In prehistoric Canada trade goods moved over long distances along well-established routes that, in some cases, were used for thousands of years. The perishable and semi-perishable items that were the bulk of this trade have virtually disappeared from the archaeological record. The trade goods that have survived usually made of stone, metal, shell, or mineral – were often transported hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from their source. Siliceous stone, suitable for flaking into tools, is the most common trade material at archaeological sites.
Trade goods were usually finished products. Most of them were probably traded between neighbouring peoples as trade was combined with the seasonal rounds of hunting and fishing. An item may have been exchanged many times as it moved from its source to the site where it was recovered. Wherever it took place, trade was integrated with local economies that provided for most subsistence needs.
Before 500 BC a burial cult associated with the Adena culture of the central Ohio valley spread in the St Lawrence valley and the Maritimes where it influenced several cultural groups. Prescribed, imported offerings were placed with the dead. The presence of such grave goods suggests that the cult required a wide network of trade involving, among other items, native copper from Lake Superior, marine shell from the east coast, fire-clay tubular pipes and flaked, two-faced blades from the Ohio valley and elsewhere, and polished slate gorgets of unknown origin.