Monday, January 9, 2012

Sleeping platforms and heat reflectors

Dolomite slabs used in a tent ring
A conversation on Facebook following Friday's post about the ulu preform, reminded me of one of the other interesting aspects of the site where the ulu pieces were found.  The site was located in a boulder field along a large river valley on northern Baffin Island, Nunavut.  I think one of the reasons that this specific site location was selected was the presence of large, splitting dolomite boulders.  The boulders were pulled apart and the flat slabs used as building materials on the temporary tent shelters erected on the site.

A boulder field like this could be turned into a comfortable campsite.  The round boulders are used to hold down the edges of tents and the flat slabs (like the splitting dolomite boulder in the foreground) could be peeled apart to make a level sleeping surface and propped up to make hearths and heat reflectors for soapstone lamps.
You're looking at the footprint of an old tent.  It might look random at first, but there is a flat pavement of light coloured dolomite slabs in the center of the photo that would have been inside the shelter.  Compared to the irregular surface of the boulder field, this creates a relatively flat and slightly elevated sleeping area.  Facing the sleeping platform towards the right of the photo is another light coloured boulder which has been propped at an angle, that I think was used as a heat reflector for a soapstone lamp. People would have slept with their head towards the edge of the platform nearest the heat source. There is a rough oval of round boulders around the sleeping platform that would have been used to hold town the edges of a skin tent.
The tent ring and sleeping platform in the photos here was relatively small and was probably a small temporary shelter used by a couple people.  Perhaps brothers out hunting caribou, or a young married couple travelling with their family.  The image on the left from  shows a comparable shelter with a pine bow covering. To see what a seal skin version of this shelter might have looked like, check out Rudy Brueggemann's photo of a "Seal-skin Tent" in Greenland (look for the tie down rocks sitting on the edges of the sealskin). Annie Pootoogook's drawing, In the Summer Camp Tent, shows the arrangement of people sleeping on the sleeping platform relative to the lamp or hearth, although in the modern setting the stone platform has been replaced by mattresses and the lamp is now a Coleman stove.

After we mapped and excavated the sites we tried refitting the slabs and the large stones in the sleeping platform refit with the slab used as a heat reflector.  If you wanted to, you could stack up the whole tent and put it away like a giant deck of cards.
Naturally fractured dolomite boulder
There were plenty of unused dolomite boulders scattered across the boulder field.  Dolomite's tendency to fracture into slabs made it a valuable building material in a treeless landscape dominated by glacially worn round boulders and cobbles.  They are kind of ready-to-assemble house kits, if you know what you are looking for.

Photo Credits: 
1-3: Tim Rast
4: BC Adventure Network
5,6: Tim Rast

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