Sahtu Dene Extension Survey, Tuktut Nogait National Park of Canada

Lori Dueck (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2009‐008)

On June 26, the four members of the archaeological survey team met in Paulatuk to begin two weeks of fieldwork within the Sahtu Dene Extension of Tuktut Nogait National Park (TNNP). From the Western Arctic Field Unit were Craig Brigley, GIS Specialist; Lindsay Croken, Historian; and Aaron Pervais, Resource Conservation and Public Safety Specialist; and Lori Dueck, Archaeologist from the Western and Northern Service Centre in Winnipeg. We met the Arctic Botany crew accompanied by Christopher Hunter, the site manager of TNNP. They were headed into the park extension to carry out vegetation sampling. This area had not been previously surveyed for archaeological sites or vegetative studies. The two field crews were geared up and anxious to depart when a fog rolled in and hung over Paulatuk. We had an unexpected five day delay. On July 2, the fog cleared and we departed on a NorthWright charter for the park, landing on an unnamed open lake located 3km from the frozen Canoe Lake.

We had to redefine our objectives due to the five days cut short from our two week field season. We agreed to complete the survey around Canoe Lake, the plateaus to the west and north of the lake, and around a small unnamed lake at the east end of Canoe Lake. The Arctic Botany crew spent two days with us before heading out by canoe on the Hornaday River. They not only collected vegetation samples, but located and assisted us with recording an intriguing archaeological feature, possibly identified as a drive line.

Literature describes a drive line as a line of widely spaced rock cairns that limits the movement of caribou forcing the herd to move in a direction towards a slope or cliff. (1) The feature we recorded is a distinct alignment of evenly spaced clusters of rocks, extending approximately 500 meters across an expansive plateau. The plateau is located between an unnamed lake to the northwest and Canoe Lake to the southeast. A line of 53 rock clusters runs along the west side of the plateau in a north/south direction. Ridges rise up intermittently along the west side creating a natural boundary where caribou are inhibited to move. The rock alignment ends on the downward slope of the plateau leading into a shallow valley near the Hornaday River. It is possible that this feature was used as a hunting technique directing caribou into the narrow valley below.

We recorded 12 archaeological sites consisting of several features such as tent rings, blinds, stretching and drying platforms, caches, and numerous marker rocks. Along a 100 metre stretch of bank of the Hornaday River we recorded five tent rings made of small widely spaced boulders. These rings appear more recent in origin due to the lack of lichen and the wide spaces between the boulders. In contrast, two tent rings located on the steep south shore of Canoe Lake were built with heavy thick rock slabs, slightly layered and tightly spaced. These two rings were semi‐embedded in the ground with much lichen on the rock, suggesting an earlier time period of construction. Associated with the two tent rings was a blind or wind shelter situated on top of a small ridge overlooking Canoe Lake. Other tent rings consisting of a single circle of small boulders were located in sheltered terraces in the tundra hills surrounding Canoe Lake. Two rock platforms built with large, flat slabs were located close to two tent rings and were likely used for stretching or drying caribou skin. We recorded numerous marker rocks situated on tops of knolls, ridges, and along bank edges of plateaus. The markers were built low to the ground with two to fourteen rocks.

On July 10 we finished the archaeological survey around Canoe Lake and surrounding area, hiking a total of 127 km. The following day was spent moving base camp to the pickup point at Canoe Lake, where the ice had broken and thawed considerably. July 12 was a beautiful calm and clear day; perfect for our departure.

1. Tundra Game Drives: An Arctic‐Alpine Comparison, by James B. Benedict © 2005

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)

  • Archaeological Survey Crew

    2009-008 Lori Dueck
  • Tent Ring

    2009-008 Lori Dueck