Investigations at the Fish Lake Site, Southeastern Banks Island, NWT

Charles Arnold (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2009‐018)

Over a two week period in the summer of 2009 Charles Arnold and Glen Mackay of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC), assisted by Kyle Wolki of Sachs Harbour, conducted investigations at an archaeological site (OkRn‐1) near Fish Lake on southeastern Banks Island, NWT.

The Fish Lake archaeological site was first reported by Thomas Manning, who undertook a scientific reconnaissance of Banks Island on behalf of the Defense Research Board of Canada during the summers of 1952 and 1953. Manning noted the remains of eight whalebone houses near the edge of a 20 metre high cliff overlooking the Beaufort Sea that he assumed (correctly) were from the Thule culture. The PWNHC, through its participation in the Inuit History Project coordinated by the Canadian Museum of Civilization and funded by the International Polar Year, is documenting evidence of the Thule culture on southern Banks Island, and undertook the 2009 investigations to learn more about this site, and to assess the potential for further, more detailed, excavations.

Our goals for the brief field season were to prepare an accurate map of the site, conduct test excavations to determine the depth and state of preservation of cultural remains, and to recover datable artifacts or organic materials. These goals were all met. The site was successfully relocated, and a map of the eight (and possibly nine) house remains was prepared. Test excavations in two of the houses and in a midden deposit revealed that well‐preserved cultural remains are found at a depth of approximately 50 cm. Three radiocarbon dates point to a date of about 1600 AD, which is corroborated by the styles of several antler arrowheads that were recovered. This period of Thule history is poorly known in the local area, and the site has a high potential for revealing adaptive strategies employed by Inuit in the western Canadian Arctic during the early stages of a cooling climatic episode that undoubtedly impacted resource availability.

The eroding cliff edge, which is less than 10 meters from the site, is a cause for concern. The rate of erosion cannot be determined from Manning’s observations, as he did not indicate the proximity of the archaeological site to the cliff edge at the time of his visit in 1952. However, extensive slumping along the edge is evident, and is anticipated to accelerate as warmer temperatures evident over the past few decades melt the permafrost that binds the sandy soil that is ubiquitous in the area.

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