A multi-proxy reconstruction of environmental change in the vicinity of the North Bay outlet of pro-glacial Lake Algonquin

Lay summary authored by Ryan Rabett. Read the full article at: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.54

At the end of the last Ice Age large frigid lakes formed in the Great Lakes region of North America in front of the retreating Laurentide ice‐sheet. Subject to the effects of periodic meltwater surges through the lake system and by the rebound of the land itself once the great weight of the ice had gone, these lakes underwent repeated changes in shape, depth and drainage over comparatively short periods (with individual phases tending to last hundreds rather than thousands of years). Despite such changeable conditions the archaeological evidence that survives from this time suggests that their shorelines and the surrounding environment were capable of sustaining forays by Late Palaeoindian groups venturing into this new landscape from further to the south, though information is scant.

Balsam Creek kettle lake basin

Balsam Creek kettle lake basin (Photo: R. Rabett).

For this project we aimed to produce a new environmental record for northeast Ontario, an area that featured centrally in the late drainage history of one such lake: Lake Algonquin. At its height, 13‐11,000 years ago, Algonquin was the largest lake in the Great Lakes Basin, filling the area of today’s Huron and Michigan Great Lakes as well as a swathe of adjacent lands. Following reconnaissance by the senior project author (PK), we extracted and analysed a core from a small lake in a suitable location c. 34 km north‐east of the city of North Bay, Ontario near the hamlet of Balsam Creek.

Coring in the Balsam Creek kettle lake

Coring in the Balsam Creek kettle lake (Photo: T. Rabett).

The environmental history preserved in the bed of the lake begins c. 10,500 years ago, following one of the final phases in Algonquin’s late evolution, and when the local landscape had become only recently ice‐free. From there on the core extends through time up to the last few hundred years. Among our results we identified two early intervals when deteriorating climate conditions significantly affected vegetation around the lake. Interestingly, both coincided with peaks in volcanic ash (attributed to eruptions in Oregon) also identified in the core, suggesting a possible association. Outside of these times, however, the character of the local forest did not change significantly, indicating that this and other small similarly enclosed lake basins may have been less susceptible to resource disturbance affecting the wider landscape. Given the scarcity of well‐preserved Late Palaeoindian sites in this part of Ontario, such locales could represent a profitable focus for future archaeological investigation of the first human pioneers to enter the Northlands.

Trekking to the Balsam Creek kettle lake

Trekking to the Balsam Creek kettle lake (Photo: T. Rabett).

Rabett, R.J., Pryor, A.J.E., Simpson, D.J., Farr, L.R., Pyne-O’Donnell, S., Blaauw, M., Crowhurst, S., Mulligan, R.P.M., Hunt, C.O., Stevens, R., Fiacconi, M., Beresford-Jones, D. and Karrow, P.F., 2019. A Multi-Proxy Reconstruction of Environmental Change in the Vicinity of the North Bay Outlet of Pro-Glacial Lake Algonquin. Open Quaternary, 5(1), p.12. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/oq.54

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