Dug Out of Time


Recent news of a possible second ancient Norse settlement on Canadian soil could add an exciting new chapter to our nation’s history. Sea-faring explorers from Scandinavia traversing the Atlantic in planked ships to Newfoundland further ignites our imagination as to who visited our country over a thousand years ago. At that time, this country would not have seen anything like the Norse ships that reached our shores. I then wondered what watercraft people here would be familiar with thousands of years ago? Some research uncovered an archeological document from 1990 that reveals an ancient vessel inscribed on a stone found south of Ottawa, a vessel that is not a thousand years old, but apparently eight thousand years old.


Just south of the Nation’s Capital lies the tranquil cottage region of Rideau Lakes which comprises of Westport, Perth, Portland and Newboro. This area was once part of an archeological study in the 1980s that uncovered numerous artifacts from a period of time known as the Archaic period. The Archaic period occurred between 8000-800BC, or in other words, a time that was 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. This period of history saw a significant change in climate as the giant glaciers that once covered our region receded and new deciduous trees, animals and fish began to appear in a much warmer environment.

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Archeological sites from the Archaic period that uncovered numerous artifacts. (from Watson: Paleo Indian and Archaic Occupations) 

During this time after the glaciers receded, a giant body of water covered most of our region called the Champlain Sea, a vast ocean that contained whales, seals and other creatures, many of whom their remains have been found in local sand quarries. A blue whale skeleton was found in the 1800s in Smith Falls which now lies at McGill University in Montreal, and other ancient whale bones have been found in Pakenham, and even at the Ottawa Airport.


The Champlain Sea showing the extent of its coverage. (image: Wikipedia)

champlain sea

This composite drawing shows where the extent of the Champlain Sea and where it would have covered the region of the Rideau Lakes.

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An ancient whale skull from the Champlain Sea that once covered our area found near Pakenham, On.

Once the Champlain Sea eventually drained, people who once camped on its shore now moved into this new, warmer region and began to use stone tools, grinding and flaking them to assemble weapons for hunting in the bountiful lands that provided game, nuts and berries.

In 1990 an archeologist by the name of Gordon Watson compiled a report on some ancient objects recovered from these people south of Ottawa and determined they were from tribes that had gathered to hunt and fish on the shores of these Rideau lakes around 6000 B.C. (8,000 years ago). Rivers and lakes around here took their present conditions about 2,000 years after the retreat of the Champlain Sea. These ancient people that moved in used stone tools and copper obtained from ancient mines on Lake Superior to fashion weapons and utensils to survive in our region, for hunting and fishing in many of the same lakes we have cottages on today.


The inscribed rock that apparently shows a watercraft found in the Rideau Lakes area, presumably from the Archaic period. (from Watson: Paleo-Indian and Archaic Occupations)

Of particular interest within these artifacts archaeologists collected in the 1980s was a rock that has an inscription of what appears to be a watercraft with 6 people in it. It was found on the surface of an ancient campsite during this archeological exploration and was discovered along with chipped stone points, ground stone axes, copper projectile points and hooks. Although it cannot be radio carbon dated as it is not an organic material, finding Archaic type ground slate tools alongside it substantiates the idea that these ancient people from 8,000 years ago had a type of watercraft of which they inscribed its image onto a rock.



Archaic people would have carved out felled trees into dugout canoes used for fishing and travelling.

They most likely built boats for fishing in these newly formed glacial lakes, canoes dug out of logs from felled trees. Hacked and carved canoes would have been used for traveling the many waterways they used for fishing and trading objects, perhaps traversing great distances to acquire objects from as far away as Ohio and the Gulf Of Mexico. A number of ancient sites near Kingston have turned up salt water exotic sea shells and metals not from this area which shows they either used watercraft to travel extensively, or other people from far away, came here.

What was found on a rock in the 1980s could very well be the first image of a watercraft in Canada, as most other representations of boats in either petroglyph form (carved rock) or pictographs (painted images on rocks) date from 2,000 years or 5,000 years ago respectfully. The current whereabouts of this fascinating 8,000 year old boat inscription is unknown, perhaps it is hidden away with other artifacts on a storage shelf in some museum, or forgotten in a lost storage bin. It would be a shame if it is locked away since it could very well be one of, if not the first, image of a Canadian boat that should be displayed proudly for all to enjoy.


Andrew King, Ottawa Rewind, April 2016


Click to access oa50-1-watson.pdf






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