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Saskatchewan Archaeological Society Newsletter

Excerpt from Volume 16, Number 4
August 1995

A Trip to Reindeer Lake, July 1994

By David Meyer and Douglas

An account of our 1993 sojourn on southwestern Reindeer Lake can be found in the October 1994 issue (Vol. 15, No. 5) of this Newsletter. One of our major interests in making the 1993 trip was to view a rock painting which the northern traveler, P. G. Downes (1943:66-67), observed in the 1930s. At that time, we were not able to locate this painting.


In the winter of 1993-94, Tim Jones made available a brief report which Downes had prepared on the painting. Downes had passed this report along to the (then) National Museum of Canada and it is now held by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), in its Selwyn Dewdney collection. Unfortunately, the map on Jones' copy was not legible and so we contacted Dr. Mima Kapches at the ROM, who very kindly arranged to have a readable facsimile forwarded to us. On this map, Downes pinpointed the exact location of the rock painting, showing it to be located in Canoe Channel, between Numabin Bay and the main body of Reindeer Lake (Figure l); therefore, we made another vacation trip to southwestern Reindeer Lake in the summer of 1994, with one of the main goals being to examine the location marked by Downes.

The 1994 Trip

We left Saskatoon the morning of July 10 and in the evening arrived at Reindeer Lake where, as the year before, we stayed at Nordic Lodge. Through the night a weather front moved in and by morning a steady drizzle was falling. We loaded our canoe anyway, and motored out to the entrance to Numabin Bay where we encountered a stiff wind and whitecaps on the bay. We stopped, therefore, at a sandy point which is the location of the Ulricksen site. There, we spent some time examining the vast scatter of white vein quartz debitage (see, also Meyer 1983b). Evidently a large archaeological site has been destroyed here by wave erosion of the point. We noted a number of tools, also made of this guartz, including a projectile point in the Oxbow style (Figure 2). This complete specimen is of fine-grained, banded vein quartz and is very well crafted. We were startled by this piece since it is the most northerly known point of this style in Saskatchewan. Indeed, directly to the south, the nearest known Oxbow point is at Cranberry Portage (Meyer 1983a:157) between Flin Flon and The Pas, while to the southwest is a specimen from the McCallum site (GkNp-2) on the Churchill River north of Pinehouse (Meyer 1983a:157).

Because of the threat of bad weather, and of being wind bound, we returned to Nordic Lodge and made arrangements to be guided to Canoe Channel that afternoon, using one of the Lodge's boats. Our guide was a Southend resident, Mr. Larry Clarke, whom we later learned was a community elder. Mr. Clarke took us to Canoe Channel, although informing us that he had never seen any rock paintings there. We went to the location marked on Downes' map and carefully examined the outcrops around a small island there, and a long stretch of the adjacent shore; however, we saw nothing. Since the water level had increased by 2 ft. from the summer of 1993, it seemed that the paintings were simply too deeply submerged to be seen.

Mr. Clarke then said that the paintings we were looking for must be those in Lawrence Bay. This surprised us since this was entirely new, unexpected information and we questioned him closely. He was quite firm in his opinion that there indeed was a set of paintings in Lawrence Bay; he had seen them when camped there as a child with his family. We asked how long it would take to get there and he indicated about 45 minutes, so we decided to investigate - especially since by this time the skies had begun to clear. On the way, we skirted the edge of Reindeer Lake proper and got our first view of this great (and a bit frightening) expanse of water. Very quickly we were into the bay and Mr. Clarke took us directly to a particular cliff. To our combined delight and consternation, we found that there were indeed paintings here; however, one had been entirely defaced - apparently by a shotgun blast. The intact painting appeared to be that of an upside down human being, which we photographed. Here, we left some tobacco, a present to the spirit beings who inhabit these places.

The following day was hot and calm, and once again Larry Clarke guided us on our travels. In the summer of 1993, the owner of Nordic Lodge, Donna Carlson, had been informed by cottagers that they had found a set of paintings on an island in Numabin Bay; therefore, we set out on the 40 km trip north up the bay to meet these individuals. As we arrived at Fox Island, the location of their cottage, we passed a small island which was dominated by an enormous cliff along its southside. Mr.Clarke took us to examine this cliff and almost immediately spotted paintings. Here, there were three sets, one consisting of four large, orangish dots in a row and a second of two enigmatic fringed images in red (Figure 3). High above the latter was a third set of paintings, which seemed to consist of random red lines. Again, we left a present of tobacco, as did Mr. Clarke (Figure 4).

We then motored around the corner of the island to meet the cottagers, finding them a little surprised that we had already observed "their" rock painting . After a pleasant visit, we headed back south, stopping for lunch at a sandy cove just north of a creek mouth. There is a rock painting (HcMt-6) in this creek mouth and another, Thunderbird Bay (HcMt-4) just to the south of the creek mouth. This creek bore no name on the National Topographic Map, so we asked Mr. Clarke what its name was. He hesitated, saying that it had no name [in English]. Then he added, "But we call it masinahikan sipis." Masinahikan Sipis translates as "Writing Creek", an evident reference to the paintings!

As we lounged on the sweltering beach, munching our sandwiches, we looked idly at the many pieces of quartz debitage scattered about, and extending into the water. Eventually, we began to examine the beach surface more closely. Abruptly there was excitement: one of us (Frey) had found a most unusual tool. This was an asymmetrical, pointed biface which was made of light grey, banded chert (Figure 5). Only 6 mm thick, the craftsmanship was excellent and the margins had been completed with a steep retouch, and a hint of edge serration. Although missing its base, it appeared to be a broken Pre-Dorset knife (1). This asymmetrical tool type is common in Pre-Dorset assemblages (e.g., Gordon 1981:10; Meyer 1977:77, 209) which are known for their superb workmanship and fairly frequent edge serration. As well, the grey, banded chert was not unlike that which Meyer (1977:72) had dealt with, years before, in Pre-Dorset sites on the coast of Hudson Bay far to the west. (For a better explanation of the Pre-Dorset complex see the Arctic Small Tool Tradition section of Human History in Far Northern Saskatchewan.)

We then continued down Numabin Bay, passing the village of Southend on our way into Marchand Lake, at the head of the Reindeer River. Here, Mr.Clarke had been told of a painting on an island; however, despite careful examination of the cliff sides here, we saw nothing. We then visited a long sandy beach on the east side of the lake where a site (Old Dam, HbMt-1) has been known for many years (see Fedje 1976). As we strolled down the beach, noting occasional white quartz flakes, Mr. Clark pointed out a herbaceous plant (since identified as Golden Corydalis, Corydalis aurea (2). He told us that if this plant is boiled, it will turn the water red. This red liquid can then be mixed with red sand which can be obtained from a location near the confluence of the Reindeer and Churchill Rivers. The resulting mixture produces wathaman "vermillion paint."

The next day, Wednesday, Meyer had been invited to give a presentation to the Chief and Councillors of the Peter Ballantyne Band. The meeting was at Southend's new high school, and Meyer gave a slide show which included images of rock paintings, artifacts and archaeological sites from the Southend region. In a pause in the presentation, one of the councillors told the assemblage that this was very important, that it was the evidence that they had been living here for a long, long time. After the talk, some of the councilors approached us to enthusiastically discuss the rock paintings and the archaeological materials. Towards noon, we took the long road south to Saskatoon, having completed another memorable trip to Reindeer Lake.

Concluding Comments

We now know of six rock painting sites in southwestern ReindeerLake: (1)ThunderbirdBay (HcMt-4), (2) Reindeer Lake Creek Mouth (HcMt-6), (3) Canoe Channel, (4) Lawrence Bay (HeMr-l), (5) Fox lsland (HdMs-1), and Stackhouse Bay (HdMt-1). These, therefore, may constitute one of the most remarkable concentrations in the province- especially when it is considered that there are also rumours of a painting at the far northern end of Numabin Bay and another in Deep Bay (3). The fact that many of these are subject to periodic or permanent inundation as a result of the operation of Whitesand Dam is cause for considerable concern.

This 1994 sojourn provides ample indication, as well, of the necessity for archaeologists to work with community elders. The elders have detailed knowledge of the regional geography, and detailed knowledge of their own cultural traditions. Indeed, the substantial amount of knowledge which northem Saskatchewan elders can provide about pictographs has been made abundantly clear in a recent thesis by Katherine Lipsett (1990) . Clearly, collaboration between heritage specialists and elders can have great benefits for both.

The greatest surprise of the 1994 visit was the discovery of a PreDorset tool. Although a number of Pre-Dorset artifacts have been found in northern Saskatchewan, all of these have been farther north, on Lakes Athabasca (e.g. Wright 1975:PlateXlX,Fig.2) and Black (e.g. Minni 1976:Plate 1, specimen 5). Pre-Dorset assemblages, the product of a Paleo-Eskimo cultural group, are found in coastal sites stretching from Alaska to Greenland, and to Labrador and northern Newfoundland. Between 3500 and 2700 years ago, some of the peoples of Pre-Dorset culture moved inland and began to follow the migrating herds of Barren ground caribou between the barrenlands of Keewatin and the forests of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Numabin Bay specimen provides a hint that the Pre-Dorset presence in northern Saskatchewan was more extensive than has been thought.

End Notes

  1. Dr. Bryan Gordon of the National Museum of Civilization has examined images of this specimen and agrees that it is Pre Dorset. Dr.Urve Linnamae of the University of Saskatchewan also considers this to be a reasonable identification. Return to text.
  2. Christina Clavelle very kindly identified the species of this plant. Return to text.
  3. There are also reports of a rock painting about midway up the west side of Reindeer Lake. Return to text.


Downes, P.G.
1943 Sleeping Island: the Story of One Man's Travels in the Great Barren Lands of the Canadian North. Coward McCann, Inc. New York; Longmanns, Green & Company, Toronto.
Fedje, Allan
1976 Study of Pottery and Lithics of the Southend Area. SAS Newsletter 51(2):24-35.
Gordon, Bryan C.
1981 Man-Environment Relationships in Barrenland Pre-history. The Musk-Ox 28: 1-19.
Lipsett, Katherine A.
1990 Pictographs in Northern Saskatchewan: Vision Quest and Pawakan. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.
Meyer, David
1977 Pre-Dorset Settlements at the Seahorse Gully Site. Archaeological Survey of Canada Paper No. 57. National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Ottawa.

1983a The Prehistory of Northem Saskatchewan. In Tracking Ancient Hunters, edited by H.T. Epp and I. Dyck, pp. 141-170. Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, Regina.

1983b Blackduck and Laurel Occurences at Southend, Reindeer Lake. Saskatchewan Archaeology 4:39-40.

Minni, Sheila J.
1976 The Prehistoric Occupations of Black Lake, Northern Saskatchewan. Archaeological Survey of Canada Paper No. 53. National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Ottawa.
Wright, James V.
1975 The Prehistory of Lake Athabasca: an Initial Statement. Archaeological Survey of Canada Paper No. 29. National Museum of Canada Mercury Series, Ottawa.
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