Climatic Challenges and Changes: A Little Ice Age Period Response to Adversity-The Vickers Focus Forager/Horticulturalists Move On

By Nicholson, B. A.; Wiseman, Dion et al. | Plains Anthropologist, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Climatic Challenges and Changes: A Little Ice Age Period Response to Adversity-The Vickers Focus Forager/Horticulturalists Move On


Nicholson, B. A., Wiseman, Dion, Hamilton, Scott, Nicholson, Sylvia, Plains Anthropologist


Vickers focus people are believed to have practiced a lifeway based upon foraging and gardening in the Tiger Hills, a glacial-moraine upland, in southwestern Manitoba. It has also been argued that Vickers focus society was more socially complex than earlier hunter-gatherer groups in the region relying almost exclusively on bison hunting. There is evidence to suggest limited stratification in Vickers focus culture and clear evidence of a widespread exchange network that brought a variety of exotic materials and finely made ceramic vessels into the Lowton site. Other smaller seasonal sites have been identified nearby. These have been interpreted as satellites of the Lowton site. These people appeared as immigrants in the area circa A.D. 1400. Sometime around A.D. 1450 they left the Tiger Hills and have been identified further west in the Louder Sandhills around 100 years later, following an intensive foraging lifeway. There is evidence they had begun to exploit bison more intensively and this trend is further intensified in the Sanderson site in southeastern Saskatchewan, where a full-fledged bison hunting economy was followed. The cause for their relocation and altered subsistence strategy is believed to have resulted from a sudden, drastic cold spike during the Little Ice-Age.

Keywords: horticulture, climate change, settlement patterns, environmental biodiversity, subsistence change

Since 1985, the senior author has been researching a series of sites in southwestern Manitoba, characterized by an unusual mix of ceramic wares that indicate influences from the Eastern Woodland cultures of southern Minnesota/ northern Iowa and from the Middle Missouri area (Nicholson 1991:169). It is this unique assemblage of ceramics that forms the diagnostic basis for the Vickers focus, which is considered to be a part of the Plains Village phenomenon. The ceramics fit well with the Scattered Village phase materials described by Ahler (1993:67) and with Scattered Village phase materials from the Horner-Kane site (Gregg 1994:6.24). In addition, these sites are typically much larger than earlier hunter/gatherer sites of Blackduck people in the region and include a much richer assemblage of exotic lithic materials and other artifacts such as catlinite elbow pipes and, in particular, the ceramics which include Knife River Fine ware and both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vessel-rim effigy heads (Nicholson 1994:106-110). There is also evidence at some of these sites to suggest that these groups supplemented their lifeway with small-scale horticultural activity, based upon the occurrence of horticultural implements including stone and bone hoes (Nicholson 1991:169, 1994:107; Nicholson and Malainey 1995:97-98). Recently, the recovery of com phytoliths and starch grains from ceramic residues has shown conclusively that com was, in fact, consumed at several Vickers focus sites in the region (Surette 2005; Boyd et al. 2006). The sites are located in out-of-the-way areas on warm, wellwatered soils suitable for small-scale horticulture and in areas that would have provided a wide variety of seasonal resources to semi-sedentary groups (Nicholson and Hamilton 2001:65-67).

In this paper we address the question of the reasons for the disappearance of the Vickers focus people from the Tiger Hills area and their appearance later in the Lauder Sandhills to the west. We also discuss changes in the lifeways and subsistence strategies accompanying this translocation.

THE VICKERS FOCUS

In a recent interview, Mr. Dave Daniels an Elder from the Long Plain First Nation, recalled that he had been told by his father of a group of agrarian Indians that had once lived in the Tiger Hills. In the interview, Mr. Scribe asked, "Do you know any stories relating to this area?" Mr. Daniels replied:

In that area there, years ago, my father talk (sic) about a different type of Indian that lived there. It wasn't the Ojibway, it wasn't the Dakota, he called them Ichininewuk. …

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