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From the lab to the field: experiencing Nunalleq first hand

August 3, 2014

The first official week of excavation has come to an end and it has been a good one, but a rollercoaster; with much to be done on site and great changes in weather, from ‘tropical’ heat to cold rains. Although I have only been here for the one week, I have already learned a great deal and experienced new things. For instance, I have been taught excavation recording methods, including how to use the total station to record the location of finds and samples. One of the fantastic things about being on an excavation like this one, with a team with a wide range of academic backgrounds, is that there are ample opportunities to learn something new.

Through being one of the undergraduate volunteers who worked in the lab back in Aberdeen, and from speaking to fellow students who had been to Nunalleq before, I had a vague idea of what to expect when I arrived here. This site definitely beats all expectations!

My experience in the lab had introduced me to the mind-blowing artefacts found at this unusually well-preserved prehistoric village, and has been a fantastic aid while in the field. It has helped me identify finds (it can be surprisingly difficult to work out what you are seeing in the wet mud) and carry out the final sorting at the end of the day. My lab experience has also stressed the importance of making sure finds’ bags are clearly labelled with all the correct information as otherwise it is a processing nightmare at the other end: “Is that a 1 or a 7?”

Although post-excavation work has helped prepare me for this site, nothing could ever fully compare to actually participating in the excavation. Away from the field, it is easy to lose sight of the settlement and de-humanise what happened here. We can wash, catalogue and study the artefacts without really being aware of their context, especially for those of us who had not been to Nunalleq before. Therefore we are often hit with the harsh reality of the dramatic destruction that took place here 400 years ago. This became particularly apparent with yesterday’s artefact of the day found by Anna S. in the burnt layer of square 32. The skeleton of a dog (complete with remains of fur) was found crushed under a burnt beam. Immediately this image hit home the traumatic event: as houses were being attacked there would have been several dogs cowering inside (there was a dog skull found in square 31 and the rear end of another in 32.). While in the lab, we may process the bones or the wood but not fully comprehend what they represent.


Leonie and Anna S. discussing the excavation of the dog skeletons found in Square 32

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find a small ulu blade, likely to have belonged to a young girl, and a medium-size bentwood vessel. I was thrilled as my main interest is subsistence (my time here would be complete if I could find a harpoon point!). The feeling of knowing that you are the first person to see and feel these objects in hundreds of years is one that words cannot describe.

I am incredibly grateful to have been able to be involved in the lab and excavation aspects of this project: combined they enhance my understanding of Nunalleq. I am very excited to see what the next few weeks reveal.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    August 4, 2014 21:45

    Really exciting to read about your experience so far and see you working away as a wee archaeologist!! 🙂

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