Researchers push back the clock on native farming history

December 11, 2000

Archeology and physical geography researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered the earliest evidence yet of agricultural activity in southwestern Ontario dating back 1,400 years.

"So far, we have found that the Princess Point people, who existed in the Grand River area from AD 500 to AD 1100 before the Iroquoian, were the first to instigate the planting of corn on flood plains," U of T geography professor Joseph Desloges says.

Due in large part to the fact that the river valleys were in an uncharacteristic period of calm with no serious flooding, humans were able to utilize the river embankments for agriculture, he says, adding that well-preserved remnants of these ancient corn crops can still be found in this area.

The Grand River makes an interesting lab for researchers because the lower Grand has undergone relatively slow physical changes over the years, contrary to the way many rivers evolve, says Desloges. "New exploration methods such as ground penetrating radar have allowed us to examine the composition, architecture and age of the flood plain."

"We want to know the origin of Iroquoian culture in southern Ontario and what the environmental factors were that may or may not have influenced how these human occupations occurred," says team member Gary Crawford of archeology.

Previous research on early corn agriculture focused only on the Iroquoian communities who came after the Princess Point people. This new research by Desloges and his team not only pushes back the clock on the establishment of agriculture, it details the transition of the Princess Point tribes from a hunting and gathering society into an agricultural one.

"This is one of the first examples that we see a group in the lower Great Lakes region coming together to form an agricultural community," says Desloges. "By studying this evidence we are seeing a major change in human culture in Canada and it helps us understand the links between these people and the environments they occupied." This research was funded by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the National Geographic Society in the U.S., the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
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CONTACT: Professor Joseph Desloges, Department of Geography, 416-978-4977, desloges@geog.utoronto.ca or Michah Rynor, U of T Public Affairs, 416-978-2104, michah.rynor@utoronto.ca.

University of Toronto

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