Arctic archaeology as seen from Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Alaska
I’ve been thinking about a site I located over 20 years ago, on a survey for a project that was never built. It is on high ground next to a lake, with a really good view of about 270° around. I first saw it from a helicopter about 5 miles out and it stood out like a sore thumb. I can’t imagine there isn’t a name for that place, since it has clearly been used for hundreds of years (at least). The lake it is next to is labeled Kilusiktok on maps and quad sheets, but I don’t know if that is its real name, or if the name is spelled right. I have been told that the names of a lot of lakes in the area got attached to the wrong lake on the maps. The lake is the lowest pin in the map below.
The site is on high ground not quite halfway down the west side of the lake, and there’s a trail that goes by it. It seems to be a place caribou like, and there are lots of ducks and geese (and swans) by the lake.
There’s a couple of pictures taken from the site. The hunters in the second picture harvested a caribou beside the lake a little to the south of the site.
If anyone knows the real name of the place (or even the lake) please let me know. I’d also like to talk to anyone who remembers how they first learned about the place, and how it has changed over the years. The lake just to the north drained sometime in the 2000s (I was able to ride my Honda across the little stream not even up to my axels, much to my surprise) and then started getting ponds in it again, so it would be interesting to know what else changed.
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.
The deadline is fast approaching for contributions to the Recent Research Notes column in the Alaska Journal of Anthropology. These would be brief (1-3 paragraphs maximum) reports on up-coming, on-going or recently completed projects, new C-14 dates or laboratory findings that might be of interest to the Arctic/subarctic research community. Individuals can submit multiple notes if they have different subjects. Items already covered in the newsletter are appropriate, as AJA has a broader circulation, and exists in permanent hard copy in libraries. For more detail, see here.
Submissions can be made to Anne Jensen (email@example.com) who edits the column. Electronic submissions (in AJA style) are strongly preferred. The AJA Style Guide can be found here.