought it was simply a machined device of modern make, despite the fact it came from what we term the occupational zone. The occupational zone, for those who don’t know, is a region of soil beneath the disturbed soils in the Fort St. Joseph area. It is, in theory, basically untouched by modern hands.
Hopefully that tidbit of information, and the resulting unlikelihood of the artifact being from the modern era, should indicate to you just how precise the cuts were. As it turned out, the artifact was not a tool of modern times, but was actually a piece of a device called a Micmac pipe. This pipe was, as indicated above, something of a cross-cultural phenomenon. It was used by both the French and the Native Americans for quite some time. The primary features of a Micmac pipe are an inverted acorn shaped bowl, short constricted bowl stem and a triangular base. The pipe worked in a fairly simple way, a hollow reed was into a hole along the bottom of the triangular base, and at times decorations were hung along this reed, depending on the tastes of the soon-to-be user. There may also be a small hole near the “tip” of the pipe to release the smoke as the user partakes in the primary function of the device.
Now, to get such a wonderfully precise cut on the Micmac pipes, one needs to use a selection from a certain set of materials. The materials in question could be anything from Siltstone, soapstone, shale, limestone or linite. These pipes have been reported in a rather large area, indicate a large degree of cultural diffusion, perhaps aided by French traders. The area in question stretches from Labrador in Canada to Georgia in the United States. This range is impressive to say the least, and could be taken as a testament to the quality of the manufacturing process and the resulting product. A low-quality process would not, with European pipes and the like available from European traders and other native American pipe designs available in addition to the European pipes-have spread quite so far. The pipes are also found in a variety of environments, indicating that they may well have been hardy in addition to being high-quality. Another pipe of the Micmac variety was discovered in an area of rolling hills and bordered by an evergreen forest, the soil was by and large a yellowish sand and the site as a whole was bordered by what could accurately be described as a bog.
Considering our situation at the dig site, I cannot help but feel a stab sympathy to the poor men and women who had to work so close to that concentration of water. In addition, two other pipes were found within the same general area. This area being the Prince Albert area of Saskatchewan. All three specimens recovered showed signs of professional craftsmanship, and one in particular, crafted from gray limestone, was specifically noted as having been of extra-local origin, indicating that the trade in Micmac had quite the reach indeed.
It’s quite fascinating, and dare I say exciting, to have had a part in unearthing a portion of such an interesting family of artifacts. Several people whom the artifact was shown to noted that the precision of the holes carved into the pipe was something they would attribute to a modern drill piece, rather than the work of long-dead craftsmen. I had not even known that such levels of precision had been reached amongst the natives of the America’s at that time period, so the whole experience regarding the pipe has proven to be very educational, and as I said before, exciting, as finding something out that one did not expect tends to be.