Nadlok and the Origin of the Copper Inuit


Nearby Coronation Gulf Thule sites are too early to compare to Nadlok, but the very late Thule Bloody Falls site on the lower Coppermine River also has dwellings with slightly sunken pavement floors, untanged copper ulus, both pottery and soapstone vessel fragments, copper arrowheads, and one open-socket harpoon head. Bloody Falls Thule overlaps Nadlok's earlier occupation, but the remarkable antler walls are clearly absent.

Nadlok antler hut - D2005-24806
Figure 1 A Nadlok antler hut (later reconstruction).

Nineteenth century coastal Copper Inuit sites like Kunana and Naliqaq are later than Nadlok, but Naliqaq also has rare pottery and Kunana has closed-socket harpoon heads like early twentieth century specimens. Nadlok's copper arrowheads and gull-winged thimble holders resemble those of late Copper Inuit, but Nadlok has earlier untanged ulus.

Nadlok antler huts have few analogies anywhere because they can exist only at water-crossings where hundreds of antlers are available. More may be found at crossings on the Bathurst herd migration path and on the trade route between the Copper and Caribou Inuit to the east. Proto-historic Copper and Caribou Inuit houses on Coronation Gulf and Hudson Bay are surface dwellings, the latter having spruce tent poles. The Caribou Inuit ignored antler at their crossings because wood was abundant.

Nadlok houses - D2006-08036
Figure 2 A top view of one of the Nadlok houses (later reconstruction).

Nadlok semi-subterranean houses (Figs.1 and 2) resemble Thule culture houses at Baker Lake and in coastal locations throughout the Arctic. They may also resemble so-called qarmats, with low entrances and tiny sleeping platforms. More suited to migratory caribou hunters, qarmats are smaller and less permanent than coastal Thule houses. Nadlok families likely moved to their drier warmer antler surface huts in spring.

In 1986, six stone-walled structures were found at another island crossing just upriver. They remain untested but antler rings may be buried in the willows. Other historic Inuit sites were found near Contwoyto Lake, but no structures occur. Downriver, several mounds are untested near the Mara tributary of the Burnside.

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