The history of Indigenous (Aboriginal) art in Canada can be traced back to sometime during the last Ice Age, approximately between 80,000 and 12,000 years ago.
Some of the oldest surviving artworks are actually presumed by experts to be no earlier than 5,000 years ago.
Some of the most eloquent, decorative and detailed carvings have been found in and around British Columbia, mainly in the Lower Fraser region, whilst other carvings and pieces have been found across several other areas in Canada.
The history and development of Indigenous art in Canada is much more complex in comparison to that of the relatively recent European settlers and is often divided in to three distinct periods;
- Prehistoric art
- contact / historic art
- contemporary Aboriginal art
What is of vital importance to understanding the history and evolution of these various stages of art forms, is the work of archaeologists and historians studying not only archaeological finds, but also analyzing the various artifacts that have been discovered, like documents and maps.
Through these, experts are only now realizing the actual meaning and function of Aboriginal artworks, and because of the wealth of historical artifacts that have been uncovered, they are gaining insights in to the ways of life during these periods, the aesthetic values of each different artwork, not only this but they are also realizing the principles of the people themselves at the time.
Some of the various early visual sources that have been found and examined by historians, including maps, paintings, journals and various logs and accounts by explorers, traders and travelers of the time, have traced the history of Indigenous people in Canada from initial contact to the 20th Century
Some of the fragments that have been uncovered and excavated from archaeological digs from post contact sites, actually provide an exact timeline for the interaction between Aboriginal and European people.
This interaction has pointed at and given evidence of the introduction of new materials, techniques and working methods to Indigenous artists at this time.
Indigenous art varies in imagery, genre, style and function throughout these periods, not only this but as historians delve deeper in to Aboriginal art the meanings from period to period undergo significant change.