Desolate islands now home to just migratory birds and small Arctic willows

Researchers find wood houses above tree line


The Hopewell Islands off the Hudson Bay coast near Inukjuak are rocky and barren breeding grounds for migratory birds and peregrine falcons, places where only small Arctic willows and grasses thrive during the summer months.

But somehow Inuit living on these islands 200 years ago found enough large logs to use as sturdy wooden beams for the roofs of their sod houses, say archeologists from Nunavik's Avataq Cultural Institute.

Recent excavations at the Drayton Island site near Inukjuak show Inuit lived there 200 years ago, building semi-underground houses that had tunnel-like entrances and used wood several metres long as beams and shorter piece as roof supports.

Avataq plans to study the wood to see what kinds of trees were used.

Where the wood for these beams and roof trusses came from is somewhat of a mystery. Inukjuak's elders suggest logs may have washed up on the shore or were even been brought in from below the tree line, about 350 kilometres to the south.

"We already knew that wood was often used to build qammait in that area. However, it is rarely so well preserved in archaeological sites. We have not yet begun the analytical phase of our research, but we already foresee that these discoveries will lead to a better understanding of the early construction techniques for dwellings," said archeologist Pierre M. Desrosiers.

Avataq archeologists also carried out a survey of the area, uncovering traces of early Inuit occupation on the islands, likely dating back more than 2,500 years.

This survey led to the identification of more than 40 new sites, mostly on Drayton Island but also on Harrison and Patterson islands. The sites included summer dwellings, fox traps, caches and graves, and quarries for siltite, a rock used for making early tools.

Avataq archeologist Daniel Gendron organized last summer's project, part of Avataq's involvement in International Polar Year, which was carried out by Desrosiers, with archeologist Tommy Weetaluktuk, hunter-guides Sackariassie Pauloosie and Allie Nalukturuk, cooks Annie Kokiapik and Mae Partridge, and Paulusie Inukpuk and Chris Angiyou as assistant hunter-guides.

Two graduate students from Europe also participated in the Drayton Island excavation.

Nine Inuit students, Natalie Echalook, Abraham Kasudluak Mina, Abilie Williams, Magan Kasudluak, Stephan Mina, Tommy Niviaxie, Allie Aculiak, Moses Idlout and Susie Mina, were part of a four-week apprenticeship in excavation methods. They learned how to use grids and recover artifacts as well as properly record their findings.

Some of these students also received some additional training in geography from Laval university researchers during their summer on the Hopewell Islands.

The Hopewell Islands are named after a ship called the "Hopewell" that was used by Henry Hudson, the English explorer who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1607. No one is sure what happened to Hudson and a few shipmates who were put out to sea in James Bay after a mutiny during the summer of 1611.

Some in Inukjuak have speculated that graves on the Hopewell Islands date from Hudson's journey through the region.

To learn more about Avataq's archeological activities, visit the new Avataq web site at

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