Frobisher archaeologists meet elders in Iqaluit

As priceless archaeological sites in Frobisher Bay are disappearing due to erosion, a team of archealogical experts met in Iqaluit this week to talk about these historic sites.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT Erosion is carrying away archaeological evidence of Martin Frobisher’s voyages to Baffin Island, but Inuit elders in the area are keeping the knowledge of those expeditions alive.

Lucassie Nowdlak is a descendent of one of Frobisher’s crew members. He and his nephew, Inookie Adamie, are the only surviving members of his family and they are among the few Inuit who have carried on the oral history of the time their ancestors gazed out across the water to see Frobisher’s masted ships.

“I’m sure it was bewildering and frightening to see such strange people and I’m sure there was a bit of conflict that first time,” Adamie said during a weekend meeting in Iqaluit to discuss Frobisher’s voyages. “I’m assuming that. This is what I used to hear from the older people who carried on this oral knowledge.”

Nowdlak and Adamie, both born near Kodlunarn Island, have been an integral part of the research into Frobisher’s three voyages from 1576-78.

Researchers were in Iqaluit to report on their historical and archaeological findings in the Meta Incognita Peninsula, in southern Baffin Island.

Kodlunarn (an English corruption of the work “qallunaaq”) Island is located at the outer part of Frobisher Bay. It was the base of operations for the English explorer. Designated a national historic site in 1964, it’s the centre of most of the current research.

“It seems recent, though it was a long time ago,” Nowdlak told those gathered at the parish hall. “My ancestors were around that area. They used to tell stories about what had happened. I know my mother was one of the children of those white people around that area.”

A race against time

William Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institute has been part of a team of national and international scholars and researchers who’ve been studying Frobisher’s voyages. The Smithsonian Institute carried out four years of research in the area, which Fitzhugh says is a race against time.

“This region on the outer part of Baffin Island is sinking,” Fitzhugh said. “The sea levels are rising. It makes archaeology in the outer bay more essential to learn about while it still exists because so much has been lost to erosion.”

For example, he said, there are no archaeological artifacts from visits by Dutch whalers in the 1600-1700s. Fitzhugh suggested a “little ice age” has erased that evidence.

“It’s a serious problem with the preservation of archaeological sites,” he added.

Professor Thomas Symons, co-founder of Trent University and a member of the Meta Incognita Project Steering Committee, has also been active in the research being carried out in the area.

“The Frobisher experience, that was so remarkable, has been so completely forgotten for centuries,” Symons said.

He said research into the Frobisher expeditions has cast light on studies into Elizabethan shipbuilding and navigation, intercultural relations, geography, cartography, mining and metallurgy, music and heritage conservation.

Historical site protection

As interest in the Meta Incognita Peninsula builds, the steering committee is examining ways to protect the historical sites. Members of the committee feel the preservation of the remaining archaeological sites should take precedence in a management plan. The committee is looking for suggestions from the public, as well as researchers, as it develops this plan.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization plans to publish two volumes detailing the work that has been carried out in the area. Reports dealing with archaeological and oral history will also be published.

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