6.1.1 Lithics

Michael Barnes

The following discussion will focus on lithics from theLa Vase/Bothwell Island site (CbGu-5). For a more detailed analysis of material characteristics, such as the differences between quartz and quartzite, please see the previous discussion on lithics from the North Bank site (section 4.1.1).


A total of five stone artifacts were recovered from the LaVase Island site. They are described below:


The Island specimen (Cat. No. 97-293) is similar to the North Bank projectile point, in that it is a basal fragment. Its length is 19.49mm, it has a maximum shoulder width of 23.54mm, notch width of 14.46mm, and a thickness of 5.21mm. The extreme basal portion is corner notched. The edges of this specimen are somewhat curious. One edge appears to be ground, while the other is bifacially worked.

97-293 CbGu-5



One specimen (97-498) was classified as a biface. The original tool-maker may have intended this piece to form an projectile, as it has a sharp point, and one edge has been bifacially worked. The other edge was not worked successfully. Despite superficial characteristics of an projectile point, this specimen has only one finished and serrated edge. Although there does not appear to be any evidence of wear, this tool may have been used as a biface scraper.


Specimen 97-531 from CbGu-5 shows the most evidence of use wear. In transverse cross-section it is triangular, while in longitudinal sectioning it is crescent-shaped. It is morphologically similar to gunflints, except its width far exceeds its length. The most significant feature in this specimen is its ground edge. This edge has been ground on one face. There is also evidence of impurities of milky quartz on this edge, possibly from an outer cortex. This edge may have been ground to remove outer impurities. This edge, therefore, may have served the purpose of sharpening the tool, or clearing off any impurities, or possibly both.

97-531 CbGu-5


Two fragments of secondary flakes, (sometimes called shatter or spalls) were recovered from the Island site. These fragments were very small and show no signs of use wear. These specimens were most likely discarded as useless debitage by the tool-maker.


As mentioned within the North Bank sample discussion, quartzite was a local material used in tool-making. The sample size studied here is 13. Specimen 97-324 represents the only piece of quartzite that shows evidence of working. This bipolar core is 28.6mm in length, 38.81mm in width and 15.81mm in thickness. The core platform shows at least 6 bulbs where flakes have been removed.

As also indicated previously, quartzite has a very unpredictable fracture plane and was therefore not as desirable to the toolmaker.


Chert yields from the LaVase Island site were low (n=18). Most of these fragments were recovered from wet screening techniques (n=13). It should be noted here, however, that gunflints are sometimes made from chert but have not been included in this sample. This left only five fragments for discussion.

The typing of cherts from the Island site seemed to be the most problematic. Only 3 specimens could be semi-confidently identified as Gordon Lake chert. Most of the chert fragments were grey and too fragmentary to identify.

The most interesting features of the North Bank/Island samples were the specimens that appeared to be thermally altered (n=3). This was evident by colour differentiation, charring, and fracture marks on the exterior of the fragments.

Miscellaneous Lithics

The following discussion of miscellaneous lithics should not be considered definitive as most analytical identifications are tentative.

Specimen 97-392 of unknown rock origin may represent some form of "wedge" of an undetermined function (besides wedging...).

"Hammer stone"
Specimen 97-422 of unknown rock origin (probably Canadian Shield gneiss or granite) is morphologically similar to a hammer stone and bears possible use wear on the distal end.

Polished Stone
Specimen 97-506 is a small round polished pebble. This pebble is 2cm in diameter and appears to be quartz or quartzite. The exterior surface contains dark red and black marks (the red most likely representing an impurity within the stone, and the black is possible thermal alteration). O'Brien (1976), discusses polished pebbles and lists them as "problematical objects" that have no particular function.

Finally, two fragments of slate (97-353 and 97-391) were recovered and may have been fashioned as scrapers.


Unlike the North Bank, the Island site was largely lacking in quartz tools. Most of the lithics consisted of unknown chert types in a mixture of greys and some were thermally altered. Quartzite was more common at the Island site and, as mentioned, may have been quarried from quartzite veins located in the gneiss outcrops on the north-west portion of the island and many other outcrops in the general area (personal observation).

The lithic recovery from this site is not indicative of any percussion industry. However, this is not determinable without a larger sample size. It should be noted here that, in the small area excavated, Late Euro-Canadian artifacts were present in the lower layers. Many lithics may therefore, not be associated with the prehistoric component.

Several speculations can be made however, based on the low quantities and poor qualities of the lithics recovered.

ASI (1996), states that from the 1995 assemblage of CbGu-5 lithics that recoveries "reflect a general conservation of lithic raw materials." (135) This statement is very reminiscent of the present assemblage. The tools identified in this sample are indicative of a lack of raw stone resources to create higher quality tools.

ASI (1996) also remarks on the lack of ground stone items at the LaVase Island site which is also true of the present assemblage. This is not unexpected however, as ground stone tools are most common in the archaic era which predates the known occupations at the sites.

Some specimens from the Island site (n=4) represent evidence of thermal alteration, either through colouration and/or fracture lines. Austin (ASI, 1996:105) seems to imply that this is an indication of occupation during the colder months. It is however, most likely part of the stone tool manufacturing process which could take place at any time of year.

It is certain that some form of lithic reduction and tool making took place at this site. However, a larger sample size is needed for the Island site in order to determine what percussion and pressure flaking techniques were used as well as the manufacturing sequence.

Bipolar core reduction is evident as indicated by ASI (135) and by such specimens as the chert core previously discussed. Determining the raw lithic materials used, however, is somewhat problematic, as is from where, or whom the Island occupants acquired these materials from.

It is likely that, as discussed in other artifact categories, their seasonal stay with the Huron influenced these peoples. The parallel has already been made between the similarities of the Huron use of quartz and bipolar technology at the Methodist Point Site (O'Brien, 1976). Beyond this, further research is needed to determine the lithic industry of the prehistoric Nipissings and Algonquins who utilized the North Bank and LaVase Island site.

6.1.2 Catlinite Petroglyph

Michael Barnes

Probably the most significant Aboriginal artifact recovered thus far from the Island site, specimen 5-92-34 deserves special commentary.


The material used in creating this artifact was catlinite, or "pipestone". Catlinite has special hardness qualities that can be useful both for tool use, and shaping. This material is formed from very fine-grained, compact clays. It is somewhat of an "exotic" material, found only in Minnesota and surrounding areas. Catlinite has formed when ancient marine clays were compressed by beds of Cambrian quartzite. Colours of catlinite can range between pale pink, yellowish red, and dark red. The clay itself is has formed in compressed bedding but, due to it's fine-grained quality, the bedding is not visible (Fenton and Fenton, 1940:188). Catlinite has served Native People as the raw material for certain types of sacred pipes and, to a lesser degree, other artifacts.


For the sake of analysis, this artifact will use anatomical terms in the following manner: The front will show the etching and the back will be the opposite. The top refers to the superior portion when viewed from the front and the etching is in standing anatomical position, while the bottom is the opposite. The right and left edges refer to the edges when viewed from the front and etching is in standing anatomical position.

The width of this artifact (from the right to left edge) is 17.3mm at the top, and 18.12mm at the bottom. The top and bottom edges taper down towards the left edge. The length (from top to bottom) measures 16.36mm at the right edge and 12.45mm at the left edge. The front is in a flat plane except for the etching which is inscribed within it. The back however, is not flat and has somewhat of a concavity when viewed in a transverse plane. This concavity is created by two lines of incision. These incision lines begin at an apex at the right edge and extend into two lines towards the left edge.

These two lines of incision on the back are an important medium for this next discussion. The left edge seems to have been broken and not polished. This is important since all other ends and edges have been polished. Protruding from this broken edge, are two bulbs which are perpendicular to the two lines of incision. Chronologically speaking, this would indicate that these lines were carved before the edge was broken, and thus has affected the natural fracture plane at the left edge.

The degree of polishing that has taken place on this artifact is quite significant. All edges and surfaces are polished save the fractured left edge. The top and bottom edges have somewhat of a bevel that begins at an apex near the left edge. This bevel increases symmetrically (equally on the top and bottom) toward the right edge.

Due to all of the bevels, carving and polishing, the thickness (between the front and back faces) varies from 2.5mm to 3.75mm.


The carved figure on the front surface of this specimen is very distinct. What is not as clear is the "meaning behind the message". The carved etching represents a spiritual deity known (in Native languages) as Mishipizhiw or, Mishipizheu, or Gitche-anahmi-bezheu, and (in translated versions) "Great Lynx", "Great underground wildcat", "Great under-water wildcat", "underwater panther" "the fabulous night panther" ( Rajnovich 1994:98-107).

Mishipizheu (the most common spelling) is an animal Manitou, or spirit. There are many animal Manitous in Native spiritual belief, including the bear, the wolf, moose, serpent etc. Each animal Manitou represents a different aspect of spirituality, for example a bear Manitou has strong medicinal powers. Mishipizheu is most commonly referred to as the "great lynx", however Manitous have the power of shape-changing into different animal forms. Mishipizheu can form into such animals as snakes and other water creatures.

All animal Manitous are very powerful. Sometimes these powers are emphasized by power lines and horns. Power lines emanate from the animal's back. Many stories surround the Manitou Mishipizheu, and the reader can be directed to further reading in Rajnovich (1994:98-107).

It is quite apparent that Mishipizheu had some sort of power over the underwater realm, and Native People would pray to Mishipizheu before heading out on long journeys. It is also suggested that the nature of Mishipizheu's power is derived from copper. Bones of Mishipizheu would turn into copper, and therefore copper nuggets were considered sacred.

The etching on this artifact does represent Mishipizheu, however the form this Manitou has taken is not obvious. Interestingly, the figure is not facing the viewer, which is common among Mishipizheu rock paintings. When identifying the lynx, one can differentiate from the ears and horns (as in the Agawa Rock Figure). However on this particular artifact, this is not clear since the figure is not facing the viewer. Two lines emanate from the figure's head that form a "V". Due to the long nature of these lines, it is most probable that they represent horns. There is one straight line at the apex of the head, since this is not in the same direction and length as the power lines, it may represent an ear.

5-92-34 CbGu-5, 1992 testing

Other images of Mishipizheu include a long "serpent-like" tail. This, however, is not known to exist on this figure since the image is not complete.

It appears that (due to the polishing on all sides and surfaces) this was a finished product. The only exception is that of the left edge. It is suggested here then that perhaps the missing area may have given more indication of its use. The top and bottom tapering towards the left broken edge probably extended to an unknown length.


The author was not able to locate any other references to the image of Mishipizheu etched on the surface of catlinite. The image itself appears as pictographs on rock outcrops (Agawa Rock, Lake Superior), and as petroglyphs on birch bark scrolls (Northern Michigan). The only other references to Mishipizheu are in stories and songs from such Native groups as the Montaignais of Quebec.


The above commentary may seem quite lengthy to the reader, however the author believes such an artifact to be extremely important in understanding not only the daily life of Anishnabek peoples, but also of their spiritual beliefs. The ability to achieve this level of understanding through other artifacts is at best rare. No doubt, most anthropologists would agree that the daily lives of people throughout time have been strongly affected by their spirituality and religious beliefs.

Archaeologists can piece together such things as the technologies and trade patterns of Prehistoric peoples, but the chance to actually understand the world view of another culture is rare.

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