James Helmer and Genevieve LeMoine, with the assistance of a crew of five students and a visiting Danish archaeologist, completed the final season of three years of field work on Little Cornwallis Island in the central Canadian High Arctic. Work this year focused on the Arvik Site (QjJx-1), about one kilometer south of the Tasiariluk Site (QjJx-10) where we had worked in 1992 and 1993. Arvik is, like Tasiariluk, a large Late Dorset period site (ca. 1500-500 RCYBP), with structures associated with both cold season and warm season occupation. Further work was also carried out (under the supervision of Don Hanna) at QiLa-3, a small Late Dorset Period site, with one cold season house and two refuse areas, 10 km south of Arvik.
Our objectives this year were to recover a sample of material from Arvik comparable to that from Tasiariluk, so that we may evaluate similarities and differences between occupations at these two sites. Work at QiLa-3 was aimed at acquiring a sample from what appears to be a single occupation, without the overlap and frequent re-occupation characteristic of larger sites. We were successful in both these goals.
Click here to see a photograph of Late Dorset art pieces.
At Arvik, we excavated two semi-subterranean cold-season houses and two warm-season tent-rings, as well as sampling four refuse areas. One of the cold-season houses was remarkably well preserved, with a paved axial-passage lined with upright slabs. At the back of the axial passage, the stump of a whale mandible was found, still upright, indicating the use of whale bone as an architectural element in the Late Dorset period. After excavation, the axial passage was reconstructed by Bjarne Gronnow.
Click here to see a photograph of excavation in progress.
At QiLa-3, we excavated the solitary semi-subterranean cold-season house and sampled one of the associated middens. This house was also very well preserved and contained the same architectural elements as noted above. Excavation at both Arvik and QiLa-3 uncovered the expected suite of artefacts, including harpoon heads, endblades, needles and ivory carvings.
One aspect of our research in 1994 was a systematic metal-detector survey of parts of both Arvik and Tasiariluk, carried out by Tim Rast. This survey revealed a surprising number of copper and iron artefacts at these two sites: some 288 were recorded. Of these, 75 pieces of copper and 20 pieces of iron were collected during excavation and as part of the systematic survey. Artefacts represented include various knife blades, one stemmed endblade of copper and two needles, also of copper. All are characteristically Late Dorset in form.
One final surprise in 1994 was the recovery of soft organic remains from beneath a melting perennial snowbank in association with Tasiariluk. Wood, hide, sinew and ivory artefacts were collected, including sewn hide, hide thong,braided sinew thong, and scarfed wood pieces lashed with sinew.
Click here to see a photograph of well preserved pieces in situ.
Throughout the course of our work on Little Cornwallis Island we have tried to maintain a good working relationship with the Inuit of the nearby hamlet of Resolute Bay. Hamlet members have been involved in our research, and elders and children have been welcome visitors to, and monitors over, our research. We have learned from them, and we hope they have learned from us.
Click here to see a photo of a site visit by residents of Resolute Bay.
Our research on Little Cornwallis Island has been generously supported by: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Polar Continental Shelf Project of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, the Northern Scientific Training Grants program of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and Cominco Canada Ltd.