Late Palaeo-Indian Period

False Face Society Mask

Nicholas R. Adams


Although numerous finds of Late Palaeo-Indian artifacts have been made in southern Ontario, relatively little archaeological excavation of sites of this period has occurred. Most sites appear to be similar to those of the preceeding period consisting of small, seasonally or sporadically occupied travel camps, where a whole range of tool making, tool sharpening, hide preparation and butchering took place. In anything, Late Palaeo-Indian sites tend to be smaller, and less rich in finds than those of their predecessors.

Late Palaeo-Indian people used a greater range of stone raw materials for the manufacture of their artifacts than Early Palaeo-Indian people. Virtually all known cherts in southern Ontario were used by Late Palaeo-Indian people.


Two main concentrations of Late Palaeo-Indian sites are known in northern Ontario. One is located along the north shore of Lake Huron and consists of a series of small campsites and large quarry sites located on raised beaches overlooking modern Lake Huron. The other is located in the vicinity of the City of Thunder Bay. Here, a number of Late Palaeo-Indian quarry, tool production and campsites have been found situated on former shoreline features of glacial Lake Minong, and post Lake Minong. A third, poorly defined group of sites further to the west, may relate to occupation of the eastern shores of glacial Lake Agassiz.


One of the reasons people were attracted to the Thunder Bay area was the abundance of easily accessible deposits of jasper taconite. This chert-like purplish rock was sought after for the production of a wide variety of tools. Many of the sites in the Thunder Bay area contain large spreads of lithic debris from tool production. Some, such as 'Cummins Site' were clearly used by relatively large numbers of people over many years. Archaeological finds have been made over an area exceeding 200 acres at this site.

Tool production consisted of the reduction of blocks and blocky fragments of taconite using a bifacial reduction process. Because the material contains many imperfections, large quantities of debris were created during the production of relatively few completed tools. Those that were finished are often of considerable aesthetic appeal.

It is unlikely that the Thunder Bay area was occupied on a year-round basis. It is more likely that small groups of people annually moved north into the area to exploit caribou herds and manufacture some stone tools. Those archaeological sites which have been investigated so far have revealed little about the shelters or structures of these people. It is likely that only the most ephemeral shelters were put up, and which leave little indication in the archaeological record.

A single cremation from near the Cummins site provides the best evidence that Late Palaeo-Indian people in this area cremated their dead. A small collection of bones recovered by archaeologist Dr. J.V. Wright, from the edge of a gravel quarry returned a date of 8,530 B.P.


Finds of Late Palaeo-Indian artifacts and sites have been made throughout southern Ontario, from the extreme southwest, as far east as the Rideau Lakes and the St. Lawrence River Valley. It seems probable that as soon as areas became available free either of glacial ice or water, they were exploited. In general Late Palaeo-Indian people appear to have sought out the same kinds of locations as those favoured by Early Palaeo-Indian people. Sites with a southern exposure overlooking either open water or wetland appear to have been particularly chosen. Some researchers have noted that Late Palaeo-Indian people often occupied shoreline features created by glacial lakes many hundreds of years before. Although the waters may have disapeared from the lakebed, conditions along the former shore may have been especially attractive to mammals such as caribou, and thus attracted Late Palaeo-Indian people too.

This orientation to areas thought favourable for caribou herds has led researchers to speculate that these people continued to focus on hunting these animals. However, fish, small game and wild plant foods were no doubt also valued.


As the glacial ice died back, a large peninsula of land was revealed lying between Lake Minong (in the Lake Superior basin) and Lake Agassiz (a huge glacial lake covering much of Manitoba). Around 10,000 years ago people moved north into this area, attracted, presumably, by the presence of game in this environmentally rich cul-de-sac.

Late Palaeo-Indian sites in northern-western Ontario tend to be oriented to outcrops of high quality toolstone, former lakeshore features, or both. In the Thunder Bay area for instance, virtually all of the known Late Palaeo-Indian sites lie along the line of the Gunflint Formation - a formation of ancient rocks, many of which were ideal for the manufacture of stone tools. This geological formation is paralleled by the former shoreline of glacial Lake Minong, and the shorelines of a series of slightly later post Minong lakes. Although these sites are now located many miles inland and many hundreds of feet above the current level of Lake Superior, at the time they were occupied they lay close to the waters edge.



Eden and Scottsbluff are names which have been given to two forms of long, narrow and relatively thin Late Palaeo-Indian spear points. Both types are stemmed. Eden points are long, narrow lanceolate points with square bases. They tend to be thick in proportion to their width and often have a diamond shaped or thick, lens shaped cross section. The stem of these points is always ground, although this may be little more than grinding along the base and lower margins of the point. The pattern of flaking on these points is carefully done, resulting in a pattern of beautiful regular flake scars. Scottsbluff points are broader, and flatter than Eden points with a more pronounced shoulder at the junction of the stem and blade. As with Eden points, flaking was tightly controlled, often forming patterns of 'collateral' (from each side) flake scars, or 'ribbon' (extending diagonally across the blade face). These points have been found on numerous archaeological sites in the Upper Great Lakes area. In Ontario they are thought to date to after 9,500 B.P.


Lanceolate spear points have been found on a number of Late Palaeo-Indian sites in Northern Ontario. These can be quite varied in form although they tend to be leaf-shaped, broad in relation to their thickness, and usually have straight or slightly concave bases. In western Canada names such as Hell Gap, Angostura and Agate Basin have been ascribed a variety of lanceolate points based on subtle differences in form. Lanceolate points have a long history in northern Ontario. Their manufacture and use probably began as soon as the area became available for settlement after about 10,000 B.P. and continued for approximately 2,000 years.


Minoqua points are relatively small projectile points with roughly parallel side stems, straight bases and distinct 'ears', or projections at the edges of the base. These points are flaked with much less care than Eden or Scottsbluff points. The pattern of flaking is generally random. Minoqua points have been found on Late Palaeo-Indian 'Lakehead Complex' site in the Thunder Bay / Quetico region of Ontario. They are a distinctive point type of the 'Minoqua Phase' of the Late Palaeo-Indian period in Wisconsin. This phase dates to approximately 6000 - 5000 B.P.



Holcombe points may be the earliest of the Late Palaeo-Indian point forms in Ontario, dating to just after 10,400 B.P. They are thin, and plano-convex in cross-section. Unlike earlier Early Palaeo-Indian points, Holcombe points lack flutes, although the concave basal margin is always thinned by the removal of numerous small flakes. Some Holcombe points have small 'ears' and some have a slight waist above the ears. Holcome points have been found in south-west and south-central Ontario and in adjacent parts of Michigan.


Hi-Lo points are thick, multi-purpose tools which often show considerable evidence of re-sharpening and re-use. These points, which are named after a site in Michigan, lack flutes and have a distinctive 'waist' above slightly flaring ears. The base of Hi-Lo points is concave, and the blade shape starts out as convex, although re-sharpening may result in almost straight blade edges. Hi-Lo points have been found in many parts of southern and south-western Ontario. They are thought to date to the period between 10,300 and 9,900 years ago.


In southern Ontario three main lanceolate point types have been recognized. The first are long, unstemmed, relatively thick points with concave bases. Some of these resemble such western types as Agate Basin points. The second are points with pronounced, heavily ground stems and thin cross sections. These have been compared to Hell Gap and Scottsbluff point types. The third are narrow, parallel or collaterally flaked unstemmed points which resemble western Eden points. Only limited archaeological work on Late Palaeo-Indian sites has been conducted in southern Ontario. On the basis of point types, lanceolate points probably date to the period between 10,200 and 9,000 years ago. The one illustrated is a Medina Point from southwestern Ontario.


Tools for boring, piercing and drilling are frequently found on Late Palaeo-Indian sites. Gravers and beaked flakes were used for a variety of scoring and slotting tasks (for instance, cutting slivers of bone to make bone needles). Others, such as those illustrated here, were used for drilling holes in hide, wood, bone and soft stone. Some boring tools (such as the item on the left) were custom made tools. Others were made by retouching a suitable flake, or by reworking a broken projectile point.


People of the Late Palaeo-Indian period used a wide variety of unifacially flaked tools. These included small end and side scrapers, long, concave side-scrapers ('spokeshaves') and a number of larger tools made by touching up the naturally sharp edge of large random flakes.


The technique of making stone tools using 'biface reduction' was used extensively by Late Palaeo-Indian people in Ontario. Large blocks of suitable tool stone were reduced in size and thinned in a series of stages. Flakes were hit from either side of the block until the desired shape was reached. The use of this technique is particularly well known for the people of the Lakehead Complex of the Thunder Bay area. Large quarry sites and 'biface reduction workshops have been found in that area.

Palaeo Period
Points & Stone

Late Palaeo-Indian
Lanceolate Point
Northen Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Eden/Scottsbluff Point
Northern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Minoqua Point
Northern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Holcombe Point
Southern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Hi-Lo Point
Southern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Lanceolate Point
Southern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Lakehead Complex,
Northern Ontario

Late Palaeo-Indian
Side Scraper

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