For decades, archaeologists have known that wetlands are exceptional sources of food, medicine, water and other resources necessary to surviving in nature (Nicholas 1991 etc.).  Many peer-reviewed articles from fieldwork in the north-east of North America have illustrated that the abundance of archaeological sites around wetlands are second to none.  Often considered to be the grocery store of the prehistoric period, wetlands provide virtually everything required for survival on the changing landscape.  Wetlands are currently not considered as a source for archaeological resources in New Brunswick.  While no records are available for wetland loss in NB, in parts of Ontario, ~80% of wetlands have been lost, and the United States suggests as much as 50% loss since European arrival.

     The first people to inhabit the region (more than 10, 000 years ago) were highly mobile hunter‐gatherers who were very proficient and well adapted to the existing tundra environment.  Through the identification of lithic material chosen for their stone tools, it is clear that they had a wide-ranging area of resource procurement and habitation.  It is not uncommon to find lithic material on Palaeoindian sites that originated many hundreds of kilometres away.  Due to the rapidly changing environment and low capacity for resources on the tundra, travel was a necessity to follow migrating caribou and other game along with newly established plant resources and using wetlands as more stable areas of resource procurement.  Thousands of diagnostic Palaeoindian artifacts have been recorded throughout north-eastern North America.  Many of these well‐studied Palaeoindian sites are associated with either wetlands or former lakes/ponds, for example, such sites as the Wapanucket 8 site in Middleborough, Mass., Bull Brook in Ipswich, Mass., the Shoop site in Harrisburg, Penn. and the Red Wing site in Ontario.  The location of late Pleistocene/early Holocene archaeological sites are frequently associated with wetlands for many reasons including access to food resources and fresh water.  In a landscape of continual climactic change, wetlands were a source of stability that attracted game of all forms and were some of the first areas to be colonised by plants for use as tools, foods and medicinal purposes.  In a Maine Archaeological Society Study Unit on Palaeoindian sites, the Maine State Archaeologist Arthur Spiess writes “Most of these sites are located in sandy soils in proximity to some sort of stream or wetland” (Wilson and Spiess 1990, pg. 20).

Ioway mat lodge – made from reeds found in a wetland. Great insulation for cold weather habitation.

Ioway mat lodge – made from reeds found in a wetland. Great insulation for cold weather habitation.

Palaeoindian artifacts, throughout the north‐east, are widely distributed but controlled by the presence of rivers, lakes and wetlands (National Park Service, 2006).  “In the course of sequential settlement moves emphasizing locations optimal for acquiring foods (wetlands and river terraces)…” (ibid.). Describing a Late Palaeoindian site that overlooks the swampy headwaters of a small drainage in south‐western Maine, the author wrote “Perhaps it was the swamp that attracted people to this location, analogous to a postulated Early Holocene wetlands‐oriented settlement pattern postulated for southern New England” (Bourque 1992).

     As the cultural sequence progresses, more work has been done to research palaeoenvironments, which helps to identify how and where people lived in the past.  Palaeoenvironmental reconstructions have been conducted in Maine and other locations that illustrate changes throughout the Holocene, some from open lakes to marshes (Funk 1992, Nicholas 1988, Sanger & Newsom 2000, Swayze 2006).  “The intermediate stage, the marshes, would have been the most productive areas from a human subsistence viewpoint, as they would have provided fish, fowl, aquatic mammals, and edible plants” (ibid. pg 14).  Throughout the middle Holocene (approx. 7,000‐3,000 years ago) “The Middle Archaic‐Late Archaic continuity model builds on another, the so‐called ‘two population model’ (Sanger 1996b), which posits a cultural adaptation to interior Maine and its wetland environments that was distinct from a coastal cultural adaptation for much of the pre‐European period (see also Robinson l996a).  We know that key resource procurement areas, such as wetlands, changed through time from lakes, to marshes, to peatlands (Almquist‐Jacobson and Sanger 1999), while significant upland vegetation species underwent variability in terms of species mix (Almquist‐Jacobson and Sanger 1995)” (ibid. pg. 18).

Basketry from the Biderbost site. A ~2000 BP Washington State wetland site.

Basketry from the Biderbost site. A ~2000 BP Washington State wetland site.

“Middle and Late Archaic sites in central Maine tend to be found in close proximity to wetlands. Is this an artifact of our still relatively small sample?  Or are we detecting a pattern of settlement related to exploitation of wetlands, similar to that espoused by Nicholas (1991, 1998) for southern New England?  Could it also be that changes in the environment over time have either masked or affected the archaeological record in some way, such that only those sites close to wetlands have survived?  We suspect the association is culturally significant; that is, people found it desirable to be in close proximity to wetlands” (Sanger & Newsom pg 13).

     The Robbins Swamp research conducted by Nicholas (1992b), indicates that during the early Holocene, wetland mosaics were a major component of the landscape and provided a stable, reliable and productive source for food/water, plant and animal resources, as well as ideal locations for habitation.  Incredibly, Nicholas goes on to report that of the 37 early Holocene sites recorded around Robbins Swamp, 38% are located on river and stream terraces, 32% on wetland margins, 8% on wetland margins/river terraces and 22% on former lake terraces above wetlands!  A further 128 Middle and Late Archaic sites are also recorded around Robbins Swamp.  With a strong focus by aboriginal groups on wetlands in the first five or six millennia post-glaciation, to ignore them, leaves a massive hole in our understanding of the early populations of the region.  To ignore wetlands, not only as a focal point but also as a source of archaeologically relevant data, one extinguishes virtually all hope of recovering any organic artifacts or ecofacts that may tell us far more information than is normally collected from a typical New Brunswick archaeological site.

     With the number of wetland-associated archaeological sites considered as abundant as the confluence of streams (highest magnitude), it is also no wonder that they are focal points of significant ceremonial sites.  Many important burial/cemetery sites in the New Brunswick are associated with wetlands (Jemseg Crossing, Cow Point red ochre cemetery, Augustine Mound), not to mention the large volume of important habitation sites.  We know from detailed analyses of faunal assemblages from archaeological sites in Maine (Almquist-Jacobson & Sanger 1999), that wetland plant and animal species were an important part of the Native diet and also of their spirituality (the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq story of Glooscap, which includes mentions of beaver, moose, turtle, bulrush etc.).

Cow Point Cemetery under flood conditions

An aerial view of the Cow Point cemetery (during a flood event), which overlooks the Grand Lake Meadows (wetland)

The scarcity of resources from the Palaeoindian period to the Historic period meant that the presence of relatively stable hydrological environments were attractors to both game and plant species and thus a very desirable location for people searching for food and water.  This stability in resources also encouraged extended periods of habitation and a return to a specific location, leading to the formation of formal cemeteries.  Therefore, we must first determine whether there are any heritage resources present in and around these wetlands before they can be allowed to be destroyed.

A ~5,000 year old site recorded within a wetland near Moncton, New Brunswick.

A ~5,000 year old site recorded within a wetland near Moncton, New Brunswick.



Bourque, B.

1992        Excavations at Cobbosseecontee Dam South. In The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 32.2: 15-29.


Funk, R.

1992        Some Major Wetlands in New York State: A Preliminary Assessment of their Biological and Cultural Potential. In Man in the Northeast 43: 25-41.


Hasenstab, R.

1991        Wetlands as a Critical Variable in Predictive Modeling of Prehistoric Site Locations: A Case Study from the Passaic River Basin. In Man in the Northeast 42: 39-61


Jeandron, J.

2005        New Brunswick’s Aboriginal Land and Resource Use Study. Report prepared for MAWIW: The Negotiations Preparedness Initiative.


National Park Service, Archaeology Program Accessed 24/03/17


Nicholas, G.

1988        Ecological Levelling: The Archaeology and Environmental Dynamics of Early Postglacial Land Use. In Holocene Human Ecology in Northeastern North America, George Nicholas ed. pp. 257-296.

1991        Putting Wetlands into Perspective. In Man in the Northeast 42: 29-38. 

1992a      Directions in Wetland Research. In Man in the Northeast 42: 1-9.

1992b      Places and Spaces: Changing Patterns of Wetland Use in Southern New England. In Man in the Northeast 42: 75-98.


Sanger, D. and B. Newsom

2000        Middle Archaic in the Lower Piscataquis River, and its Relationship to the Laurentian Tradition in Central Maine. In The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 40.1: 1-22.


Simon, B.

1991        Prehistoric Land Use and Changing Paleoecological Conditions at Titicut Swamp in Southeastern Massachusetts. In Man in the Northeast 42: 63-74


Swayze, K.

2006        The Potential for Archaeological Discovery in Organic Terrain in Canada  Accessed 24/03/17


Wilson, D. and A. Spiess

1990        Fluted Point Paleoindian Study Unit. In The Maine Archaeological Society Bulletin 30.1: 15-31.