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Proof of ancient farming at Winnipeg Forks

08/28/2013 10:33 EDT | Updated 10/28/2013 05:12 EDT
Archeologists have found the first indication that farming was an important activity at The Forks, dating back hundreds of years.

The Forks is a historic site at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in Winnipeg.

Mireille Lamontange, an archeologist and the museum's education programming manager, said the most significant find is the discovery of 191 hearths or campfire pits.

"[It] speaks to the extent of the use of the site, furthering this idea we've always had about The Forks that it's been a stopping, trading and meeting place," she said. "It takes it to another level as to being a living space and working space."

She said of the 400,000 artifacts found overall, a number were specifically related to agriculture.

"Another really significant find is the discovery of some fragments of scapula hoe, some squash knives, some residue of maize and beans and tobacco," she said. "All of this points to early forms of agriculture here at The Forks, which would be the first time that farming evidence has been found at The Forks."

Earlier digs at The Forks have failed to turn up similar evidence.

Lamontagne said another important discovery are the 13,000 ceramic shards found, including 121 vessels.

"The styles on these ceramic vessels show a lot of diversity and essentially convergence of cultural traditions," she said.

Lamontagne said the artifacts fill in the other half of the historical picture.

"What was most fascinating for me … was in speaking with elders back in June …they explained that 32 generations ago, or 500 to 700 years ago, a major peace meeting or treaty occurred between seven to 11 different First Nations at that site, and it's right there in the oral history. So here we have this wonderful example of how oral history can come in and completely support what we're seeing in the archeological evidence."

She said it provides a much clearer picture of the rich history of The Forks.

"The combination of all of the parts is that in the last 500 to a 1000, out of the 6000 plus year history of The Forks, there was a more extensive use of The Forks, a more intensive use of The Forks in that last 500 years prior to the arrival of Europeans."

The museum will release more information about the finds Wednesday morning.

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