O’Grady lake Archaeology and Ice Patch Monitoring Project

Todd Kristensen (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2013-011)

A collaborative team from the University of Alberta, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, and the Tulita Dene Band continued their research of pre-contact and historic adaptations to the Selwyn Mountains of the Northwest Territories. This work was completed under Northwest Territories Class 2 Archaeology permit 2013-011. This year’s goals were to dig at several previously identified archaeology sites around O’Grady Lake and to do traditional knowledge interviews with Tulita Elders about mountain living. From mid-August to early September Courtney Lakevold, Glen MacKay, Mike Donnelly, Sarah Bannon, John Kristensen, Bob Dawe, and Todd Kristensen dug at four sites and uncovered a variety of stone tools and cooking areas. A survey team also visited neighbouring ice patches as part of an ongoing program to monitor ice features that have produced well-preserved caribou hunting weapons. Additional canoe surveys around the lake and in neighbouring areas led to the discovery of six new archaeology sites in 2013. Four Elders were interviewed in Tulita and an additional four are planned for 2014.

Excavations produced a number of interesting tools including a large stone knife, scrapers, cores, microblades for making small cutting tools, and a burin for engraving wood and bone. The raw materials that people used thousands of years ago include local cherts as well as obsidian (likely from the Yukon or British Columbia) and a fused clinker from the Mackenzie River region. The presence of these materials indicates long distance trade or seasonal movements.

Ice patch finds in 2013 include several small rodents, caribou bone, feathers, and a piece of wood that may have been part of an ancient weapon. Laboratory analyses will reveal more about the ages and the types of animals that visited the Selwyn Mountain ice features over the past six thousand years.

The team also dug a core of lake-bottom sediments containing pollen and microorganisms that will indicate the types of environments that existed at O’Grady Lake since the first human colonization of the area. This core will also reveal the impact of a large volcanic eruption from southwest Yukon that blanketed the general area in ash. We are interested in understanding what effect this eruption had on local people, plants, and animals. This year’s field program benefited greatly from assistance provided by Tom Andrews (Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre), Jack Ives (University of Alberta), Richard Popko (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), Keith Hickling from Norman Wells, Angus Lennie from Tulita, Stan Simpson (Ram Head Outfitters), and Al Pace and Lin Ward (Canoe North Adventures). This ongoing research project is the basis for a PhD dissertation currently being written by Todd Kristensen at the University of Alberta.

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