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Parks Canada 2010 Arctic Surveys

2010 Arctic Expedition Results

Thule Site

Archaeologists find more extensive remains of an ancient Thule site

On July 21, 2010 Parks Canada embarked on a 10-day archaeological survey in Aulavik National Park to locate the HMS Investigator wreck and document and map the land sites associated with Captain Robert McClure's expedition. Although not part of their primary survey focus, the archaeologists were aware of an existing Thule site south of McClure's Cache and had a brief visit at the site. What they didn't expect to find were new, more extensive pre-contact archaeological finds that could provide significant information to further our understanding of human history in this area of the Canadian Arctic.

The existence of this Thule site had previously been reported in 1997 by Parks Canada's Yvonne Rowland and then briefly investigated by Stephen Savauge the same year during an inventory of sites in Aulavik National Park. Although sufficient evidence existed for the site to be confirmed as that of the Thule culture, time restrictions in 1997 had allowed for only limited, initial observations to be recorded.

On July 28, 2010, archaeologists from Parks Canada and the University of Western Ontario returned to the site for a more thorough investigation. They identified some entirely new archaeological remains that, combined with past research and the rich Inuit oral history, have the potential to provide further information on ancestral Inuit history.

The Thule culture

The Thule people arrived in what is now known as the Canadian Arctic around A.D. 1000 with a technology well suited to hunting large sea mammals. They were a mobile culture, arriving from Alaska and quickly spreading across the entire Canadian Arctic. Overtime, this culture formed regionalized populations. The Thule people were well adapted to the Arctic environment. They hunted large marine mammals, including whales and seal, as well as muskoxen and caribou. The Thule retreated south with the arrival of a colder period known as the Little Ice Age, thus leaving Banks Island after A.D. 1500.

The Thule site

The 2010 archaeology team revisited the site and located more extensive remains than had been previously observed. Among the new elements identified were several housing features including stone rings with annexes and whale bones that were used as roof supports. The team also located Caches, evidence of stone tool manufacture, bones of marine and terrestrial mammals and worked caribou antlers. Documentation of the remains has started with the collection of bone samples for radio-carbon dating, mapping of the site features, such as a tool working area, as well as a photographic study.

One of the more interesting observations made on the site was that it seems to have seen multi-season occupation. The Thule people would move to different settlements based on social customs and on their intimate knowledge of their regional environment, such as migrational habits of mammals, moving based on the food and resources available. This Thule site was obviously rich in food supply including goose in the spring, caribou, muskoxen and whale in the summer, and seal in the winter. Although not any one individual group of Thule would likely have remained at this site for a long period of time, the site does show signs of use over multiple seasons and years likely by many Thule groups.

This Thule site, located on the shores of Mercy Bay, is now the northernmost Thule site on Banks Island. It is approximately 10 km south of the HMS Investigator site and could be one of the richest archaeological sites in Aulavik National Park. It has the potential to offer up significant information, that when coupled with other sources of information such as Inuit traditional knowledge and environmental data, can improve on our knowledge and understanding of the lifeways of the ancestral Inuit.