Soil Nutrients and Vegetation Characteristics of a Dorset/Thule Site in the Canadian Arctic


  • Alison M. Derry
  • Peter G. Kevan
  • Susan D.M. Rowley



anthropogenic disturbance, archaeological site, Arctic, Igloolik, nutrients, soil, vegetation


We conducted a systematic study of soils and vegetation present at Arnaqquaksaat on Igloolik Island, Nunavut, a site occupied by Dorset and Thule people prior to 1823 and probably for over a thousand years. We compared this site to an area affected by ongoing mammal and bird activity and an area of relatively unfertilized polar semidesert. At these locations, we estimated percent cover of vegetation, identified vascular plant species, measured soil depth, and collected soil samples. The soil samples were analyzed for total nitrogen, sodium bicarbonate-extractable phosphorus, available potassium, available magnesium, and pH.

Percent plant cover, abundance of plant species indicative of enrichment, and soil depth were greatest within the area of anthropogenic influence and decreased downslope to the sea. Total nitrogen level in the upslope area of anthropogenic influence (2.61% ±0.88) was similar to that in areas of bird and mammal activity (2.54% ±0.78); it was higher than the levels in the downslope area of human fertilization (0.65% ±0.82) and the unaltered polar semidesert area (0.28% ±0.38). Phosphorus levels in the influenced areas were 5 to 6 times those in the uninfluenced polar semidesert. The magnesium level was highest in the area of bird and mammal activity (766.8 mg/L ±53.35), whereas potassium levels were similar throughout the study area. The lowest pH was found in the upslope area of past human occupation, and pH differences among sites paralleled those observed for nitrogen.