Where the Spirit Resides in Northern Prehistory

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - 9:10am to 12:10pm
Ambassador H
There has been a long interest in understanding the workings of non-human agency in anthropology, from early debates about animism and totemism to more recent archaeological theorizing about “things.” The topic remains pertinent because many cultures do not narrowly demarcate between inanimate and animate, natural and supernatural, the physical and the spiritual. This is certainly true for the native inhabitants of subarctic and arctic North America, who shared a landscape with non-human persons, spirits, and animate objects for millennia. This session offers case studies and theoretical papers that identify and examine the entangled relations between people and these non-humans in the archaeological record. Papers are welcomed that explore these relationships wherever they occur: on the landscape, in hunting and gathering, food preparation, consumption, and discard, the crafting and use of technology, settlement and household organization, caching, burial, and ritual.
  • Donald H. Holly Jr., Eastern Illinois University & Memorial University
09:10 AM: Perspectivism in Innu archaeology, or the magical realism of the Innu world.
  • Chelsee Arbour - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Anthony Jenkinson - Tshikapisk Foundation
The Innu of nitassinan, a territory which includes most of Québec and Labrador, have lived in this immense peninsula for 9000 years. This is testified to by oral histories within contemporary generational memory, Innu atanukana (parables containing collective memories of the deep past and interactions with both vanished pleistocene megafauna and supernatural beings) and archaeology. Despite drastic changes to Innu life-ways following government sponsored sedentarization and compulsory Western schooling, there remain tangible links between Innu people, their ancestors, and other-than-human beings – such as the guardian deities of the animals and other supernatural beings in nutshimit (the country). Such connections suggest that components of a relational ontology are woven into Innu life-ways, where both human and other-than-human beings are imbued with spirit, and their interactions are governed by protocols of proper behaviour and respect. There is also evidence to suggest metaphysical continuity between Innu and certain animals in nutshimit; the Kauatikamapeu atanukan (the boy who married a caribou), for example, exemplifies this as well as caribou-Innu reciprocity. We argue that this relationality forms part of the magical realism of the Innu world, which in itself resists binary categorization as secular or sacred. Otherwise prosaic chores, such as cleaning, processing and disposing of animal remains, thus acquire and are invested with spiritual power tied to the daily maintenance of human and other-than-human reciprocal relationships in nutshimit. We offer two archaeological cases which demonstrate that approaching the archaeological record from this stance can provide a fresh interpretive lens to the study of Innu history and the deep past of nitassinan.
09:30 AM: From Inngerutit to Erinarsuutit and Back: Drums and Transformation in Arctic North America and Greenland
  • Christopher Wolff - University at Albany
  • Kirstine Eiby Møller - Greenland National Museum
There is no more powerful symbol for where the spirit resides among Arctic cultures of North America and Greenland than the drum. It embodies many aspects of individuals and society and, in turn, is often thought to possess its own spirit, or one shared with its bearer. The archaeological record has revealed many examples of Arctic drums, dating back to over 1,000 years, testifying to a history of importance that continues today. There is archaeological evidence that they were used as elements in shamanic transformations, suggesting they were key components of spiritual interaction with various non-human entities. There is also much to suggest that the design and use of drums has undergone significant transformation through processes of cultural interaction and European assimilation efforts, including sometimes their destruction as symbols of ties to ancient animistic and non-Christian belief systems. This paper will discuss some examples of Arctic drums and their use from the past and present with a focus on their role in the spiritual transformation of people and culture.
09:50 AM: Soul Food: social and spiritual dimensions of food in Newfoundland Prehistory
  • Donald  Holly - Eastern Illinois University
The archaeology of hunters and gatherers has long focused on food, particularly subsistence strategies and related technological matters, such as the procurement of animals for their skins, fur, bones, and sinew. In marginal environments especially, like the eastern subarctic of North America, these pursuits are frequently situated within an adaptationist calculus that emphasizes caloric efficiency and environmental accommodation. Social and cultural considerations, however, clearly informed subsistence matters too. Drawing on the later pre/historic archaeological record of the island of Newfoundland, it is suggested that subsistence strategies and food conveyed identity, reflected unfolding historical conditions and social relations, factored into ritual and ceremonial practice, and embodied cultural worldviews.
10:30 AM: Man8gemasak
  • Geneviève Treyvaud - Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki
  • Suzie O'Bomsawin - Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki
  • David Bernard - Grand Conseil de la Nation Waban-Aki
Archaeological diggings carried out since 2010 on Ndakinna, the ancestral W8banaki territory, revealed thousands of artefacts among which many symbolic representations. The W8banakiak have device their spirituality on principles based on the existence of links between Mother Earth and all forms of life there. Man8gemasak are the representatives of his links. Engraved on clay concretions or slate and buried in pits, these "little creatures of the forest" are still very present to day in the W8banakiak's. We present the result of a study where archaeologists, anthropologists, artists and members of the W8banaki community joined their knowledges to identify the symbols and identity of these supernatural representatives.
10:50 AM: An aide-mémoire? Interpreting an Inuit carving of an early European vessel
  • Karen Ryan - Canadian Museum of History
This year’s conference emphasises the increasingly collaborative nature of Canadian archaeology – the need to include Indigenous knowledge, recognise multiple ways of knowing, and examine connections between different populations. Considering diverse perspectives when interpreting the archaeological past is critical because, as this session highlights, it can allow “things” to be understood beyond strict oppositional structures of physical / spiritual or natural / supernatural. This presentation focuses on a single carving found at an Inuit site on the south coast of Baffin Island. Although its overall form clearly evokes an early European-style ship, particular features suggest that the carving is also a multilayered and “entangled” depiction of something inherently alien to Inuit culture. Inuit oral histories preserving details of some of the earliest Europeans to sail into the Arctic bolster this interpretation. Those accounts suggest that the carving may be a physical representation of how an Inuit craftsperson, through the lens of their own ideology and history, represented European contact.
11:10 AM: Variability in the Kapuivik Subsistence Economy: A Faunal Analysis of Pre-Dorset and Dorset occupations on Jens Munk Island, Nunavut.
  • Kathryn Kotar - McGill University
This paper presents a detailed analysis of animal bones from Pre-Dorset and Dorset dwellings at the Kapuivik archaeological site, Nunavut. Kapuivik is central to the Paleo-Inuit “core area” of Foxe Basin and played a large role in Jørgen Meldgaard’s study of the Pre-Dorset to Dorset transition. In summer 2016, we began new excavations at the site, targeting Meldgaard’s transitional levels, and recovered a wealth of faunal remains and organic artifacts from both Paleo-Inuit periods. I will discuss observed subsistence strategies and seasonality at the dwellings to examine human and non-human animal interactions through time and across seasons. Additionally, the increased exploitation of walrus and their ivory during the Dorset period offers a unique glance at their relationship with the non-human world, especially as we recovered several animal effigies made from walrus ivory that represent species at Kapuivik. Thus, this project explores variability between Pre-Dorset and Dorset hunting and gathering, food preparation and discard, their use of organic material, as well as informs our upcoming excavations at Kapuivik in summer 2018.
11:30 AM: Painted dreams and entangled realities: caribou hide garments from the eastern Subarctic
  • Moira McCaffrey - Independent Researcher
Historic caribou hide garments from the eastern Subarctic are beautiful and evocative objects. Surviving coats are few in number and scattered in museums across the globe. Their tailored designs and elaborate painted motifs stand in stark contrast to perceptions of past life in the North. While speculations abound on the cosmologies embodied in these garments, cultural attributions have tended to be both arbitrary and simplistic. This presentation places painted caribou hide clothing in a much broader social and chronological framework, integrating new archaeological understandings, ethnohistoric accounts, oral traditions, as well as museum and community explorations. From the rich overlap of these sources emerges a complex story. It is one dominated by encounters, entanglements, and negotiations that take place within human, animal, and spirit worlds.
11:50 AM: Spiritually animated Cultural Landscapes: Integrating sacred places and other intangible heritage values into archaeological impact assessment.
  • Scott Hamilton - Lakehead University
Since the 1970s heritage has become part of Environmental Impact Assessment, and strongly condition how archaeological and other heritage sites are identified, valued and protected. Reflecting the dominant mindset of both archaeologists and regulators, this tends to focus upon the tangible- places and objects that are empirically measurable. But over the past 20 years, transformation has begun in light of the Crown’s ‘Duty to Consult and Accommodate’ Indigenous concerns. While not yet clearly articulated within regulatory structures, some First Nations are insisting that ‘intangible’ aspects of cultural heritage be part of discourse over proposed development.  This paper offers examples from northern Ontario about spiritually mediated ‘cultural landscapes’, and the challenges how to address such ‘values’.