Looking to the Future: 80 Years of Archaeology in the Foxe Basin Region, Nunavut

Friday, May 17, 2019 - 1:30pm to 5:00pm
  • Samantha Walker, McGill University.
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Session Description (300 word max): 

The Foxe Basin region, Nunavut, has served as an important place of intensive walrus hunting and human settlement for Paleo-Inuit (Tuniit, Paleoeskimo), Early Inuit (Thule Inuit), and modern Inuit, alike. Since the earliest archaeological surveys and excavations by Graham Rowley in 1939 at Avvaja (Abverdjar), archaeologists working in Foxe Basin have been confronted with a growing number of challenges affecting Arctic research. What have we learned about the cultural history of the Foxe Basin region in this time? How are exciting new developments in archaeology helping researchers mediate environmental and cultural change in Nunavut? What is the role of archaeology in a transforming North? The session welcomes papers that reflect on the past and present of Foxe Basin archaeology, while considering future research directions in this diverse region of the Canadian Arctic.

01:40 PM: Kapuivik cultural sequence Elucidated
  • Pierre M. Desrosiers - Canadian Museum of History
  • James Savelle - McGill University
  • Arthur Dyke - McGill University
  • Katie Kotar - McGill University
  • Samantha Walker - MCGill University
  • Kyle Forsythe - McGill University

This research is part of Foxe Basin recent investigations initiated by Savelle and Dyke that are greatly enlightening our knowledge of the Polar region. Meldgaard once stated that Kapuivik (Jens Munk) comprise the most “complete sequence of cultures” elucidating the Eastern Arctic history. Forty years later Hood will include the site as one of the “black boxes” of cultural history. New research at the Kapuivik site is leading us to a clearer understanding of the Dorset culture. As the black box reveals its secrets, we are presenting the archaeological context, the technology, and the new radiocarbon dates resulting from the 2016 excavation. From a comparison with Meldgaard’s work and a review of other Eastern Arctic key sites, a better time line is emerging for the beginning of Dorset period (Foxe Basin region and elsewhere). We underline that this better time line is likely to affect our understanding of their changing environment, behaviour and origin.

02:10 PM: Tuniit Lithic Procurement at the Kapuivik Site, Nunavut
  • Kyle  Forsythe - McGill University
  • James Savelle - McGill University
  • Arthur Dyke - McGill University

Using data from recent surveys and excavations at the Kapuivik site in Foxe Basin, Nunavut, this talk seeks to identify and contrast patterns of lithic raw material procurement and explores their relationship with key demographic changes that took place throughout Pre-Dorset and Dorset occupations of the region. This paper reviews and updates our understanding of stone tool use in the Eastern Arctic Foxe Basin region throughout the Paleo-Inuit period (2,500 BCE-1,600CE). The Foxe Basin was previously thought to have been a core area of ecological stability/predictability that supported an uninterrupted occupation throughout the Paleo-Inuit timespan. Given recognition of the untenability of the core area model and that populations fluctuated over time and space, a reevaluation of lithic technologies and their change through time can help distinguish how the transfer of cultural information took place, and in turn how social life responded to drastic demographic change. Paleo-Inuit use of stone tools was a varied and highly skilled discipline involving intimate knowledge of the land, the properties of stone, and the appropriate ways of interacting with dynamic resources.

03:00 PM: Pre-Dorset Walrus Hunters?: Zooarchaeological Analysis of New Excavations at the Kapuivik Archaeological Site, Jens Munk Island, Nunavut
  • Kathryn Kotar - McGill University

The 2018 excavations of the Kapuivik Archaeology Project on Jens Munk Island, Nunavut, built upon previous excavations at the same site from Summer 2016. In this paper, I analyze and compare zooarchaeological remains from both field seasons, including Pre-Dorset, Dorset, and so-called “transitional” assemblages, to document diversity both within and between chronological periods. I emphasize a suite of excavated Pre-Dorset deposits, dating from approximately 3500 to 2500 years ago, that contained diet-related walrus remains alongside crania and ivory debitage. I examine how these findings may alter our understanding of Pre-Dorset subsistence strategies and possible walrus exploitation. A study of new Dorset contexts (ca. 1890 - 1790 BP) also elucidates Tuniit foodways on Jens Munk Island, while our excavations around Jorgen Meldgaard’s “transitional” beach ridges at Kapuivik (23 and 22 m terraces) can help illuminate potential differences between Pre-Dorset and Dorset subsistence economies. I focus on gradual and incremental change in subsistence and butchery practices, over long periods of time, to circumvent the existing – and perhaps constraining – culture histories of Foxe Basin.

03:30 PM: Reflections and New Directions: Zooarchaeological Analysis of the Native Point Sites, Southampton Island, NU
  • Jasmine Liesch - University of Manitoba
  • Brooke Milne - University of Manitoba

Archaeological investigations of the Native Point sites on Southampton Island, NU, began more than 60 years ago; however, comparatively little is known about subsistence practices and how they may have varied over time. Early investigators aimed to first define the culture-history of the region through the analysis of diagnostic artifacts and distinct architectural features, leaving the large recovered faunal assemblages from these respective sites largely ignored. This research presents the first detailed quantitative analysis of faunal material recovered from Dorset (KkHh-3, -4, and -5), Thule (KkHh-2), and Sadlermiut (KkHh-1) sites located at and around Native Point. Our interpretation of taxonomic data that will inform our understanding of culture-specific subsistence patterns will be augmented through archival analysis and interviews with local knowledge holders in the community of Coral Harbour. These interviews and local stories will serve to enhance our understanding of human subsistence and mobility patterns on the island, and how they may have been impacted by major climatic events in the region both in the past and today. This paper presents the objectives of this study, descriptions of the study sites and their faunal assemblages, and some preliminary results from the zooarchaeological analysis that is in progress.

04:00 PM: Stones, Bones, and Drones: Investigating Archaeological Landscapes Using Unmanned Aerial Systems in Foxe Basin, Nunavut.
  • Samantha Walker - McGill University

In Arctic archaeology, foot surveys are often performed to evaluate the location and extent of archaeological features, which has limitations set by high spatial heterogeneity and time-constraints. At the other extreme, satellite-remote sensing can be used to track coarser changes over large regions. This paper explores the potential of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in mapping archaeological landscapes at an intermediate scale in High Arctic conditions. UAS photographic survey experiments were undertaken in 2018 on Kapuivik Island in the Foxe Basin region, Nunavut. The high resolution offered by these innovative systems allows for improved spatial precision of archaeological feature maps and derivative elevation models that provide insight into subsurface archaeological features and their formation processes. UAS thermography, while burdened with environmental and logistic constraints in the Arctic, offers unique and efficient advancements to archaeological prospection and feature documentation. The Kapuivik Island UAS surveys demonstrate novel remote sensing solutions to some of the persistent challenges of archaeological fieldwork in the Foxe Basin region, and elsewhere, in the High Arctic.

04:30 PM: 3D Scanning and Digital Morphometrics: Dorset Harpoon Head Variability Beyond Typology
  • Francois P. Levasseur - Memorial University of Newfoundland

Since Jenness first identified harpoon heads distinct from those manufactured by Inuit, archaeologists have attempted to fit Dorset harpoon heads into rigid typologies. From Collins to Meldgaard, Taylor to Maxwell, the absence or presence of particular attributes and their combinations have restricted the definition of harpoon head types. My research uses 3D scanning technologies to investigate Dorset harpoon head morphometric variability in collections from Kapuivik, Saatut, and Tayara in Nunavut and Philip’s Garden in Newfoundland. Through exploratory data analysis and the application of complex network theory to morphometric data, it is possible to determine the extent of intrasite variability and whether intrasite conformity is consistent between sites. The data also highlight the relationship between different regional groups and offer insight into the cultural transmission of technology. Most importantly, the analysis of harpoon head morphometric data reveals how individuals and groups create variability whilst working within the parameters of culturally-defined technological blueprints. While this investigation is not an attempt to create a new typology, it explores the possible range of variability which has been included in previously established ‘types’ and makes us reevaluate, as archaeologists, how typologies cannot faithfully capture the realm of variability.