Nistam Ka-ke Askihkokechik Puskwaw-askihk : an assessment of Besant-Sonota pottery on the Canadian plains
As archaeologists, our understanding of the past lifeways of First Nation people is like a pebble in a mountain. We peer through windows of darkness and attempt to reconstruct and interpret the past. First Nation peoples have failed to fully maintain the knowledge of their ancestors and therefore much has been lost. Much of what remains of the oral tradition only goes back a few generations. There are, however, legends that echo a history that goes as far back as the ice sheet and the megafauna that roamed near it. There are no detailed depictions of the history of a specific First Nation. If it has survived through the cultural collision between the Native American and the western world, then it would be truly rare. However, with the study of the material culture we are beginning to glimpse into the past. For the past few centuries, European descendants, mainly archaeologists, have accumulated a substantial amount of archaeological data spanning several thousand years of First Nations history. It has been stated that approximately 2000 years ago an archaeological cultural phase, known as Besant, emerged on the Northern Plains. It has been widely recognized in the discipline as one of the most sophisticated bison hunting cultures to thrive on the Plains. Later a pottery-bearing sub-phase called Sonota was also identified. Their occupation of the Northern Plains spanned a period of 800 years before the lithic tool and pottery making technology changed. The pottery making technology of this group was comparable to that of other archaeological cultures during the same time period, the Middle Woodland period. Very little is known about the Woodland wares that were produced on the Northern Plains. In the early 1970's it was suggested that the culture produced unique wares. Several sites with this pottery were identified in the northern United States. During this same time period, very little was known about Sonota-Besant sites on the Canadian grassland and adjacent parklands. As archaeological research progressed, more and more pottery with characteristics similar to Sonota wares was unearthed. Sonota-Besant vessels are cord-roughened and/or smooth and decoration, although limited, consisted of either punctates or a combination of bosses and punctates. An assessment of the pottery despite the limited number of sites was necessary in order to determine its characteristics and emergence onto the Canadian Plains.