The prehistoric cultures of Canada are identified by manufactured items (usually of stone) that have survived the passage of time, by subsistence practices, by the distribution and nature of archaeological sites, and by rock art and other indications (such as burial practices) of cultural beliefs.
During the period from 10,000 – 8000 BC the physical environment was changing rapidly. Huge pro-glacial lakes fed by the melting glaciers formed and drained as the ice retreated and crustal uplift took place, sea levels rose rapidly, and the location of vegetation regions shifted dramatically. By 8000 BC the Cordilleran ice sheet had broken into many sections and the Laurentide sheet, although still a vast mass dominating the northeastern quarter of the continent, had retreated from the Gulf of St Lawrence.
By 4000 BC the pace of environmental change had slowed, and people lived in much more stable environments than had their predecessors. Only high-arctic and alpine glaciers remained, and sea levels were fairly stable near current levels. West of Hudson Bay the vegetation regions extended further north than they do now; when the climate became cooler and wetter after 2000 BC, the tree line retreated in places as much as 300 km south of its present location, but this was a minor environmental change compared to those that had gone before. The archaeological record is less disrupted than previously, and in some areas both population growth and repeated seasonal occupation of favoured regions appear to account for the increasing density of sites. Populations were geographically stable; only in the Arctic were there major migrations of people.
By 1000 BC environmental conditions in Canada were similar to those later encountered by Europeans, and the basic cultural patterns of the historic period are generally discernible. Populations were geographically stable; all the cultures considered in this period were rooted in the previous period. Diffusion and innovation were the major stimulants of cultural change. About 1000 BC pottery reached eastern Canada from the south, and the Yukon coast from the west. Slightly later the bow and arrow was widely accepted across Canada.
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