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 stayed up way too late last night reading. It wasn’t a mystery, though, although I do that often enough. I was finishing a book of articles on how people move into unknown territory, and how such movements that happened in the past (say, the peopling of the Americas or the islands of the Pacific) can be detected by archaeologists.
The topic is pretty important in Arctic archaeology, since during the Pleistocene (the most recent Ice Age) most of the North American Arctic was covered with ice sheets. Even today, people don’t live on ice sheets, with the exception of science camps at places like Summit, Greenland and the South Pole. Once the ice started melting, plants, animals, and people gradually moved into those areas. One of the obvious questions for archaeologists is when and how.
Actually, it looks like it has happened at least twice. At least two groups of people seem to have spread across the North American Arctic from Alaska (and there may have been a small group earlier). The second major time it happened is often called the Thule Migration, and it’s when the ancestors of today’s Inuit peoples, who now live everywhere between Western Alaska and Greenland, mostly along the coast, first spread across the entire North American Arctic. Why they did it when they did is one of the big questions in Arctic archaeology. The sites that I have been working at lately seem to be possible pieces of the puzzle.