AUTHOR’S NOTE: It has been a year since my last post, for which I apologize, but with recent events, I was not really into creating new Ottawa Rewind content, but I now feel recharged and ready to explore more intriguing history mysteries again…enjoy this latest post! -AK
OOPART. It sounds like a character from a Super Mario Brothers or Pokemon game, but OOPART is actually an acronym for “Out Of Place ARTifact”, which by definition is “an artifact of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest found in an unusual context, which challenges (or may appear or be purported to challenge) conventional historical chronology by its presence in that context.”
Examples of OPPARTs include such objects as the Antikythera mechanism, the Baghdad Battery and the Kensington Runestone. These OOPARTs are located throughout the world, but have any archaeological artifacts been uncovered here in Canada that do not match the accepted timelines and current historical context?
A bit of research revealed that indeed one such object exists, and it was found just 45minutes south of Ottawa.
Discovered 110 years ago in 1912, an archaeologist William Witemberg with the Museum of History excavated a peculiar site near Prescott, which he called “Roebuck”.
It seemed that residents of the property kept finding human skeletons protruding from the grounds, causing locals to question what was buried in Roebuck. The Museum of History was contacted and Witemberg arrived on the scene to investigate. What he and his team uncovered was a centuries-old palisade enclosed village that covered an area of 8 acres.
Archaeological excavations uncovered stone tools such as scrapers and adzes, bone needles and knives, pottery vessels and earthenware pipes and dozens of human skeletons. It seems approximately 500 years ago an Iroquoian agricultural community of about 1600 persons occupied the site.
To give some context to the size of this lost village, “Hochelaga” the village first encountered by Jacques Cartier (in present day Montreal) in 1535 contained 50 longhouses, and this Roebuck settlement contained 40. Almost as big as Hochelaga.
When Samuel Champlain returned to visit Hochelaga in 1608, it had vanished, and has not been found since. Was Roebuck the new home of the transplanted inhabitants of Hochelaga?
Archaeological excavations suggest that there were approximately 40 communal longhouses 30 metres in length surrounded by a double-walled palisade. The farmers on the site grew corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and tobacco.
Wintemberg soon discovered a a piece of “carved bone,” that he described as “suspiciously European.” This suspiciously Out Of Place Artifact was then stored away in the museum warehouse where its origin remained a mystery….until 2017 when the new Canadian History Hall required a fresh look at possibly important, but forgotten artifacts in storage.
According to former Curator of Central Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of History, Jean-Luc Pilon, the curious bone object was studied in detail and using a small sample taken from the odd cylindrical object it was carbon dated with an accelerator and mass spectrometer. The final results of the dating put the oddity at a date of between 1499 and 1578…and was determined to be a European machine lathed bone needle case for metal sewing needles. Wait, how did a European lathed bone metal needle case get into the grounds of a centuries old Iroquoian village far before Europeans were in the area?
Pilon suggests that the needle case was acquired by the residents of the Roebuck site well before Champlain entered North America when seasonal European/Basque whaling ships visited North America. But no European vessels could make it south along the St. Lawrence River past the rapids of Lachine in Montreal…so how did it get buried among the other artifacts?
One answer could be that the object was traded between tribes and made its way from the East Coast all the way to Roebuck south of Ottawa. Another theory is that a new European visitor made their way to Roebuck in the mid 1500’s, a castaway from Cartier’s expedition, or perhaps an expeditionary group using smaller boats came into the area and left behind objects of their making. The object was found among other dated Iroquois objects of the time which ruled out it was dropped there at a later time.
Whatever the “case” may be, literally and figuratively, this object is truly an Out Of Place Artifact, as the indigenous people of that time had neither lathes or metal needles. Regardless of the object, it is still remarkable that a large Iroquoian village of a population of about 1,500 people, rivalling the size of the legendary Hochelaga, made their village home south of Ottawa. Witemburg describes a bustling, but grim time in Canadian history as he and his team uncovered 85 skeletons and noted “The skeletal remains from the graves are undoubtedly remains of the people who inhabited the site.” but does not include the cannibalized, dis-articulated remains of 35 additional individuals.
Wintemberg would note that these cannibalized bones “may have been people of the site but it is more likely that most of them are the bones of enemies who had been roasted and eaten.”
In addition to the European lathe turned metal needle case at Roebuck, we have a number of odd artifacts in the region that defy the known history of this country. In Lake Ontario, near Kingston, The Museum of History acquired 7 Aboriginal pottery vessels from a time period before any contact with Europeans. The rare, intact pottery jars were found by sport divers in the St. Lawrence River and with carbon dating, it was revealed they were made 2,000 years ago.
Now whats even more remarkable than their ancient date is what they found INSIDE the jars. COFFEE BEANS?
Scientists found traces of caffeine inside the jars, which only occurs naturally in two plants in North America, including cacao from the Yucatán. The second plant, Ilex vomitoria, grows in states along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. How did a caffeinated product from the Mexican regions get all the way up to Kingston, Ontario? Again, was there a vast trade network in both directions sharing goods and cultural traditions?
Further to the west of Kingston, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Sodus, NY
the owner of a summer home in 1929 was repairing his breakwater after a heavy storm washed away some of his property and was trying to find a suitable place to rebuild his boathouse. The property owner, Augustus Hoffman, was excavating his land and unearthed an object found about twenty feet in from shore.
Hoffman picked up the iron object that he assumed was an old Indian tool and tossed it aside. A year later Hoffman showed the iron object to a friend who in turn contacted the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The object was confirmed to be an authentic Norse iron spearhead from the Viking Age. The Norse spearhead now resides in the Museum of Wayne County History, NY where it rests as an authentic Viking spear with its reasons for being there unknown.
Across from that, heading north to Prince Edward County, further OOPARTS have been found in mysterious ancient burial mounds, with skeletal remains sitting on thrones of stone with seas shells from the Gulf Of Mexico.
Again, these OOPARTs beg the question of how they got there and why aren’t we looking more into this fascinating facet of history. Was there an amazing and well organized ancient trade network channelling items from all over the world between the ancient civilizations of the time? Europeans trading with Indigenous peoples, native Maya or other MesoAmercian civilizations venturing north to Kingston up the Mississippi River, or vice versa? Maybe they met in the middle somewhere and had a kind of giant trading convention, sharing objects, culture traditions and rituals.
Until we investigate these mysteries further, we will just have to settle for imaginative speculation and wonderment.