The Preservation and Ethnohistory of a Frozen Historic Site in the Canadian Arctic


  • Robert R. Janes



Archaeology, Exploration, Explorers, History, Dealy Island, Nunavut


In 1853 a British Naval Expedition, involved in the search for the missing British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition under the command of Sir John Franklin, constructed a stone storehouse on Dealy Island off the coast of Melville Island, Northwest Territories. This storehouse was stocked with a complete inventory of supplies used in mid-19th century arctic exploration. Excellent documentary sources pertaining to the origin and the abandonment history of this site indicate that it underwent a series of diverse alterations since its abandonment. Many of these alterations were found to be archaeologically invisible. The extant remains would have resulted in a crippling misinterpretation of the facts had written records not been available. Because of the conservation problems posed by this extraordinarily large and rich collection of frozen material, traditional archaeological approaches were rejected. Instead, the structure and its contents were preserved in situ by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, conservators and architects. It is hoped that the underlying philosophy of this approach and some of the techniques used are applicable to other frozen sites. Examination of the historical record and available archaeological data indicates that the Dealy Island site played an insignificant role as an agent culture change among the historic Inuit. Several factors are considered in arriving at this conclusion, including British ethnocentrism, the logistical requirements of naval exploration and the abandonment of the High Arctic by indigenous peoples during the Neo-Boreal climatic episode.

Key words: historic archaeology, conservation, ethnohistory, frozen-site archaeology