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Digging into history
Sachs Harbour residents travel to Yellowknife to study ancient Banks Island artifacts

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Monday, June 1, 2015

From her first visit to Sachs Harbour about eight years ago community members have been asking archaeologist Lisa Hodgetts where artifacts found in the area have gone.

Many researchers have conducted work on Banks Island but locals generally don't receive much feedback about discoveries, explained Hodgetts, lead researcher for the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project.

"We wanted to find a way to connect people with all of that stuff and think ahead to the future about ways to make the material more accessible to people in Sachs Harbour," she said.

Project members organized a trip for residents and Grade 9 students from Inualthuyak School to visit the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, where most of the artifacts are held.

The group will arrive in the capital June 7 and will spend three days at the museum before returning to Sachs Harbour June 12.

They'll get to view artifacts, many of them thousands of years old, collected from Pre-dorset, Lagoon and Thule sites on Banks Island, including items discovered through Hodgetts' project. Last summer, she and her team excavated a qarmaq, a type of dwelling constructed with sod and animal skins which would have been used in spring and fall. Radiocarbon dating places the house back 450 years to approximately 1550 AD.

During the dig, the team unearthed an ivory fishing lure, slate ulus, awls, a polar bear tooth pendant, amber beads, harpoon heads and bones from foxes, muskox, seal, goose and caribou.

The crew is interested in how people's use of Banks Island has changed in the past 3500 years. They're also studying caribou and muskox populations.

"The biological studies over the last few decades give us all kinds of information but for a very short time period," said Hodgetts.

"So this kind of archaeological work can give us a much better time depth and a picture of how these things trend over the long-term in relation to things like climate change."

Sachs Harbour resident Mariah Lucas, 19, worked with Hodgetts last summer and helped with the excavation.

She will be among those visiting the heritage centre next week and is excited for other community members to see what's been found.

For Lucas, the most interesting artifacts are the harpoon heads because some were still sharp when the project members discovered them.

"More people should have opportunities to see what I've seen," said Lucas, adding she's looking forward to comparing the project finds with past discoveries from the island.

The artifacts are kept at the heritage centre instead of Sachs Harbour because many are made of organic materials such as bone, sinew and antler and need to be kept in climate-controlled cases, which are expensive.

However, Hodgetts wants the group to review options for bringing the items home.

"There are lots of different ways that maybe we could make (the artifacts) available to community members, especially given the recent advances in digital technologies," she said.

For instance, her team has made 3D models of the dwelling they excavated at Agvik, a tent ring near Masik River and a kamik, or boot, found on Banks Island.

So the Grade 9s on the trip, she said, will be tasked with creating 3D computer models.

But first there will be a discussion about whether some items are more sensitive and thus shouldn't be modeled.

Then from there the group will decide if they want to post the models on the Internet or 3D print them.

They may also want reproductions made of some of the pieces, said Hodgetts.

The Ikaahuk Archaeology Project has already commissioned Tim Rast, an archaeologist who specializes in artifact reproductions, to recreate eight items found by Hodgetts' team.

The reproductions will be given to Sachs Harbour to be displayed for everyone to see.

"I think some kind of Plexiglas display case in a public space (like the rec centre, the school or even the foyer outside the Co-op) would make sense. But ultimately it's up to (the community)."

The students will also create a short video showing elders sharing their knowledge of the artifacts viewed on the trip and how or if they differ from more modern tools.

Beverly Amos, Inuvialuktun Language Consultant, a Parks Canada representative and University of Western Ontario graduate students will also be joining the group.

Funding for the trip came from a grant given to Hodgetts by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Parks Canada, the Polar Continental Shelf Program through Natural Resources Canada and the Inuvialuit Regional


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