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Thoughts About the Augustine Mound at Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation

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Thoughts About the Augustine Mound at Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation

Joseph Augustine, now deceased, was an elder of the Red Bank First Nation, a community now known as the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation on the Little Southwest Miramichi River. He was aware of a place that he had visited as a boy and which his father had told him was a traditional place of ceremony in older days. In the early 1970’s, Joseph read a magazine article about a burial mound in Arizona, which reminded him of a slightly raised area at his special place. He therefore set out with a shovel to explore, and uncovered several artifacts including copper beads, rings and arrowheads. He took the relics to Saint Thomas University and showed them to Paul Morrissey who, in turn, contacted Dr. Chris Turnbull. At this point, it was becoming clear that a major archeological site had been discovered, and the site is now known as the Augustine Mound.

Joseph Augustine

Joseph Augustine, from

Mi’kmaq elder credited with discovering the Augustine Mound

Some people claim that the Augustine Mound was not a ‘discovery’ at all, but that it was known of by tradition. Some people are also unhappy with Joseph’s role in the matter. This is mentioned for the sake of those who hold that view, but it is not the purpose of this blog posting to explore it further.

Excavation of the site was begun following negotiations with the Mi’kmaq community, and the work was completed in the late 1970’s. This was a professional archaeological excavation by which artifacts were properly identified, catalogued, and preserved. Photographs show that the soils were highly stratified, having been placed there in small lifts as the Mound grew. This was useful in dating the different layers. Only part of the original Mound remains untouched.

It was discovered that the Mound was a burial place, and was surrounded by a circular area for dancing and other ceremonial activities. The artifacts were ancient and had been placed there from about 2,500 years ago until around 500 years ago. Local tradition hints that the ceremonial activities continued even after that. Another Mi’kmaq site in the vicinity is known as the Oxbow Site and has also been dated. It is now apparent that the Red Bank area has been continuously occupied by the Mi’kmaq and their ancestors for around 3,000 years. Both the Mound and the Oxbow Site have been named provincial and national historic sites.

Many artifacts were uncovered, but two findings were especially remarkable. One of these dealt with the degree of preservation of delicate objects, and the other with the spreading of local native cultures over a broader field, through migration and trade.

There were very many copper beads in the Mound, which must have come as trade goods from around Lake Superior. The chemistry of the copper oxide was such that some delicate objects were preserved. Joseph Augustine had found a birch bark package containing other objects, for example. Such a package would never have survived under other circumstances. The archaeologists also found textiles from pre-contact and even older days. These textiles included fabrics, cords, and headdresses and are so old that the fibers could only be identified as being from unspecified plant sources.

The findings also shed light on the spreading of cultures, and of trade goods from other distant places. The copper beads from the Lake Superior area have already been mentioned. In addition, the Mound itself and the burial practises that it represents are reminiscent of people from the Ohio area. It is not always easy to distinguish between migrations of people from one area to another and trade goods, but these findings seem to represent both. There was also evidence of pottery, adding to an existing understanding of the spread of ceramics technology. Pipes made of fired clay, necklaces and flint objects were also evidence of trade.

There is evidence of both cremations and of conventional burials, and it has been suggested that people of higher status would be more likely have been buried than to have been cremated.

More information about the Augustine Mound and the Oxbow Site is readily available online, but what does all of this mean?

I view the Mound as a treasure from which we have learned of earlier days at this Mi’kmaq community and of its people’s complex lives, including trade and migration. I am grateful that it was found and that the findings are available. But something that goes beyond the material world has been lost.

Few would admit to believing in spirits. But admit it or not, most people behave in a way that contradicts their assertions. Why, otherwise, would the scenes of tragedies be termed ‘sacred’? Why are there so many messages whispered in lonely cemeteries? Why, otherwise, could I have imagined the voices of native, Acadian and Loyalist children playing along the banks of my ancestral river, when everyone knows that they have all been gone for hundreds of years?

It seems that the spirit world requires willing observers in order to reveal itself. Willing observers were present to honour the Augustine Mound for 2,500 years, and some sort of aura, perhaps in another dimension of time and space hovered over the place. If anyone forgot about these spirits over the years, then they are aware of them again today. In the meantime, the spirits have not all departed, though the remains and artifacts of many of them have been excavated, sifted, and taken away. This is what has been lost: an almost timeless memorial to those who came before.


Written by johnwood1946

July 30, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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