Articles

THEY’RE LOOTING OUR HISTORY

FRED BODSWORTH November 1 1952
Articles

THEY’RE LOOTING OUR HISTORY

FRED BODSWORTH November 1 1952

THEY’RE LOOTING OUR HISTORY

The evidence that could tell the mysterious story of Canada’s dim past is being carted away by rich American collectors and tourists armed with shovels. Will our governments act in time to save the fabulous finds on Manitoulin Island?

Canadian scientists are racing against time to save priceless relics

IN THE history books of Canada there is an empty chapter so tantalizing in its mystery that scientists have devoted their lives to its solution. Who were the first Canadians? Where did they come from? Were they the immediate ancestors of the Indians, or were they an earlier race again? Did they cross the Bering Sea into Alaska to populate the new continent? Or was this land itself the crucible of their civilization? And what happened to them?

To these intriguing questions science has no firm answer. The missing pieces to the historical jigsaw puzzle be under ancient soils in the form of relics of men long dead. And yet for more than a quarter of a century Canadian archaeologists have been frustrated by the fact that the relics have been consistently looted by rich hobbyists from the United States.

Since World War II the plundering of Canadian archaeological sites by amateur collectors, and U. S. dealers who are interested only in the cash value of the relics, has destroyed forever much of the evidence that could clear up not only the unanswered mysteries of primitive man in Canada but more recent historical puzzles regarding the French regime and the era of exploration.

Tons of flint tools and weapons that might have

FRED BODSWORTH

filled in the missing chapter about our Stone Age citizens lie uncatalogued and unrecorded in amateur curio cabinets south of the border. These historical gaps may never be filled because once a relic is removed from its environment by an untrained digger it becomes useless to the scientist.

Canadians will probably never know the exact site of Hochelaga, the Indian village somewhere near the present location of Montreal, where Jacques Cartier in 1535 made one of the first European contacts with the North American Indian. Archaeologists of the National Museum of Canada thought they had discovered the site a few years ago, but when a crew went to excavate they found it already riddled with holes dug by amateurs who had been tipped off to the find by newspaper stories. The site was so disturbed that it was impossible to prove with certainty that it was the long-searched-for Hochelaga.

Relic hunters several years ago destroyed all hope of ever proving that the wreck of an ancient ship on Manitoulin Island was the long-sought Griffon of the French explorer. La Salle. The story of the Griffon, the first ship to ply the Great

Lakes, is one of the most tantalizing of all the mysteries of Canada’s history. In 1679 La Salle sailed her to Lake Michigan, loaded her with furs, and then he sent the ship back toward Niagara. The Griffon was never seen again and for more than two centuries historians have sought a clue that would explain the disappearance of this earlyday Marie Celeste. They might have found their answer on Manitoulin Island.

In the Thirties shifting sand revealed an old decaying wreck on Manitoulin’s western shore. Tourists had a heyday stripping it. Historians reached the scene only to find a few weathered oak timbers remaining. They suspected it was the Griffon but practically everything of historic value had disappeared. The ornate brass fittings had passed into the hands of U. S. dealers, been resold and lost. In the end, the experts had only one thirty-inch iron bolt and nut, several pounds of lead and some timbers.

The iron holt was sent to Paris where it was identified as the product of a French smelting process that was discontinued before the 1700s. The Griffon was the only French ship built on the Great Lakes before the year 1700.

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They Loot Our History

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suggesting strongly that it was the Griffon, for later Great Lakes vessels were never caulked this way. But the lead had already been melted down and mixed with solder by Manitoulin fishermen for net sinkers. It was impossible to analyze it chemically *td determine definitely if the lead was of seventeenth-century manufacture.

Timbers from the wreck were studied

by tree-ring experts and compared with other oak timbers which are known to have been cut in the Niagara area about the time that the Griffon was built there. The growth patterns were identical.

Thus, historians had three clues which strongly suggested that the Manitoulin wreck was that of the Griffon. But they regard this evidence as much too flimsy for a definite statement that the wreck actually was the long-lost Griffon.

One of the mysteries of Canada’s prehistoric era for which archaeologists

have sought an answer for years is the date at which the Indians of eastern Canada changed from a hunting to an agricultural people—a switch which changed Canadian histon,-. For when the Indians learned to grow com they won more leisure, better health and soaring tribal populations. Out of this developed the tribal warfare and battle skills which played a prominent part for two hundred years in the colonization history of Canada and the U. S.

Point Pelee, at the western end of Lake Erie, would have provided the answer, but a wealthy Detroit dentist

who • ilected Indian relics completely destroyed Pelee’s story before Canadian arcliaeologists learned of the rich finds he was turning up with his shovel. Canadian museums didn't even learn of the dentist's collection until he died a few years ago and the collection was turned over to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

In the summer of 1952 archaeologists dashed to Pelee for another attempt to date the first development of agriculture in Canada. A Windsor man digging a trench at Point Pelee for the foundation of a new cottage had uncovered two skeletons and was so fascinated by his find that he started digging up the whole vicinity.

Once more the expertshad arrived too late. The clues that might have told when Canada’s first agriculturalists lived were heaped in a meaningless jumble in a cottage back yard.

Since the war there has been a tremendous increase in archaeological activity in the Canadian Arctic, British Columbia, the prairies and Ontario. The emphasis has been on locating and excavating ancient sites of Stone Age men who peopled Canada thousands of years before Christ was born.

Recent archaeological finds in western Canada. Manitoulin Island and the north shore of Lake Huron indicate that Canada is not nearly as "new” a countryas our history books have claimed. Primitive men lived and hunted here several thousand years before the Pyramids were built. Thousands of years before the Aztecs, the Incas, the Sioux and Iroquois, the first Canadians were hunting now-extinct mammoths and mastodons when much of Canada was still in the grasp of Ice Age glaciers. They lived before even the birchbark canoe and bow and arrow were invented. Where did they come from, and when?

This is the story—the first pages of mankind's history in what is now Canada—that archaeological sleuths of the National Museum of Canada are trying to piece together.

They are working against stiff odds, for nothing but indestructible stone tools and odd flecks of charcoal and bone, now buried beneath a couple of feet of clay, remain to tell the story. Even most of the bone has disintegrated now because of the acid of the sail. Frequently archaeologists must reconstruct the story of thousands of years from a few chips of sharpened stone.

The modem archaeologist puts Sherlock Holmes in the shade. For example: Microscopic bits of pollen preserved in the soil are a clue to the plants which grew when early men were there. Knowing the plant growth, the archaeologist can determine whether the climate was moist and cool or warm and dry. and then, knowing the climate, he can say whether his ancient people lived during the rainy period which followed the Ice Age or later.

To place relics in their correct period the archaeologist has a bagful of ingenious tricks. For example: Bones decompose chemically at « rate which archaeologists are learning to measure and a laboratory examination of an ancient skull can sometimes tell how long it lay in the soil. And annual growth rings still discernible in lumps of charcoal can frequently be used to date the period at which all artifacts found on the same level were used.

But all these tricks of the archaeological trade are valueless when an amateur gets in first and scatters the clues heiter skelter with his shovel in a hasty search for loot.

"Every site occupied by early man is a document of Canadian history,” explains K. R. Harper, archaeologist at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. “If an amateur digs into a site without

recording everything he finds and where he found it he destroys the document so that it cannot be read by anyone else. It’s exactly the same as if someone years ago had walked into the Parliament Buildings at Ottawa and removed the dates and signatures from all the letters and documents which led up to Confederation before historians had seen them.”

One of the finest collections of Canadian Indian lore is possessed by a Wisconsin millionaire who has spent many summers collecting in Ontario. Canadian archaeologists know the collection only through secondhand reports. It is said to consist of thousands of specimens, including sixty bird-stones—birdlike ornaments carved from slate, so rare that their creators and the use made of them are still mysteries.

Not only are amateur collectors looting our history, they are destroying tourist sites of great potential value as well. The wreck of La Salle’s Griffon, if it could have been definitely identified and preserved, could have been turned into one of northern Ontario’s greatest tourist attractions.

A giant Indian burial mound near Thamesville, in southwestern Ontario, might have made a tourist attraction as famous as the Pueblo ruins of Arizona Originally it was ninety feet high containing thousands of burials. Used by Indians for centuries, the deeply worn Indian trails leading to it were still visible until a decade or two ago. Then it was discovered by U. S. “pot-hunters” and looted in a few years. Amateur diggers removed thousands of copper beads, knives, arrow points—all of them fashioned from copper which the Indians obtained by trading with tribes of the Lake Superior area. There were also hundreds of ornaments carved from marine shells identified as a type which came from Gulf of Mexico waters. There is now no trace of the collections into which most of this evidence of widespread Indian trading disappeared. Local residents can only say that skulls and relics were carted off by the bagful in cars, most of w-hich had U. S. licenses. The one-time ninetv-foot mound was scattered until today it is only about fifteen feet high. The National Museum sent an archaeologist to investigate it in 1949 and all he could find were a few bits of shell and bone, and one copper bead.

Another Indian burial site at Melbourne, west of London, has been destroyed by gravel diggers. Much of the gravel was used for surfacing a local schoolyard. Archaeologists, too late again, searched the schoolyard for Indian artifacts and found the gravel dotted with fragments of human bone

No one made the archaeologists’ problems public until the summer of 1951 when Tom Lee. who had been studying southern Ontario archaeology for the National Museum moved north to Manitoulin Island. He began searching for traces he expected to find there of the Stone Age people whom he believes migrated into the Great Lakes area as soon as the last great continental glacier began to recede.

Lee is a lean weather - browned scientist with a fondness for blue jeans and a cowpuncher hat. He was an RAF radar expert in Burma during the war but found electronics "pretty dull stuff" and. as soon as he got home, he returned to his old love, archaeology —“for a bit of excitement.”

The most exciting day of his life came when he was on Manitoulin in the summer of 1951. Stone Age men used quartzite rock for their tools and weapons when they couldn’t find flint and, since Manitoulin has numerous

ridges of a particularly pure form of quartzite, Lee was certain he would find Stone Age workings there.

While driving out of Sheguiandah, a hamlet on Manitoulin’s east shore, Lee’s attention was attracted to a glittering piece of quartzite in a garden owned by Tom Lewis. It was j'ust a chip. Lee picked it up. turned it over in his hand, and saw the radiating lines of a blow made thousands of years ago which told him the chip was not the result of a natural occurrence but the product of a blow by man.

Lee picked up several more chips in

the garden plot, then he started finding crude, oval-shaped, quartzite blades. But he knew that the Stone Age men who fashioned them could never have lived at this precise spot for at that time Tom Lewis’ garden would have been under sixty feet or more of water. Where had the quartzite chippers lived? A quarter of a mile away was a high hill, the top of which would have been a small island when Lake Huron was sixty feet deeper than

Lee climbed the hill. On its thirtyacre top his boots crunched with every

step into a solid carpet inches thick of quartzite chips, spearpoints and blades —the richest Stone Age find ever recorded for Canada The site was wooded and had never been farmed. Its soil cover was thin because quartzite is a very hard rock that erodes slowly and turns into soil at a slow rate. Even on the surface Lee picked up scores of stone weapons and tools with edges skilfully chipped to knife-blade sharpness—heavy choppers that had probably been used as we use axes today, small blades that had served

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for whittling and meat-carving, large round-ended blades for skin scraping, and points for tipping spears. There were no arrow points or pottery, indicating that the Manitoulin men had hired in a day when pottery and the bow were still unknown.

“It made me feel drunk." Lee said afterward. “I felt as if the people who had lived here had heard me coming up the hill and had run off into the woods just a few minutes before I arrived."

He kept his find secret for a year.

Last summer he made a deal with the farmer who owned the hill giving the National Museum exclusive digging rights for one year, and returned with a crew of university student diggers. He discovered in the first couple of days of digging that he had a collectors' bonanza. Man-made artifacts extended to a depth of twenty-seven inches. This lowest level was lived upon about ten thousand years ago. Lee estimates, when the present site of Sudbury sixty miles northeast may still have been covered by glacier. Apparently various Stone Age tribes occupied the site.

quarrying its rich quartzite deposit for eight thousand years. At about the time of Christ the evidences of occupation peter out.

Lee staked out four ten-feet-square plots for minutely painstaking excavation. He taught his diggers how to work gradually down through the clay and quartzite rubble with trowels, knives and paint brushes, carefully brushing back the earth a spoonful at a time so that any artifacts uncovered could be studied and photographed where they lay: Not a chip of charcoal or a pin-head-size carbonized weed seed

could be overlooked. One blackened mustard seed, preserved as charcoal in an ancient fire pit, told Lee more about the living habits of the Manitoulin quartzite chippers than did fifty spearpoints.

If the collectors could be kept away so that this painstaking technique could be continued through several summers of excavating Lee knew that here on Sheguiandah Hill he might assemble the evidence to prove that these first Canadians migrated from Siberia, and end for all time the archaeological controversy as to whether Bering Strait at one time was the front door and not the backdoor of North America.

But his digging franchise was for one year. Next year there would be nothing to prevent a rich collector from leasing the site and looting its ancient record.

Lee had tried too many times to keep his discoveries secret, and had failed. This time he changed his strategy. He practically invited the looters to come right ahead—and in doing so he hoped to stir up the public sympathy that would produce for Canada, or Ontario at least, a law that would curb the looters of history before Sheguiandah fell completely to their

He called newspapermen into his camp told them frankly where the site itself was located and told them that Dr. F. J. Alcock, chief curator of the National Museum, had called it the most important archaeological discovert' ever made in Canada. “It would make a collector’s mouth water,” Lee said. “But this hill is a precious treasure of Canada’s history and heritage. If governments stand by and permit this site to be looted, as so many others have been, you can say that Tom Lee is going back into radar and quitting Canadian archaeology for good.”

As Lee expected, collectors were soon on the scene. One Chicago collector told Lee bluntly that he would be back next year when the National Museum’s agreement had expired.

Lee’s announcement brought the looting issue into the open. Other Canadian archaeologists, who had been plagued by the same problem for years and had stewed in silence, now spoke out strongly in Lee's support. Manitoulin Island residents, who had watched with alarm as their fishing and tourist trade had dwindled over the years, began clamoring for Sheguiandah's preservation and restoration as a new island tourist attraction.

In Canada, protection of historic sites is said by legal authorities to be a provincial responsibility. Saskatchewan. Manitoba and the Northwest Territories have antiquities acts of limited scope in force now. Ontario, the target of most of the looters, is wide open to any collector or dealer who can lift a shovel.

Archaeologists hope to win legislation to prohibit unauthorized digging and removal of relics in sites specified by a provincial archaeologist, prohibit removal of all relics from Canada and prohibit the buying and selling of relics (for this only encourages looting for

Is Tom Lee’s gamble going to pay off? Is his ancient quarry at Sheguiandah to have the protection of an Ontario antiquities act before the looters can swoop in'?

It’s going to be touch and go The Ontario legislature can't do anything before spring. Meanwhile, some of the missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle ot our history are being eyed avidly by the big-time dealers and collectors of New York, Detroit, Chicago and points south, ir