Dr. Peter Dawson
Dr. Lisa Hodgetts
Luke Suluk


Resilience, Transformational Change, and the Origins of Caribou Inuit Culture

The objectives of this project are to determine the extent to which migration, climate change, and culture contact may have influenced the development of Caribou Inuit societies from an ancestral Thule culture base. To this end, we have completed two seasons of archaeological fieldwork near the Inuit community of Arviat, in the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut. The first component involves archaeological survey and reconnaissance work on Maguse Lake, and on the coast of Hudson Bay, where we are focusing our attention on the sites of Kuuvik, Ikirahak, and Ihatik. Thus far, we have identified a diverse range of cultures at these locations, including historic Caribou Inuit and Chipewyan Dene, Late Thule (AD 1610‐1775), Taltheilie (2675‐300BP), and possibly Northern Keewatin Plano (8000‐7000 B.P). Collecting traditional knowledge documenting Caribou Inuit and Chipewyan Dene patterns of land use and occupancy over the past 70 years comprises the second component. Arviat Elders Louis Angalik, Donald Uluadluak, and Mark Kalluak are assisting with this project. The knowledge these Elders have shared is currently being used to construct a GIS database, which will enable us to compare patterns of land use by different cultural groups across space and time. This database will eventually be available online as a resource for Nunavut teachers.

The results we have obtained to date indicate the presence of subsistence-settlement systems in this region that are culturally distinct, and display different levels of resilience.  Late Thule/Early Caribou Inuit sites are large, spatially complex, and contain a wide range of feature types, including ovate, bilobate, and rectilinear dwellings of various sizes. Arviaqmiut oral history indicates that these sites are found at important Caribou crossings, and used during the fall season. Sites containing clusters of between 6 and 12 semi-subterranean houses have also been discovered at Ikirahak and Kuuvik. The excavation of two dwellings in 2008 suggests they are affiliated with the Taltheilie Tradition (2675‐300BP), which is believed to be ancestral to Chipewyan Dene. These sites generally lack other types of features. Furthermore, the use of such semi-subterranean houses by Chipewyan peoples and their ancestors has been rarely documented.

In addition to excavation, geophysical survey work was carried out at Kuuvik and Ikirahak, and involved the completion of six gradiometer surveys.  Five of these surveys were undertaken on the suspected Taltheilei house depressions. Our results clearly demonstrate the potential of the technique for identifying areas of human activity, despite the presence of thin soils, and the difficulties inherent in taking sensitive scientific instruments into arctic fieldwork settings. The gradiometer results, for example, show numerous small positive anomalies across the site.  Some of these are probably the results of naturally occurring igneous erratics.  Others, however, may result from the presence of unknown buried archaeological features.

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