Current Research in Arctic and Subarctic Archaeology

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Kluskap B
  • Alexandra Derian, Environmental and Life Sciences, Trent University
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

Arctic and Subarctic archaeology have transformed from early 20th century colonial perceptions of the North as an untouched "frontier". Salvage excavations are being conducted on sites at risk of destruction due to climate change. Collaboration with local and descendant communities is increasing. Integration of archaeological science techniques (e.g., ancient DNA, stable isotope analysis, zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry) is allowing new questions about human-environment interactions to be explored. Archaeology is a powerful tool for addressing issues such as climate change, loss of biological diversity, and food sovereignty in Arctic and Subarctic environments. This session highlights current work in Arctic and Subarctic archaeology, and considers future directions for research. 

01:00 PM: Exploring Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus) Diet at Kuukpak (NiTs-1)
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Alexandra Derian - Trent University
  • Paul Szpak - Trent University

Kuukpak (NiTs-1), the largest pre-contact Inuvialuit village, was used primarily as a summer beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) hunting and processing settlement. Faunal remains of a variety of mammals, birds, and fish have previously been recovered from the site and identified. Among the fauna are red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). Fox are opportunistic omnivores and are known from ethnography to have scavenged animal remains from Inuit hunts. We analyzed the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of red and arctic fox at Kuukpak to investigate the composition of their diets. Surprisingly, there was no evidence to suggest that fox scavenged beluga or other marine mammals. However, the trophic position of the foxes was variable, indicating that there were intrapopulation differences in diet composition. This study contributes to a larger project that is investigating whether human subsistence activities impacted fox ecology in Inuit Nunangat [Inuit traditional territory] over the past 2,000 years.

01:20 PM: Ongoing Excavations at EkKk-6, Dog Rib Rapids, Berens River, Northwestern Ontario, within the Whitefeather Forest, Traditional Territory of Pikangikum First Nation, Treaty 5 (1875) Lands
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Stefan Bouchard - Woodland Heritage Northwest
  • Dave Norris - Woodland Heritage Northwest
  • Shane Teesdale - Lakehead University & Woodland Heritage Northwest

The Dog Rib Rapids are located at the outflow of the Berens River from Berens Lake. Situated approximately 12 km east-southeast of Pikangikum First Nation, the rapids are in the headwaters region of the Berens River Watershed. Archaeological sites located on either side of the rapids have been the subject of recent cultural resource management projects. The development of an all-season road to service Pikangikum First Nation and improve winter road access to six other First Nation communities has recently received funding. Warming climatic conditions have facilitated the need for all-season road development linking these remote communities as the season for winter roads shortens. However, this development will significantly impact EkKk-6, a multi-component archaeological site located on the east side of the rapids. This site is a rare example of a large excavation within the boreal forest of northwestern Ontario, proving to be challenging both archaeologically and from a logistical standpoint. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the development and archaeological context, summarize the current archaeological work, highlighting community participation and an overview of the artifact assemblage being recovered, and to discuss future directions of consulting and research in the area.

01:40 PM: Cumulative Viewshed Analysis of a Sheep Fence in the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Glen MacKay - Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
  • Jurjen van der Sluijs - NWT Centre for Geomatics

Archaeologists have made progress in understanding the inner workings of ungulate drive systems. Often it is possible to work backwards from a kill zone – such as a corral, pit, jump, or hunting blind – to reconstruct the operation of the larger system. Other cases are more difficult to decipher due to poor preservation or a lack of obvious kill zone features, and archaeologists must use creative approaches to understand how they facilitated ungulate harvesting. In this paper, we use a viewshed analysis approach to investigate the operation of a small archaeological drive structure (LfRw-1) that was used to hunt Dall sheep in the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories. Specifically, we use cumulative viewshed analysis to estimate the concealment of hunters from the perspective of sheep approaching the fence, with the goal of determining how the fence could have assisted hunters to kill sheep at close range. We base this analysis on a high-resolution digital surface model created by applying structure-from-motion photogrammetry methods to imagery collected with fixed-wing and quadcopter drones, combined with animal location information derived by mapping sheep trails in the vicinity of the fence using the orthoimagery. These methods may have broad applicability for analyzing ungulate drive systems.   

02:00 PM: Naskapi Archaeology Project 2021-2022: an overview of new discoveries in northern Québec
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Moira McCaffrey - Independent researcher
  • David Denton - Independent researcher
  • Tshiueten Vachon - Researcher, Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach

In June 2020, the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach initiated an archaeological project to support efforts to protect an important portion of Naskapi traditional territory: the lands and waters surrounding Waskaikinis (Fort McKenzie), including Mistisiipuw Nipiiy (Cambrien Lake) and Nachacapau Nipiiy (Nachicapau Lake). This vast region had seen limited archaeological work in the 1980s at Fort McKenzie. The authors completed a potential study in 2021, and three weeks of archaeological survey work in both 2021 and 2022, assisted by Kawawachikamach residents, Tshiueten Vachon and Kabimbetas Noah Mokoush. Community outreach and interviews with Elders also took place and are ongoing.

In all, 45 new archaeological sites were recorded. Historic and Modern sites, including locations with clusters of earthen tent rings, document life during the fur trade period. Precontact sites show use of local, high quality lithic materials, no doubt extracted from Labrador Trough sources. Ramah chert and Mistassini quartzite are also present. Of particular interest is the discovery of a large site on a terrace overlooking the Caniapiscau River. We recorded eight features-one of which is bilobed-delineated by fire-cracked rock. Over 30 ground stone celts were recovered on the site, pointing to a unique, and likely early, event.

02:20 PM: Geoarchaeology at the Little John Site (KdVo-6), Yukon Territory, Canada.
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Michael Grooms - Yukon Government

The Little John Site (KdVo-6), Yukon Territory, Canada, contains the presence of both Chindadn/Nenana and Denali artifacts in unique stratified contexts. The site contains loess/paleosol stratigraphic sequences spanning the past 14,000 years. Sediment and soil, XRD, INAA/ICP-MS, and thin section analysis have illuminated the chronology, environment, and depositional history of the site’s unique geologic context and archaeological materials.