A ninth grooved arrowhead was added to the site’s treasures, as well as several pieces of carved stone tools, thus reinforcing the portrait that archaeologists paint of this place and its occupants. These remain the oldest known human remains in Quebec.
“I don’t even need to buy a 6/49, I won the lottery!” It was in 2008 when we found the last fluted point,” exclaims archaeologist Claude Chapdelaine, also responsible for the first discoveries at the site in August 2003.
As the former professor at the University of Montreal explains, a people from the Paleo-Indian era, descendants of the first wave of migration to North America, seasonally passed through the Lake Mégantic region to hunt caribou, then present in large numbers in the area.
“They had to stay here for at least a month,” describes Chapdelaine. Maybe more. The best time to hunt caribou is late summer and early fall, because they are fat: they have eaten all summer. Coming here they know there are caribou, but they have to intercept them. They want to leave with their backs loaded with quarters of meat, much of which is already dried on site. »
As winter approaches, they will likely return to what is now New England, we know this thanks to the provenance of the identified materials that make up the artifacts. “When they return home, they still hunt caribou, but they are more dispersed in the forest and therefore more difficult to access. But all the other animals are there: beavers and probably white-tailed deer, too. They had to fish and then catch porcupines and muskrats. »
“I call them the Paleoindians of the Kennebec Basin,” continues the specialist. Here, the Méganticois region is connected to this basin by the Dead River. There are no canoes or pirogues, so they are great walkers, but we are convinced that they use the hydrographic network to orient themselves and that they develop a photographic memory. »
At that time, the Lake Mégantic region was a large tundra, while in Maine it had already disappeared due to climate warming. “You go to the most beautiful place of the time and it was here,” the archaeologist smiles. A beautiful, well-drained terrace, on the Rivière aux Araignées. There are no trees and you should have easily seen Lake Mégantic from here. »
Great importance to the Abenaki nation
On Sunday, a special delegation of the Abenakis of Odanak visited the site of Cliche-Rancourt to better understand the past of their distant ancestors, but also to give it a new name and forever link it to their legacy. In collaboration with the Méganticois Archaeological Heritage Corporation, they changed the name of the place to “Cliche-Rancourt Mamsalhabika Archaeological Site”.
Anthropologist and member of the Abenaki nation Nicole O’Bomsawin explains that Mamsalhabika, which means “spider,” was chosen for the spider lake river, but also for its beauty and important symbol. “It refers to this little creature that weaves networks, friendships, networks. The meaning is not only the beast, but also the passage. It was thought to be a name chosen for the place our ancestors undoubtedly frequented. »
After the passage of the Paleo-Indians, the surrounding area would have continued to be of great importance to the indigenous peoples. As the chief of the Abenaki nation of Odanak, Richard O’Bomsawin, explains, the sector was one of the main meeting places for the different members of the Waban-aki Confederacy.
The latter grouped, together with the Abenaki, the Passamaquoddy, the Míkmaq, the Penawapskewi and the Maliseet, who lived partly south of the current American border.
“Our brothers and sisters could cross the rivers and meet us here,” says Mr O’Bomsawin. At that time we all came from very far away. Therefore, it could be six or seven months before the meeting takes place. Several people arrived in advance and sat down. That’s why sometimes we could find 1000 people here at the same time and 500 at another time. »
The surrounding area is even more important because it was the scene of the last meeting of the Wabanaki Confederacy, in the 17th century. “There were conflicts over the war (which began with the settlers), says the chief. The meeting was to determine if we were going to participate in this war. In the end we decided not to get involved and the confederacy broke up. »
The Abenakis of Odanak are currently working to restore bridges with the nations that were former members of this confederation, in order to put it back on its feet. “I will ask the municipality to hold the first meeting right here, on site. I think it would be important to do it,” says O’Bomsawin.
We pack everything
Twenty years after the first important discoveries of the place, Professor Claude Chapdelaine officially makes his reference. “I am very proud to say that this site will belong to another generation of archaeologists. It is not finished, and all the trees here are the guardians of what remains to be excavated,” he says.
If he is satisfied with the information collected in this area, he believes that within five or ten years other archaeologists looking for new answers could find what they are looking for.
However, this latest series of excavations will have allowed 20 square meters more to be excavated, beyond what was planned, for a total of 290 square meters explored to date at the site. Last week a hot spot was even found, from which around a hundred fragments could emerge from the ground, more than those found in the rest of the sector.
On Sunday afternoon, the team, also led by archaeologist from the Museum of Nature and Sciences of Sherbrooke, Éric Graillon, buried its impressive holes to return the site to its original state.
Mr. Chapdelaine intends to take advantage of the next few days to make a definitive summary of the excavations since their beginning. A fifteen-minute documentary is also being produced to add to the exhibition Clovis, Caribou Hunter, currently on display at the Lac-Mégantic heritage station.
He wants the place to remain protected and in the future to be well developed from a tourist point of view, given its great historical interest. The Méganticois Archaeological Heritage Corporation has been offering visits by reservation for several years and has even installed several information stands for the public.
What is special about the artifacts at the site? As Chapdelaine explains, fluted points, characterized by depressions in the center on each side, were invented in the great Western Complaints region, in the vicinity of present-day New Mexico.
The first were discovered near a town called Clovis, the name they and their creators receive today, who used them as a hunting weapon, attached to a wooden spear. “All indigenous people of North America are direct descendants of the Clovis,” says Chapdeleine.
They would have migrated silently northeast, exploring the territory and following herds of animals, such as bison.
At the moment, the Cliche-Rancourt site is the only one in Quebec that has revealed such points and demonstrates their presence 12,000 years ago.
Additionally, this year another arrowhead was found at the site, this time without a groove. This would belong to a period a little less distant from the Paleoindian era.
In recent weeks, stone tools such as scrapers, a drill, a biface and even a flake used for its edge have also been unearthed. “All we have is carved stone,” he says, adding that few other materials that might have been left behind would have little chance of being preserved.
The vast majority of artifacts excavated at the site are made from red Munsungun chert, native to Maine, while some pieces are made from beige rhyolite from Mount Jasper, New Hampshire.