By the time of European contact, pottery-making in various parts of what is now Canada had evolved through a number of characteristic local phases, developing unique regional styles that can be associated with distinct First Nation groups and sub-groupings. The ceramics included in this display represent many groups we are familiar with today, such as the Ojibway (A below), the Sioux (B below), and the Mackenzie Inuit (C below).
As with many archaeological reconstructions, the deeper in time we go, the more things tend to resemble each other. Put differently, the older things are, the more difficult it is to separate them into objects that we can identify as having been produced by a particular ethnic group of the present. This statement certainly applies to ceramics.
Ceramic styles of the late prehistoric period, just before Europeans arrived, reveal shared features, so that we can speak with some confidence about Iroquoian pottery. But we also know that within such large groups there existed many small local sub-groups that functioned independently.
For example, a number of St. Lawrence Iroquoian pot styles (A and B below) included circular punctates or ring impressions, often in groups of three. In northern Manitoba, the Cree were apparently the only Cree group to manufacture ceramic plates (C below), perhaps influenced by the Inuit, who lived along the Manitoba coast at that time. Even their large pots (D below) had distinctive characteristics that differentiate them from pots (E below, for example) made by other Cree just to the south in northwestern Ontario.