The shape of artifacts and structures can be very important in determining not only what they are (obviously) but also when they were likely to have been made.
Jennie Brower and I found this harpoon head (along with a number of other artifacts) while excavating the burial that first indicated that the site was not just a recent settlement. The shape of this harpoon head, with the pinched “waist” is one that was found at the earliest sites from the Inuit expansion into the eastern Arctic. When I saw it, I realized we were not excavating a late precontact burial.
I have books all over. My husband also has a PhD in Arctic archaeology (although he now manages the Community Health Aid program for the North Slope Borough) so we have a fair number of duplicates, both in Arctic stuff and the sort of things you wind up with in grad school. Some of our duplicates, plus a bunch more books are on shelves in my office.
The term “ritual object” has become an archaeological cliche for items of unknown use. That’s not to say that people in the past did not have rituals, some of which involved objects. In some cases, objects had no clear practical purpose where they were found, yet had deliberately been placed there.
I would say that the rocks we found in burials at Nuvuk fit into this group. They were much larger than the average rock on that gravel spit, so they had to have been gathered deliberately. They were clearly placed in the grave. Why? We can only speculate. They could have been placed by mourners, somewhat like people may drop flowers in a grave today. Or they could have been given in trade for intact items buried with the person.
I am an Arctic archaeologist/anthropologist. I have lived in Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska since 1996. I mostly work on Arctic Alaskan coastal sites and sustainability, and spend a lot of time dealing with erosion, although I am a zooarchaeologist at heart. I chair the SAA Committee on Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources.