Mackenzie Inuit Lithic Raw Material Procurement in the Lower Mackenzie Valley: The Importance of Social Factors


  • Glen MacKay
  • Adrian L. Burke
  • Gilles Gauthier
  • Charles D. Arnold



geochemical analysis, energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence, Mackenzie Inuit, Dene, Kuukpak, lithic raw material procurement, quarry sites, Thunder River chert, oral history


Oral and written historical records indicate that the Mackenzie Inuit traveled up the Mackenzie River from the Arctic Coast to procure lithic raw material in the interior from a quarry at the mouth of the Thunder River, which is known locally by the Gwich’in of the lower Mackenzie Valley as Vihtr’ii Tshik. We evaluate this proposition using non-destructive polarized energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence to compare the geochemical signatures of the lithic raw material from Vihtr’ii Tshik (MiTi-1) and flakes and tools from the Mackenzie Inuit village of Kuukpak (NiTs-1), which is located more than 400 km downriver of the quarry source. The concentrations of nine selected elements—three major elements expressed as oxides (SiO2, Fe2O3T, and K2O) and six trace elements expressed as metals (Rb, Sr, Y, Zr, Ba, and Ce)—are compared using descriptive statistics, spider diagrams, and principal components analysis. The geochemical effects of chemical weathering on the surfaces of artifacts are evaluated by measuring element concentrations before and after removal of the weathering rind from select artifacts. The results of our analyses demonstrate that the lithic raw material available at Vihtr’ii Tshik is best characterized as chert, and that 86% of the flakes and tools from Kuukpak analyzed in this study are chemically similar to the raw material from Vihtr’ii Tshik. Historical records and archaeological data indicate that the people of Kuukpak traversed a complex social landscape to obtain stone from Vihtr’ii Tshik through direct procurement.