Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 24 > Page 19 - The Four Lives of the Micmac Copper Pot

Page 19 - The Four Lives of the Micmac Copper Pot

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1979/12/1 (341 reads)

Somewhat perplexingly, there was an exten? sion of this primary pit • a "much less carefully prepared" cyst • that was evi? dently added onto the other at a somewhat later date. Each of the four kettles in this annex was "mutilated; some were badly crushed by deliberate flattening under heavy pressure (jumped on?), and the bal? ance were slashed with an axe. All had been evidently 'killed' to release the spirit of the dead at burial." Harper excavated a similar burial complex the following year, 1956, where he found two layers of bodies. The lowest stratum contained a profusion of both French trade goods and native handicrafts. Of the for? mer, several kettles had been "crushed or completely smashed" to form an under sheet, upon which were axes, chisels, scrapers, spears "and other French iron material," strung beads, and two woolen blankets. Reed baskets, rush matting, a birchbark dish, fragments of a wooden box, the usual birchbark sheets, and a stack of pelts (deer, moose, bear, and squirrel) com? prised the aboriginal contribution. Immediately above this Harper excavated another burial: an inverted copper kettle shielding a skull and several long bones, adjoining a second kettle "wrapped snugly in sewn birch bark sheeting" placed over a small pile of what had once been food. The impression one gets is that some kettles were spared mutilation in order to serve as a protective shield for grave goods and the bones of the deceased, while others were ripped apart so as to sheathe the grave floor with metal, while still others were, ceremonially slain to provide the spirit of the deceased With the spirit of this most useful vessel in the afterlife. Yet such "foolish fancy," as Le Clercq un? charitably put it, came to an end in the quarter of the century. But a kettle, like a cat, has several lives • in this case four. As well as being a commodity of exchange and a cherished cooking vessel, a popular piece of grave furniture, and an interloper in the Micmac pantheon of spirits, the copper kettle served in addition a geographical-social function: it contributed to the dissolu? tion of the traditional mode of settle? ment and, more ambiguously, land tenure.... The earliest archaeological evidence on these Indians, presumably Micmac, seems to indicate that they occupied coastal fish? ing and shellfishing campsites year-round. Naturally, we have no conception of their mode of land tenure at this early date. Evidently sometime in the late twelfth century, perhaps in response to a marked climatic cooling in the North Atlantic, this pattern shifted: winters were there? after spent in the interior. Something comparable to this occurred in central and eastern Maine in late prehistoric-proto- historic times, writes the Maine archaeol? ogist Bruce J. Bourque. An examination of three coastal sites disclosed that their inhabitants were occupying the coast dur? ing the late winter and early spring (March through May), whereas historic rec? ords show that by 1550 Maine Indians were passing this quarter hunting, trapping, and fishing in the interior. Bourque con? templates two viable explanations for this turn-about: either it was due to the so- called Little Ice Age, just referred to, or it is indicative of a decision to par? ticipate in a remarkably precocious Euro? pean fur trade. Significantly, these Maine Indians were visiting the coast in the late spring. WKcn in Sydney, stop by our nev'r showroom at 525 Vulcan Ave., 50,000 sq.ft. of furniture, appliances, all under one roof. /dlUMMlZ /houuroom/ S uuorehou/e V4e Specaaj.ize in Camping Equipment and Clothing of All Kinds as well as Hardware, Plumbing and Electrical Supplies Reuben McEvoys General Store Ltd. JNQONISH VBMSR Open all year at the entrance to the beautiful Cape Breton HighlaiMls National Park
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