Archaeologists find more extensive remains of an ancient archaeological site
The quartz knife, likely dating to the Paleoeskimo period. © Parks Canada / E. Eastaugh, University of Western Ontario
On July 21, 2010 Parks Canada embarked on a 10-day archaeological survey in Aulavik National Park to locate the wreck of HMS Investigator 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 Inuit archaeological site south of McClure's Cache and had planned to make a brief visit. What they didn't expect to find were new, more extensive ancient finds that significantly further our understanding of human history in this area of the Canadian Arctic.
A stone feature, possibly part of a larger tent ring structure being recorded by H. Cary, Parks Canada© Parks Canada / E. Eastaugh, University of Western Ontario
The existence of this 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. While time restrictions in 1997 had allowed for only limited, initial observations, Stephen Savauge concluded from the presence of whale bone that the site was used by Thule people, immediate ancestors of the Inuit. He noted two house features and several boulder caches used for storing meat.
When archaeologists from Parks Canada and the University of Western Ontario returned to the site for a second look on July 28, 2010, they relocated the house features and boulder caches but also noted more extensive remains than had been previously observed. Among the new elements identified were several stone tools, concentrations of stone chips indicating where tools had been manufactured, bones of marine and terrestrial mammals, and a worked caribou antler. They recorded possible tent ring features that may have used whale ribs as roof supports. These investigations were relatively limited but revealed the site’s tremendous potential for future study. It is larger, more complex, and has been used for a longer time than previously thought.
A large stone cache, probably constructed by Inuit, with Mercy Bay’s prominent landform - Gryfalcon Bluff- seen on the horizon© Parks Canada / H. Cary
As an example, the team collected a small number of terrestrial mammal bone samples for radio-carbon dating, and back in the laboratory the radiocarbon samples provided a real surprise. All were much older than the Thule era, with the oldest dated to 700 B.C. This places the habitation in the middle of the Palaeoeskimo period, an era when people first settled in the Arctic Archipelago after migrating from Siberia and Alaska. No other Paleoeskimo sites have been found in this area with evidence of having used whale bone, so its presence at this site is a question that deserves more study in the future. In contrast, the later Thule Inuit hunted whales extensively and there are traces that they left behind on other parts of the site. This year’s plan will be to map and photograph all of the features in detail and use this data to begin to sort out what features belong with which time period.
This Palaeoeskimo site, located on the shores of Mercy Bay, is approximately 10 km south of the HMS Investigator wreck and could be one of the richest archaeological sites in Aulavik National Park. It has the potential to offer up significant information about the lives of the first people to inhabit Canada’s Arctic.