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Video produced by ArchAnge Films for the Sherbrooke Museum of Nature and Science
Narrator: Pierre Richard, Professor Emeritus, Université de Montréal
Date: June 2015
Location: Lafontaine Park, Montreal
Length: 2:54

Pierre Richard explains the work of a palynologist and the contribution this science has made to the reconstitution of the history of settlement in the Eastern Townships.

On-screen image: Old bearded man, standing in a park.

[ Pierre Richard ] Hello. I’m Pierre Richard; I’m a palynologist, in other words, a pollen specialist. I take samples of mud accumulated at the bottom of lakes, using long metal tubes. This enables me to collect continuous archives covering thousands of years. I extract minuscule pollen grains that have been preserved in sediments. I examine them under a microscope and determine the plant species that produced this pollen in the past. This enables me to reconstitute the history of plant life from the time the glaciers withdrew until now. Because vegetation is directly linked to climate, I can also obtain the climate history.

On-screen text: Questions.

[ P. R. ] Climate and vegetation play a major role in the suitability of a spot for habitation. What was the climate like during ancient land occupations? Hot? Cold? Snowy? Dry? What was the water level in lakes? This is critical to build camps. What was the water flow in the rivers like? This is important when arriving by canoe. Were there many forest fires? Which plants were edible, or could be used to care for one’s health and hygiene, and make everyday items?

On-screen text: Answers.

[ P. R. ] 12 000 years ago, when the first hunters ventured into the Megantic region, the ice had been gone for nearly 1 500 years. The glacial front was then in the Lower Laurentians and the Champlain Sea had been flooding the Laurentian region for 1 000 years. In the Megantic region, the valley was covered in shrubs like dwarf birches and willows, but plateaus were covered in rocky tundra. It was a cold and windy environment, with little plant life, no trees, but attractive to caribou. Lake Megantic had a lower water level than it does today, and Lac des Joncs did not exist at the time.

On-screen text: An anecdote.

[ P. R. ] This happened in the Gaspésie, about 40 years ago. We were conducting studies to determine the highest altitude that the sea had reached during deglaciation. We were looking for clues of high shorelines from the past. A local resident asked us what we were doing on his land. He patiently listened to our explanations, grinning. Then, he pointed us to a spot on the flank of the slope, stating emphatically: “The sea rose up to there.” When we asked him why he was so sure, he responded: “Mussel shells don't fly!” This goes to show that talking about fossils is not the prerogative of scientists; one only has to look around!