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New study upends timeline of Iroquoian history

Alan Flurry

New research by an international team based at UGA raises questions about the timing and nature of early interactions between Indigenous Peoples and Europeans in North America:

The European side of first contact with indigenous people and settlement in northeast North America is well known from European sources. Until now it's been assumed that the finds of dated European artifacts provide a timeline for the indigenous peoples and settlements of this period as well. New research suggests this may be a mistake in cases where there was not direct and intensive exchange.

Radiocarbon dating and tree-ring evidence shows that three major indigenous sites in Ontario, Canada, conventionally dated 1450-1550 are in fact 50-100 years more recent. This dates the sites to the worst period of the Little Ice Age, around 1600.

"This seems extraordinary: Given this was only 400 years ago, how can we have been wrong by as much as 25 percent?" said first author Sturt Manning, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology, chair of the Department of Classics and director of the Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory.

Manning is lead author of "Radiocarbon Re-dating of Contact-era Iroquoian History in Northeastern North America," published Dec. 7 in Science Advances. Other Cornell authors include Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory senior researcher Carol Griggs '77, Ph.D. '06, and doctoral student Samantha Sanft. The paper represents the first major findings of the "Dating Iroquoia" project, a National Science Foundation-funded effort led by Manning and co-director Jennifer Birch (University of Georgia).

The UGA-Cornell team first examined the Warminster site, which is believed to be the location visited by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1615. Using radiocarbon isotope and dendrochronological dating, combined with the use of a mathematical technique called Bayesian chronological modelling, the researchers determined the location to date from between 1585 and 1624, which corresponded well with the timing of Champlain’s visit and archaeological evidence and provided confirmation of the accuracy of their techniques. 


The team then assessed a series of well-known, high profile settlements, Draper, Spang, and Mantle. In the sixteenth century, Iroquoian societies lived in village communities for approximately ten to 50 years at a time; once the local resources were exhausted, the community relocated the village. Archaeological evidence indicates that these three villages were occupied in sequence by the same ancestral Huron-Wendat community. 


UGA authors include Birch, assistant professor in the department of anthropology; Megan Conger, a doctoral candidate in anthropology; and Carla Hadden, research scientist at the Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The research was supported in part by grants from the UGA Office of the Vice President for Research, the UGA Graduate School, and the National Science Foundation. 


Image: Co-author Carla Hadden working on samples at the Center for Applied Isotope Studies, University of Georgia.


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