Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ioffe Site

Part of the responsibility that came with being a resource archaeologist on the High Arctic Adventure cruise last fall was holding an archaeology permit with the Government of Nunavut. The final report for that permit is due by the end of March, so I finally finished it this weekend.

Insomniacs can download the report here.

Four of the sites we visited were known sites, but we did find one new site on Devon Island. We went onshore to view a herd of musk ox. This is a video that I took of the herd. I didn't realize it at the time, but those dark clusters of rocks on the horizon between the two groups of musk ox are the tent rings and caches that make up the Ioffe Site.

Here's a brief summary of the site:

The Ioffe Site (QdHi-13)

The Ioffe Site is an historic Inuit campsite on southern Devon Island that was found by passengers and staff making a shore visit from the Akademik Ioffe. On September 23rd, 2008 approximately 80 passengers and 12-16 staff landed to hike and observe a herd of musk ox. We found the site by chance towards the end of the excursion and the total time spent on the site was less than 45 minutes. There was very little snow on the ground, so we had good visibility of the site.

The site is located on the southern shore of Devon Island, between Croker Bay and Dundas Harbour. It sits on an eroding beach terrace approximately 4.5 km west of Lemieux Point and approximately 250 m south of beach ridge airstrip. Its elevation is approximately 5 masl.

The site consists of a series of caches and tent rings that appear to be of historic Inuit origin. There are 5 caches located close to the beach – two of which were partially eroding into the sea. Set back from the caches there are 4-5 tent rings. Some of the tent rings were very scattered and may have been reused. One stone ring was next to a rectangular gravel berm, perhaps from a more recent tent. Elder Jamesie Mike identified a stone dog den, that may have been built to allow a mother to have pups in. He also identified a partially dismantled fox trap. Closer inspection of the “fox trap” suggests that it may have actually been a toppled inukshuk. In total, 15 features were observed at the site and their locations were recorded using a handheld GPS.

  • 5 Caches
  • 4-5 Tent rings
  • 1 Rectangular gravel berm
  • 1 Dog den
  • 1 Fox trap/toppled inukshuk

Identifiable bones at the site included seal, caribou, whalebone, musk ox and bird bone. There was a substantial scattering of bone throughout the site, especially towards the sea and in the vicinity of the caches. All of the bones are weathered white and had significant lichen growth. The lichen growth on the associated bones suggest some age to the site, although one piece of cut Caribou antler seemed to have been cut with a metal saw. The cut had parallel sides, with a square straight base, similar to cuts made by a carpenter’s saw. No artifacts were collected from the site.

Based on the elevation of the site, the lichen growth, the presence of caches and tent rings and the evidence of metal saws on the site, I suggest a historic Inuit context, perhaps 19th century. There are oral traditions of this area being occupied by Pond Inlet fugitives during the 1850s. This site would not be inconsistent with that time period.

Some of the features may be more recent than others. In addition to the more modern looking rectangular gravel tent berm, there was cut lumber scattered and piled across the site and we found duct tape and cigarette butts near the dog den.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:

Top, The Akademik Ioffe ship and the Musk Ox herd. The dark clusters of stone on the horizon just above the musk ox is the Ioffe site, named for the ship. The larger of the two piles is the dog den.

Video, Muskox and Ioffe Site in the background

Left, Dog Den identified by Jamesie Mike

Bottom right, Antler artifact, showing evidence that it was cut with metal tools.

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