Ar­chae­ol­ogy team set to study pre-con­tact Inuit win­ter vil­lage

Ki­valekh whal­ing and seal­ing site in Okak Is­lands ac­tive from late 1400s to early 1800s

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Community - BY THOM BARKER SPE­CIAL TO THE LABRADORIAN

For more than 300 years, Ki­valekh was an Inuit win­ter vil­lage in the Okak Is­lands, lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately 100 kilo­me­tres north of Nain.

“As at the win­ter vil­lage of Ui­vakh on the main­land just north of Okak, res­i­dents of Ki­valekh prob­a­bly hunted bow­head whales and harp seals in the fall, and ringed seal through­out the win­ter,” said Peter Whit­bridge, a Me­mo­rial Univer­sity (MUN) ar­chae­ol­o­gist. “Al­though there is a large num­ber of win­ter houses (at least 50) at Ki­valekh, un­til we in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther it is im­pos­si­ble to es­ti­mate how many might have been oc­cu­pied at any one time. Mo­ra­vians counted about 120 peo­ple in six houses there in 1773.”

Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­signed to pro­mote con­ser­va­tion and com­mem­o­rate the 1918-19 Span­ish in­fluenza epi­demic that dec­i­mated the com­mu­nity, is sched­uled for this sum­mer.

Whit­bridge, with a team of four as­sis­tants, plans to spend the last three weeks of July in the field. They will be work­ing to build on re­search con­ducted be­tween 1974 and 1984 that fo­cussed more on pre-Inuit (Dorset) oc­cu­pa­tion of the area and which, Whit­bridge said, pro­duced a map that is not very ac­cu­rate in light of mod­ern satel­lite im­agery.

The 2018 field work will take ad­van­tage of the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

“This sum­mer we plan to care­fully sur­vey the site with a to­tal sta­tion (an elec­tronic op­ti­cal sur­vey­ing in­stru­ment), as well as gen­er­at­ing an aerial photo mo­saic and 3D model by tak­ing pho­to­graphs with a drone,” Whit­bridge ex­plained. “We will also sur­vey the sur­round­ing area for ad­di­tional sites, and ex­ca­vate small tests in mid­den (his­toric do­mes­tic waste) ar­eas to gen­er­ate dat­able or­ganic sam­ples.”

Whit­bridge ini­ti­ated drone map­ping in Labrador in 2016 at Jo­hannes Point (He­bron Fiord). He plans to ex­pand the pro­gram in line with what is hap­pen­ing gen­er­ally in the dis­ci­pline of ar­chae­ol­ogy.

“I think we can pro­duce an ex­tremely rich body of maps and im­agery of north­ern Labrador sites that will be of great value, not only to other ar­chae­ol­o­gists, but to Labrador com­mu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ment land man­agers, other re­searchers and the tourism in­dus­try,” he said.

Whit­bridge said they are go­ing back to north­ern Labrador with a more pow­er­ful drone and bet­ter qual­ity cam­era than in 2016.

“I hope we will raise the bar on the kind of aerial doc­u­ment it is pos­si­ble to pro­duce in a rel­a­tively short time,” he said. “There is a wider move in ar­chae­ol­ogy to re­place time-con­sum­ing ground sur­vey with high res­o­lu­tion aerial map­ping.”

Whit­bridge ex­pects this sum­mer’s project will pro­vide a bet­ter idea of the po­ten­tial of the new­est drones and drone cam­eras to dra­mat­i­cally speed up the map­ping process —from weeks to days — es­pe­cially in a wilder­ness field set­ting where time on the ground is ex­tremely costly.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF PETER WHIT­BRIDGE.

A mid­den test from Peter Whit­bridge’s 2016 field work at Jo­hannes Point (He­bron Fiord), north­ern Labrador, sim­i­lar to work the Me­mo­rial Univer­sity ar­chae­ol­o­gist plans to do at the Inuit win­ter vil­lage Ki­valekh, in the Okak Is­lands this sum­mer.

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