|Latonia Hartery, in a snowstorm,|
80 degrees north at Fort Conger,
|Plans and Profiles #17: Latonia Hartery, Microscopic Plant Remains from Palaeoeskimo Sites and Artifacts|
1) Tell me a little bit about your project.
Well, let’s see. Generally speaking, and since 1998, I have been working in Bird Cove-Plum Point, on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. There are 36 archaeological sites in the area that date from about 5000 years ago to the historic period. I have worked with a number of wonderful scholars namely David Reader, Stephen Hull, Miki Lee and of course, you. It’s one of the biggest joys of my life, working with that community. It’s also the place where I collected my PhD data, at a Dorset Paleoeskimo site called Peat Garden North. Recently, I have taken a break from research there to edit/work on a book which summarizes the results from the main sites excavated so far. I’m nearing the end now. Thank heavens!
More specifically, I am SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellow at Memorial University, searching for microscopic phytoliths and starch on Paleoeskimo stone tools and in soil samples. Mike Deal is my supervisor. Both phytoliths and starch have unique shapes and features, particular to species, that help us identify which plant they belong to.
|Town of Bird Cove looking west. (Photo: Dennis Minty)|
2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?
|Corn starch grain (photo: Brian Kooyman)|
3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?
|Potato Starch Grain (Photo: Brian Kooyman)|
4) If you could ask the people who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be?
|The chert bear from Peat Garden North |
(Photo: Latonia Hartery)
5) Was there something that you believed or expected to be true at the start of this research that you’ve since disproven?
I guess it’s that plants were more important to Paleoeskimo people, and Arctic people in general, than we realize. While they may not make up as much of the diet as sea mammals, they were still consumed, provided much-needed nutrients, and had many uses such as for baskets, floor coverings (they used grass at Peat Garden North for this purpose), clothing, fuel, tools - the list goes on. In many early ethnographies, and 5th Thule monographs for example, observations on plant use were rarely reported. So, I suppose we haven’t been as inclined to study it archaeologically. But when you dig deeper, develop ways to research it, and pose the questions, a new world of information opens up.
6) If you had to pick one artifact or feature that encapsulates your research what would it be? Can you describe it?
Great question. It’s a little soapstone pot you and I found at Peat Garden North. Not more than the size of the palm of your hand, it was located in the middle of a house, on an axial passage. It was stained on the inside, from what we assumed must simply be oil, since the vessel was likely a lamp or pot. However, once I tested the interior of the pot for starch and phytoliths, a number of different, extremely large starch grains belonging to the roots of several plant species, were recovered. It’s not moss, certainly, because moss doesn’t contain starch. It was eye-opening in terms of understanding its function, and I have recently sampled residues from a pot at Phillip’s Garden to see if it contains multiple plant species also. So at the end of the day, the vessel and its contents are metaphorical for the research I’m doing in general, because I first thought something that was a standard way of thinking, which was eventually disproven.
|Soapstone pot from Peat Garden North, and an example of some of the starch grains found inside. Top Right is starch grain, Left is cross polarized image of the starch showing birefringence. (Photo: Latonia Hartery)|
7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?
When I’m not doing research, I’m usually making documentaries or fictional films. In the past few years, I’ve made a few short films, as well as written and directed a couple of documentaries for the CBC called The Last Sardine Outpost and Rum Running. I’ve also production managed 8 documentaries for that broadcaster. It’s not exactly resting, but it’s pretty incredible what a change in activities can do. I like watching movies as well, especially foreign films, The Lives of Others – A German film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch lots of TV but I did watch Vikings on HBO. It wasn’t bad! The opening credit sequence and music is quite good, that’s reason enough to watch it.
8) There’s a lot of travelling and writing in archaeology. Any tips in either category?
Latonia and Aaju Peter (Inuit Lawyer, Designer, Singer,
Sealing Activist) singing “Return of the Sun” song on
top of a fjord (Photo: Dennis Minty)
9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?
Yes, well Elfshot and Steve Hull’s are among the best, but I suspect your readers know those already. Here’s the site for my non-profit org (www.aminainc.org), and the Bird Cove area (www.bigdroke.ca). Superstar phytolith and starch researcher Delores Piperno has a home page and a link to all her stellar publications here: http://anthropology.si.edu/archaeobio/piperno.html.
For books, try Ancient Starch Research, edited by Torrence and Barton, and Phytoliths: A Comprehensive Guide for Archaeologists and Paleoecologists by Piperno. Some of my early results are in the Bar Series 2006 with Rankin and Ramsden as editors, and there is my PhD, but a shortened form of those results will appear in our book soon.
Would you like to see your work profiled here? Or perhaps that of a student or colleague? Send me a note, I'd love to hear from you: email@example.com
Photo Credits:As indicated in the photo captions.
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White