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Maritime Archaic

The Maritime Archaic is a North American cultural complex of the Late Archaic along the coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Martimes and northern New England. The Maritime Archaic began in approximately 7000 BC and lasted into the 18th century. The culture consisted of sea-mammal hunters in the subarctic who used wooden boats. Maritime Archaic sites have been found as far south as Maine and as far north as Labrador. Their settlements included longhouses, and boat-topped temporary or seasonal houses. They engaged in long-distance trade, as shown by white chert from northern Labrador being found as far south as Maine.

The Maritime Archaic is one cultural complex among several of the Archaic stage for North American peoples. The most likely direct descendants of the Maritime Archaic culture were the Beothuk of Newfoundland who, through susceptibility to Eurasian diseases, conflict with neighbouring native groups, European persecution, and a small population base, disappeared in the 19th century as a distinct tribe. The earlier Dorset culture, which died out before 1500 CE during Inuit expansion, was also a likely descendant. Scholars believe that the large and varied Algonquian-language group of native peoples present in subarctic eastern Canada today likely originated along the Saint Lawrence River.

The Maritime Archaic period is best known from a mortuary site in Newfoundland at Port au Choix. This site revealed over 100 graves embellished with red ochre. The graves contained many elaborate artifacts, including barbed bone points; daggers of ivory, antler, or bone; toggling harpoons; shell-beaded clothing; and a burial suit made from more than 200 skins of the now-extinct great auk. These finds indicated a stratified society with trade and some level of social complexity (Tuck, 1976).

Another significant Maritime Archaic find are the "Red Ochre Culture" burials throughout the Northeast United States. They may represent the last phases of the Maritime Archaic, as they contain significant finds of white chert artifacts common to other Maritime Archaic sites. This issue is currently debated among scholars.

See also


  • Fagan, Brian (2005): Ancient North America: 188-189. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Tuck, J. A. (1976): Ancient peoples of Port au Choix. The Excavation of an Archaic Indian Cemetery in Newfoundland. Newfoundland Social and Economic Studies 17.
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