Complete Inuvialuit driftwood house found in Canadian Arctic
|Mike O'Rourke excavates the rear bench of a 19th century house at the|
Kuukpak site [Credit: Max Friesen]
Friesen says large, cruciform houses are one of the things most spoken about in early histories, recollections of elders and the writings of early explorers in the delta
"But even though others have excavated parts of these houses, there’s never been one that’s fully dug, so you can actually see how it all fits together."
They’re called cruciform houses because they have a central floor area and then three very large alcoves, each of which would’ve had one or two different families in them.
Driftwood logs make up the house’s floor, benches and roof, which would have been covered in skin and sod for insulation.
With a main living area about seven metres wide and almost six metres long, the house is almost twice the size as those built by the Thule people, the ancestors of the Inuvialuit.
"By almost any early standard, that’s huge," Friesen says.
|A cache of artifacts found together in the large cruciform house. At bottom |
left can be seen a fish hook and a comb; at centre right is an ulu
blade made of slate [Credit: Max Friesen]
That makes it horrible to dig in, Friesen says, but it means the structure is wonderfully preserved.
"When you expose some of the wood, it looks like fresh wood. Like something that just drifted in this morning."
Friesen spent five weeks doing the dig this summer at the Kuukpak archaeological site that extends about a kilometre along the Mackenzie River.
|Chuck Arnold and Lawrence Rogers examine an eroding Inuvialuit |
house at the Kuukpak site in the Mackenzie Delta near
Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. [Credit: Max Friesen]
The settlement was the site of a large, very successful beluga hunt every July.
Now, Friesen says, the area is rapidly eroding.
"We could walk on the beach and see a lot of beluga bones and artifacts currently eroding out of the edges of the site and get an amazing view of the size and complexity of what Inuvialuit society must have looked like."
|The beach at the Kuukpak site at low tide, covered in beluga |
whale bones which are eroding from ancient
Inuvialuit houses [Credit: Max Friesen]
Friesen says the pit house is so big that 10 people working for five weeks were unable to get to the bottom of it. He plans to head back to the area next year for an aerial survey. Then try to complete the dig in the summer of 2016.
"I’m really hoping that this will last for at least another three, four, five years and that we will manage to preserve a large amount of information that would otherwise be destroyed."
Source: CBC News [August 27, 2014]