Daniel Gendron



Background to this Research

Thule/Inuit archaeology is not yet fully developed in Nunavik, and the present project seeks to redress this situation. One aspect of the Thule record in this region which is clear is that Winter sites with semi-subterranean houses are located almost exclusively on islands, while Spring/Summer/Early Fall sites are located on both the mainland and the islands. This seems to indicate a dual procurement strategy related to season. Within this general framework, we will document if this pattern had been constant throughout the Thule/Inuit period (up to the moment of permanent settlements in the 20th Century) or if the pattern had changed and what triggered these changes. Documenting the dual strategy is especially relevant in the context of climate change and social dynamics.

This research project emphasizes Thule period technology, and seeks to further our understanding of procurement of stone raw materials (especially slate and siltstone), as well as our knowledge of bone modification. Raw material procurement is certainly linked to social dynamics, but we don’t know how this was operationalized within Thule groups.  The impact of climate change could have had an impact on these strategies, making access to prime resources more difficult and forcing groups to focus their energies on alternatives.

Activity summer 2007

A team of about twenty people participated in the excavation of an archaeological site on Drayton Island (IbGk-3), and also carried out a brief archaeological survey of the area. These projects, which were part of Avataq’s involvement in the International Polar Year (IPY), were initiated by Daniel Gendron and carried out by Pierre M. Desrosiers and a team composed of Tommy Weetaluktuk (Inuit archaeologist), Sackariassie Pauloosie (hunter-guide), Allie Nalukturuk (hunter-guide), Annie Kokiapik (cook), Mae Partridge (cook), and Paulusie Inukpuk and Chris Amgiyou – assistant hunter-guides. Two students from Europe also participated: Claire Houmard (doctoral student, Université Paris 10, France) and Enrico Foietta (undergraduate student, Italy). Meanwhile, nine Inuit students did a 4-week apprenticeship in excavation methods including surveying, technical drawing, using grids and recovering artifacts. The students were Natalie Echalook, Abraham Kasudluak Mina, Abilie Williams, Magan Kasudluak, Stephan Mina, Tommy Niviaxie, Allie Aculiak, Moses Idlout and Susie Mina. Some of these students also had the chance to receive training in geography from a team of geomorphologists from Université Laval who accompanied our research team. The Laval group was led by Najat Bhiry and included Anne-Marie Lemieux, Elsa Censig and Bryan Sinkunas.

Our excavations allowed us to establish a number of facts about the IbGk-3 site. It appears that the site was occupied by the Palaeoeskimos approximately 2,500 years ago. About 2,000 years later, the site was re-occupied by Inuit who built qarmait (semi-subterranean houses) with tunnel entrances. For the moment, only a small portion of the site has been excavated, but this has already produced some significant findings. We discovered some wood that had been used to build the roofs of the dwellings, which is a very rare substance in the eastern Arctic. We have not yet begun the analytical phase of our research, but we already foresee that these discoveries will lead to a better understanding of the early construction techniques for dwellings. In addition, our brief archaeological survey led to the identification of more than forty new sites, mostly on Drayton Island but also on Harrison and Patterson islands. This serves as an indication of the rich archaeological heritage of the area. The sites we discovered included some summer dwellings, secondary structures such as fox traps, caches and graves, and numerous Palaeoeskimo sites. We also found a number of locations used to quarry siltite (a stone type that was used for making tools.)

Activity summer 2008

This summer Avataq Cultural Institute continued the archaeological research on the Hopewell Islands close to the community of Inukjuak. The team led by Pierre M. Desrosiers who was assisted by Elsa Cencig, was composed of Nally Weetaluktuk and Andrew Epoo, also Avataq staff. Local people involved included Simeonie, Alicie and Andy Nalukturuk, Joanie Elijassiapik and Allie Nalukturuk. The field school included 14 secondary school students: Allie Aculiak, Bobby Angnatuk, Moses Idlout, Natalie Echalook, Monica Echalook, Bobby Elijassiapik, Alec Epoo, Pamela Inukpuk, Sarah Iqalluk, Matiusi Kasudluak, Megan Kasudluak, Tonya Moreau, Eva Nowra and Paulo Palliser. Anne-Marie Lemieux (Université Laval student), is comparing the geomorphological and archaeological data to study the evolution of housing in the region, and is conducting many interviews with local elders in order to incorporate traditional knowledge into the study. Najat Bhiry (Université Laval) and Dominique Marguerie (Université de Rennes) were also involved respectively as a geomorpholgist and a wood species and dendrochronology specialist.
The work concentrated mainly on IbGk-3, which is an Inuit winter site as well as a Palaeoeskimo site. Structure 1 (a winter sod house) was still the focus of this excavation, with new squares opened, revealing more of the wood structure first partially uncovered during the 2007 excavation. In some squares it was possible to fully remove the wood (after mapping and sampling them) in order to reach the internal stone features of the structure. Because of the difficulties in excavating this area, most work was done in front of the house where we uncovered part of the midden, composed mainly of animal bones. Many people visited us, including two elders (Lucy Weetaluktuk and Adamie Niviaxie) who spent a day on the site while being interviewed. In order to better understand the procurement strategies for wood, and to apply dendrochonology to the wood samples, driftwood was sampled on different islands in order to establish its provenience and its age. Raw stone material sources were also sampled, but no new quarries were found.

The second part of the work was to begin documenting the IcGn-8 quarry site in collaboration with Adrian Burke (Université de Montréal) who joined us for a 10 day visit. The work included production of a complete map of this huge site, where the siltstone outcrop is more than 700 meters long. Waste flake concentrations, which possibly reached up to one meter deep in some areas, border the siltstone outcrop. More than 200 stone hammers where documented in situ.

Finally, besides this work, different islands were surveyed. This permitted us to record many sites and hundreds of archaeological structures. In this rich area, islands were densely occupied during several prehistoric periods, and many years of active research in the region would be necessary to document more accurately the history of human presence over the past 4000 years.


Web Design: Matthew Walls

©All images and text by respective authors