PhD Dissertations: Beverly Alistair Nicholson, 1987

Human Ecology and Prehistory of the Forest Grassland Transition Zone of Western Manitoba

Viewed from the perspective of prehistory, the forest/grassland transition zone of western Manitoba has remained an unknown and largely uninvestigated tract of land, lying between the southern boreal forest Woodlands to the east, and the Northern Plains to the west. It is an area characterized by marked topographical and ecological diversity when compared to adjacent regions and biomes. Virtually all of the important subsistence resources of the adjacent forest and plains biomes are to be found within this forest/grassland transition zone. In addition, these diverse resources can be found to occur within a moderate distance each other due to the mosaic pattern of habitats which characterize the distribution of the parkland vegetation.

This thesis examines the interactive dynamics of the physical, biological and cultural variables operative in the study area, with the goal of developing models which account for the patterns observed in the archaeological record. These patterns result from activities associated with the local human ecology and the prehistoric adaptive strategies which developed and were utilized by the aboriginal occupants of the study area.

The early ethnohistoric accounts of the region have provided sufficient information to reconstruct the basic subsistence pattern of the Assiniboine, Cree, and Ojibwa, who utilized the area during the period of European contact. In addition, it has been possible to outline the adaptive changes in subsistence strategy which these several groups undertook in response to environmental and technological variable which resulted from the European inroads.

The Prehistoric period, dating from the commencement of retreat of the continental glaciers 12,000 years ago, is much more complex. The cohesive pattern that integrates developments thoughout this timespan is a pattern of flexible demographic and cultural response to new or changed environmental opportunities. While the details of adaptive strategies varied from group to group, the general patterns of subsistence can be shown to conform to a limited number of basic models which are closely tied to the environmental parameters of the biomes under consideration.

The human ecology of the forest/grassland transition zone of western Manitoba is characterized by patterns of flexibility in cultural response to changing environmental opportunities. The resulting adaptive strategies, which have been identified and modeled, indicate a varied repertoire of social and technological systems by means of which the various cultural groups effectively exploited the resources which were available. In addition, it can be demonstrated that 'risk reducing strategies' were employed to more fully exploit unique or temporary situations afforded by the interaction of physical, biological, and cultural variables affecting the total human environment.