Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Religion - The Plains

Evidence for Late Paleoindian Ritual from the Caradoc Site-

The very beginning of this article states something that I discovered to be all too true while researching for this post-- the archaeological record is sparse when it comes to evidence for the religious or ritual lives of paleoindians during the Plains period. The article talks about the rare finds at the site of Caradoc, Ontario.
The site there consists of purposefully broken lithic artifacts, and is a site unlike others that have previously been found. Twenty-nine artifacts were originally found in a pasture by a local farmer. The artifact included fragments of large bifaces, used biface thinning flakes, and side scrapers that were purposefully broken.
The way in which the objects were placed and the fact that they had been purposefully broken suggests that they were placed their ritually.
Throughout the entire excavation, over 62 total objects were found. They all consisted of Bayport chert, which was from an area about twenty-five miles to the east.
The artifacts were often broken by a well-centered single blow, implying that they were broken on purpose rather than through use or through construction. The use on the tools was fairly consistent-- none had been used more than others.
One of the most unusual pieces found at the site was a projectile point that does not fit into the criteria for any known type. There were also items that were not projectile points, including six thin, slate flakes, an iron pyrite nodule, and a granite rock that had been deliberately broken.
The crew excavating the site have declared it to be a ritual site for a few reasons. The main one is that the artifacts were deliberately broken. The other was that there were no other sites near that one-- and sacred sites are frequently placed in areas where there are limited or no distractions.

D. Brian Deller and Christopher J. Ellis
1999  Evidence for Late Paleoindian Ritual from the Caradoc Site (AfHj-104), Southwestern Ontario, Canada. American Antiquity 66: 267-284

Raven Skeletons from Paleoindian Contexts

This article focused on the finding of two largely intact raven skeletons in 1991. Ravens have been significant mythological figures throughout North American history. These raven skeletons are significant because they may provide a glimpse into Plains paleoindian ideology, a topic that has very little archaeological evidence. The ravens were found at Charlie Lake Cave in British Colombia, Canada.
Many characteristics of ravens have led to their admiration and role in mythology across the globe, including their life-long monogamy and their ability to mimic the cries of other animals. They locate game for hunters and have many roles in various Native mythologies. There are also widespread beliefs that ravens communicate with people, probably due to their ability to mimic other animals.
North American archaeological data has shown that ravens have been significant particularly in the Plains and their eastern margin. The first raven in the burial was buried on it's back with the head facing the southeast. Other bones found in the area were separated from each other and were not complete, unlike the raven skeleton.
The second raven was found with it's feet facing the east. It was not totally complete, as part of it's skull and a few other small bones were missing. This has been attributed to weather conditions and general erosion rather than other things like natural death. The paper acknowledges that the birds may have died there of natural causes, but because of their completeness, the author has decided that the birds were probably placed there by people, as they had been buried.
The author states that it is not possible to state with absolute certainty that the birds were buried deliberately by people, but the lack of scavenging evidence on the bones suggests that the bodies were not on the surface after they died.

Driver, Jonathan C.
1999 Raven Skeletons from Paleoindian Contexts, Charlie Lake Cave, British Colombia American Antiquity 64: 289-298

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