In the east, where the French compiled much ethnographic information before European diseases spread through the Great Lakes basin in the 1630s, the distribution of early 17th-century populations is approximately known. Most of the St Lawrence valley was uninhabited, population densities were low wherever the economy depended on hunting, fishing, and gathering, and sharply higher where agriculture was practised. Non-agricultural peoples were highly mobile; although territories were extensive, contact between neighbouring groups was frequent.
The analysis of discarded bones and shells from an archaeological site can indicate when the site was occupied, what animals were eaten, and the relative importance of different foods. Where soils are acidic, as in the Canadian Shield, such remains are rarely preserved however, and very little prehistoric hunting and fishing equipment survives: stone, bone, and copper tips for spears and arrows are most common, whereas objects such as sinew or rope snares, nets, and traps usually have disappeared. Some stone structures used to channel caribou and trap fish, as well as portions of wooden fishing weirs buried under water in mud, have survived. Over all, archaeological data permit only a partial picture of patterns of subsistence in late prehistoric Canada.
This series of three maps relates to patterns of native subsistence. The first shows areas of dominant activities such as fishing, hunting and agriculture just after contact with Europeans. The second shows areas of dominant activities from about 1000 AD to European contact. And the third illustrates the distribution of various hunting- and fishing-related pre-historic structures. Users can navigate the series using the controls above or buttons below the image space, and can explore portions of each by clicking to zoom in and out, and dragging to pan around.