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A Special Issue of Open Archaeology Shines a Light on Developments in the Arctic North

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Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, August 19, 2007 | © Rick Derevan.

In 2016, this topical collection of articles on advances in arctic archeology has surveyed both the recent changes the arctic north undergoes and the implications of increasingly accessible data for research.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


While the arctic region of North America experiences climate-related changes, growing tourism exposure and mounting resource-extraction probes, this also lead to the reconfiguration of relations between local and global players, such as indigenous and scientific communities. On the background of the ecological disruptions that this region undergoes, researchers increasingly take advantage of the growing stock of imaging and geomatic data to apply novel approaches to on-site and laboratory research, as Peter Whitridge and Max Friesen, this collection of articles’ editors, indicate.

This is demonstrated in Tim Rast and Christopher B. Wolff’s study on Late Dorset Palaeoeskimo drums analyzed in relation to historical local shamanism practices based on additional archaeological finds discovered on Coastal Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada, in 2014. These wooden drum fragments dating to circa 1000 AD have enabled additional insights into the Late Dorset Palaeoeskimo style in relation to the historical development of Inuit drum morphology and the practices of Late Dorset shamanism. In his research on Middle Dorset large-scale communal structures located in the Oxford Bay area of Victoria Island, Nunavut, Canada., T. Max Friesen contributes to the arctic archaeology of these sites by their radiocarbon dating to the period between 200 and 700 AD. This cluster of Middle Dorset structures represents a unique source of primary data on historical hunting practices and their interrelations with settlement patterns and built forms, such as Late Dorset longhouses. Likewise, Lauren E. Y. Norman et al. demonstrate that archaeological excavations, such as in Cape Espenberg, Alaska, can shed light on the historical variability in and changing uses of location-related architectural forms, e.g., subsistence patterns in early Thule semi-subterranean dwellings in the period from 1300 to 1450 AD.

By contrast, Peter Dawson and Richard Levy draw attention to the potential of virtual exhibitions to raise the profile of Canada’s non-Indigenous polar heritage sites, especially given their geographical remoteness. Thus, this article argues that Internet-based exhibits can increase public awareness of heritage preservation projects in the arctic and Antarctic regions and the climate change-related impact on associated sites, such as Fort Conger, a polar heritage site in Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island, Canada. In other words, as David B. Landry et al. suggest, digital technologies, e.g., point cloud data collected with the aid of large terrestrial laser scanning technology, are likely to facilitate analytical and interpretive findings. The use of these tools has assisted the visual analysis of archaeological site surfaces, to characterize their features in the context of the existing body of research on Paleo-Inuit hunter-gatherer sites.

At the same time, as the contribution of Brendan Griebel, Torsten Diesel, and Tim Rast to this issue indicates, arctic archeological research increasingly seeks to reconcile Inuit and non-Inuit approaches to the preservation of heritage sites, such as in Nunavut, Canada. Thus, these researches suggest that the development of community-oriented resources, such as archaeological guidebooks and kit, may contribute to growing inter-cultural awareness and improved regulatory handling of heritage resources in this region. This is especially important in view of the rapid environmental changes, such as coastal erosion in the Mackenzie Delta of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Canada, which, as Michael J. E. O’Rourke warns, urgently demands a revision of shoreline erosion models and more intensive monitoring of the arctic region, to identify vulnerable archaeological areas.

Thus, this issue of Open Archaeology indicates both the importance of on-going archaeological research in remote regions, such as the arctic, but also the urgency of using advanced technological tools for the documentation of transformations and the interpretation of finds in these sites.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, August 19, 2007 | © Rick Derevan.

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