Research on the Ancestral Territory of the Waban-Aki Nation with the INRS

Write by Audrey-Maude Vézina

August 18, 2020

( update : September 15, 2020 )

In this 16th edition of Archaeology Month, follow Geneviève Treyvaud, associate professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), at the heart of collaborative projects with the INRS and the Ndakina Office of the Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation, where she is also an archaeologist.

Professor Treyvaud and the team from the Ndakina Office and the Waban-Aki Nation’s Environment and Land Offices paddle their kayak along the Bécancour and Saint-François Rivers, two routes used by the Abenaki (the people of the rising sun) to reach the St. Lawrence River from Maine. However, they are not hunting for artifacts—they are surveying the erosion that is threatening multiple archaeological sites along the rivers. 

L’INRS et les recherches sur le territoire ancestral de la Nation Waban-Aki
Photo : Bureau du Ndakina du Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki.

Because of climate change, the riverbanks are exposed to more waves and storm surges, which endanger the sites and the artifacts that lie buried there. In collaboration with the team of INRS Professor Pierre Francus, the project Érosion seeks to characterize the extent of the damage. “We use modelling, sediment stratigraphy, and drones to determine which sites are most in danger of disappearing, prioritize digs, and save artifacts,” explains the archaeologist. 

She says the project feels like working in reverse. “Usually in archaeology we find clues on a site and then we dig. With erosion, people find artifacts on beaches that may have come from further away. So we have to use the clues to find the site.”

L’INRS et les recherches sur le territoire ancestral de la Nation Waban-Aki
Photo : Bureau du Ndakina du Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki.

Shells and Ash Baskets

Professor Treyvaud’s research does not stop there. Since 2012, she has been studying wampum, a type of bead made from shells. She is able to analyze artifacts without damaging them using the CT scanner at INRS’s CT Scanning for Civil Engineering and Natural Resources Laboratory. Her goal is to identify the different types of shells and production methods. The project, INTROSPECT, has brought her team, composed of Pierre Francus, Mathieu Des Roches and Louis-Frédéric Daigle, all the way to Rennes to study a long beaded belt given to the Chartes Cathedral by the Wabanaki Nation in the late 17th century. 

L’INRS et les recherches sur le territoire ancestral de la Nation Waban-Aki
The Abaznodali8di project, which is interested in the reconstruction of the Waban-Aki Nation’s basketry manufacturing methods, analyzes ash baskets using a tomodensitometer. Photo: INRSLe projet Abaznodali8di, qui s’intéresse à la reconstruction des modes de fabrication de la vannerie de la Nation Waban-Aki, analyse des paniers de frênes grâce à un tomodensitomètre. Photo : INRS

More recently, she has turned her attention to baskets made of black ash, a tree that is under threat from the emerald ash borer. Professor Treyvaud is using the CT scanner to determine how the ash fibre reacts to different bends. Her goal is to find another resource with similar characteristics to replace black ash. She is testing both modern baskets and artifacts, which provides insight into how weaving techniques have evolved over time. 

 The two projects will be exhibited at Musée des Abénakis.