Ikaahuk Archaeology Project

Lisa Hodgetts (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2013-006)

This summer, our work concentrated on the south coast of Banks Island, on sites relatively close to Sachs Harbour. We did not do any digging, and instead conducted mapping and geophysical survey at four different sites (Figure 1). One (OkRn-2) is a camp site near Emegak Lake. It has many caches and tent rings and is perhaps a few hundred years old. The other three are Thule Inuit sites, occupied in the period between roughly 1200 and 1600 AD. Each has the remains of multiple large houses made of sod and whale bone.

At each site we used a surveying instrument called a total station to map the size and location of the features (Figure 2). We also conducted geophysical survey using a gradiometer and a magnetic susceptibility meter to measure tiny differences in the magnetic properties of the soils across each site (Figure 3). These techniques can indicate the presence of buried archaeological features that are not visible on the ground surface, since human activities such as burning, garbage disposal and digging can affect soil magnetism. The two techniques can potentially identify different types of features and are therefore best used together rather than separately. While neither technique was very effective on the exposed gravel surface at OkRn-2, both identified areas of higher magnetism next to several of the dwellings on the Thule Inuit sites. We suspect that these areas may be middens; places where people disposed of animal bones and other waste.

At each site, Colleen Haukaas, a Masters student at Western University, photographed all of the archaeological features so that we can generate three dimensional computer models to document them and share them with the public. Community members in Sachs Harbour have told us that they would like access to artifacts removed by previous archaeologists who worked on Banks Island. Because objects are fragile once removed from the ground they require controlled temperature and moisture conditions, and under NWT law they are cared for at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. Some older collections are also at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. We have arranged to borrow some of these objects so that we can create computer models and also some actual copies to share with the community.

At all sites except OkRn-3 we saw a lot of erosion of the ground surface, which is exposing relatively large amounts of animal bone which was formerly buried. We collected a few pieces of unworked land mammal bone from each site so that it can be radio-carbon dated in order to determine when and for how long people used these sites. Twelve samples are currently being analyzed at the University of Arizona and we look forward to the results.

More information and links to some of the 3D models are available on our project Facebook page.

(Edited by Morgan Moffitt, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)