Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wrapping up another site

A tent ring after excavation.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arctic Badlands

The Canadian Arctic has many faces.  One of the rivers that we fly along to get to work has a short section of eroding sandstone, creating a few hundred metres of eroding cliffs and boulders that reminds me a lot of the badlands that I grew up around in southern Alberta.

Can you spot the arctic hare?

This run off channel has slowed to a trickle, but for a few weeks in the spring it'll roar with snow melt.

I don't honestly know if calling this a rock is correct, or if its just highly compacted sediments.  There doesn't seem to be much holding the sand and gravel together.  The features are very fragile.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lapland Longspur chick

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Lemming populations go through a boom and bust cycle.  We saw lots of them in 2011, but numbers were low over the past couple of summers.  It looks like they are experiencing a boom again.  That  usually leads to a corresponding boom in the predatory animals and birds that rely on the lemmings for food.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, July 21, 2014

Little Cornwallis Island, NWT 1994

Not long after arriving in the field a few weeks ago, I received a surprise e-mail with a motion blurred photo of me attempting to juggle (right).  The picture was taken in 1994 on Little Cornwallis Island in what is now Nunavut, although it was still part of the Northwest Territories at the time.  I was 19 in the picture and this was my very first field season in the Arctic.  We were excavating Late Dorset sites and I kept a journal, but I didn't have a camera with me.  Another student, Hugh, was an avid photographer and took several rolls of photos during the season.  I hadn't heard from Hugh in more than a decade, but when I thanked him for sending the first photo, he sent me a folder packed with images from the summer.  He said I could share them here, so here are the first few...

According to the date on the board, this photo was taken on July 7, 1994 - just over 20 years ago.  It shows a Late Dorset house prior to excavating.  One of the first artifacts that I found was a little ivory harpoon head, similar to the one in the last photo below.  I didn't realize at the time how exceptional tiny organic artifacts like that are.  I don't think I've found one since.

The project was support by the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP) out of Resolute Bay.  If my memory is correct, it took two twin otter flights to carry all of our gear and personnel from Cornwallis Island to nearby Little Cornwallis Island. 

Following the excavation, Bjarne reconstructed the mid-passage and erected a couple of whalebone uprights to give a sense of the internal area of the dwelling.  You can see the different compartments and work areas inside the mid-passage, the slight inner depression where Bjrane is sitting and the raised gravel berm circling the structure in place of rocks to weigh down the edges of the skin covering that would have been draped over the whalebone and driftwood internal supports.
In the 1994 High Arctic Archaeology fashion show, one of us took home the medal for "Best-Dressed" and one of us went home with the "Most Embarrassing Wardrobe" ribbon.  I forget which one I got - I'll have to check my ribbon when I get home.

If my memory serves - these pieces along with several other organic artifacts were found melting out of a snowbank in the final days of the project.  Again, I thought finding artifacts like this was routine at the time.  But I've never seen anything like that again.

 Photo Credits: Hugh G.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Snow Geese

The site we are working on now is between two rivers and we are surrounded by pairs of snow geese.  The parents are molting and the babies can't fly so they spend the days walking up and down the river banks, feeding, and paddling in the water.  The pairs of adults tend to travel in proximity to each other, but they are very defensive if another adult wanders too close.  They charge, honk, and flap their wings to drive the interloper away.

I can't tell the males apart from the females, so I'm not sure if they take turns being on guard or if the same one is always on the lookout for wandering goslings or other snow geese that approach too closely.

The wings look particularly ragged as the geese molt.

The river mud gives some of the adults red heads.  At least, I hope its mud.  Polar bears, foxes, and ermines often have red snouts, too, but for completely different reasons.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ground Slate Lance Head

A chipped and ground slate lance head in situ.  Probably a few hundred years old, with drilled holes.  It was found along a river 15 km inland and was most likely used for caribou hunting.

...and with a 4.5" trowel for scale.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, July 14, 2014

Newfoundland Icebergs off Cape Spear

I think the bit on the right looks like a mammoth with mountain goat horns.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, July 11, 2014

It's important to stay hydrated

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A section of arrowshaft

Occasionally, the freeze drying conditions of the arctic will act to preserve organic materials that are rarely preserved.  This 24.5 cm long section of wood was found preserved in a frost crack under two fist sized cobbles. It has a uniform diameter and each end is carefully carved to a wedge shaped scarf joint.  Most likely it was a mid-section of an arrow.

The arrow shaft is in the left foreground.  The loose cobble to the right of it is one of the rocks that covered it.  The alcan foil in the upper right and the "L" shaped wood trough on the right edge of the photo were used to make a support for the artifact so that we could safely transport it back to camp.

You can see the tapered end on the right.  A matching end on the next section of arrow could have been lashed in place with sinew.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Shaman's Mask is Angry

This is the second of two complete wooden masks found at the Button Point site on Bylot Island, Nunavut.  This one looks much more angry or aggressive than the other.  You can see pegs on the upper lip and over the eyes where fur eyebrows and mustache would have been attached to the mask.  The video below begins by zooming out of one of the suspension holes on either side of the mask where some sort of cord or rope would have been secured to tie the mask to the wearer's face.  Both masks are in the collection of the Canadian Museum of History.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History

Friday, July 4, 2014

Archaeology at Stock Cove

Coming up next Wednesday evening, July 9th, Don Holly and Chris Wolff will be talking about their ongoing research at Stock Cove.  The talk takes place in Sunnyside, Newfoundland and Labrador at 7 PM. More details on the NLAS blog.

Photo Credits: NLAS, Chris Wolff, Don Holly

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lapland Longspur

Beautiful plumage
Lapland Larkspurs are chirpy little sparrow sized birds that nest throughout Baffin Island.  We have a few that keep us company throughout the day and part of the night.  They go to nest for a few hours when the sun is at its lowest, but during the rest of the day they are flitting around and singing.

 Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus

This nest was built on the ground under the gnarled branches of an arctic willow.  It has six eggs.

The female is less flashy than the male, but she's good at giving you the stink eye if you get too close to her eggs.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast
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