The Mantle Site

The Mantle site is a large 16th century ancestral Huron (Wendat) community, which was discovered in an agricultural field just south of the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville. It was excavated by a team of ten archaeologists between 2003 and 2005 and was found to cover an area of almost ten acres (4.2 ha).

While the remains of multiple rows of palisade and 95 longhouses were documented, the first phase of occupation involved 52 houses surrounded by three rows of palisade. The population of the community at that time was about 1800 people. The community then contracted slightly and a ditch and an earthen embankment were added on the outside of the village, primarily for defence. The dirt from the trench was used to reinforce the palisade and both organic and inorganic refuse was deposited in the trench to move garbage out of the village – Ontario’s first case of waste stream management!

The Mantle Site Plan.
The Mantle Site Plan.

The planning for a community of this nature would have been remarkable. More than 60,000 trees were required to construct the houses and palisade over the twenty year life span of the village. These would have been cut with only stone tools. While fishing and gathering of wild plants were important economic activities, the fields surrounding the village for a distance of several kilometres in every direction were cleared and planted with corn. Each person required a pound of corn every day. This means that the modern Town of Stouffville is actually within the corn fields of a 500 year old village. More than 100,000 artifacts were recovered from the site including ceramic cooking pots, flint arrow tips and scraping tools, stone axes, and awls and beads made of animal bone. Of special interest was the discovery of twenty ceramic vessels with effigies modelled into their rims, which are unique in Ontario. They have been found mainly on New York Iroquois
sites in central New York State, and the effigies are thought to relate to mythological “corn-husk” figures, which helped with the fertility of the fields and guaranteed corn crops. These artifacts suggest considerable interaction between the Mantle population and other communities south of Lake Ontario.

Pipe bowl effigies were also recovered, representing animals such as the woodpecker, the owl and the turtle. The use of small punctates in the decoration of another ceramic pipe effigy may reference tattooing. It is thought that when the smokers utilized pipes with these animal effigies, they actually assumed the life forces of these animals, many of which are central to their religious beliefs.

It would appear that the Mantle site represents a community comprised of the people from several villages that had previously joined together in the late 15th century, perhaps for defensive purposes. A generation after their occupation of Mantle, this community abandoned their ancestral homeland, possibly joining with others to form one of the Huron tribes in the Orillia-Georgian Bay area.

For more information, read The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of a Huron-Wendat Community, published by Altamira Press.

Watch acclaimed documentary Curse of the Axe about the discovery of the Mantle site.