Nipisat - a Saqqaq Culture Site in Sisimiut, Central West Greenland

Nipisat - a Saqqaq Culture Site in Sisimiut, Central West Greenland

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From 1989 to 1994, more than 200 m2 were excavated at the Saqqaq site of Nipisat, situated on a small island 15 km south of Sisimiut. The excellent preservation conditions for organic material, and the fact that some of the stone artefacts were not previously known from the Saqqaq Culture, were the main reasons for the excavation. More than 70, 000 bone fragments, 20, 000 flakes and 1, 000 artefacts were recovered. A total of 33 dates, making this site one of the best dated in the entire Arctic, reveal that Nipisat was occupied continuously for nearly 1, 500 years. Although protruding bedrock disturbed the stratigraphy and several lenses of crushed shells interrupted the layers, three different chronological phases could be identified. Phase 1 is dated by eight 14C dates ranging from 2020 to 1740 BC (cal). Phase 2 partly overlaps, but is mainly younger than phase 1 and dated by five 14C dates to 1860-1325 BC (cal). Phase 3 is dated by 16 14C dates to 1310-810 BC (cal). One date was very young (520 BC (cal)) and problematic because of extreme oscillations of the 14C curve. From phase 1 there is a mid-passage structure with a box-hearth. A ring of flagstones surrounds the structure. From phase 2 there is a well-defined box-hearth. There was no clear outline of a tent ring surrounding the hearth, which could be due to later disturbances in phase 3. No dwelling structures were recognised from phase 3. Instead several sherds of soapstone were recorded, indicating the use of blubber for light or cooking. From phase 1 and 2 the tool types are well known from other Saqqaq sites in Greenland and Arctic Canada e.g. small harpoon endblades, projectile points, knife blades, scrapers, burins etc. and needles, flint flakers, harpoon heads, wedges etc. But from phase 3 previously unknown types were recorded. A new tool kit for sea mammal hunting is seen in the very sturdy harpoon or lance head made of antler. In addition there are many different kinds of barbed leisters or spears. New types of bevelled harpoon heads, bevelled knife blades and bevelled projectile points, all made of killiaq (silicified slate), were also registered. The faunal assemblage of Nipisat yielded 28, 823 identified bone fragments representing at least 42 species of fish, birds and mammals. The fish remains, comprising c. 2% of the faunal material, consisted nearly entirely (98%) of fairly large sized cod (). The bird remains comprise c. 47% of the material and derive from at least 24 bird species. Gulls are the dominant group (c. 54% of the bird remains) followed by eider ducks (spp.) (24%) and spp. (13%) presumably barnacle geese (), while auks () were found in lower frequencies. The most spectacular finds, however, were skeletal remains of subadult great auks () from the oldest phase. A total of 60 presumed whooper swan () remains constitute the hitherto largest, northernmost and oldest occurrence in Greenland. At least 14 mammalian species were identified revealing a surprisingly large proportion of caribou () (51% of the mammal remains) for a coastal site. Seals accounted for 45%, with the common seal () as the absolutely dominant component. Other marine mammals were walrus () and harbour porpoise (), which played an important but minor role. Polar bear () hunting was documented by the presence of four fragments from the youngest phase. Saqqaq people were accompanied by fairly large and robust dogs (). Nipisat, the first larger Saqqaq site to be excavated from the Open Water Area was a coastal site and through all occupation phases the game animals of the surrounding waters and fjords were hunted. For more than a millennium, the site was visited briefly from time to time, at least during spring, summer and early autumn. Staging geese were captured during spring. In June and July the breeding birds were exploited for their eggs and easily accessible young, as documented by large numbers of juvenile gull bones in particular. The common seal hunting specialised on immature individuals caught primarily during their first summer on the breeding grounds. The inhabitants at Nipisat also hunted caribou on the mainland. The age structure and sex distribution of the caribou remains primarily reflect stalking. Selected body parts, especially the fore and hind legs and the heads, were transported to the island for raw material, meat filleting and further processing for marrow extraction and fat rendering. The exploitation of fauna through the entire occupation period was remarkably constant with respect to choice of game animal and the selected age groups. Although eiders were more abundant in phase 1 (36%) than in phase 3 (17%) while gulls increased from 43 to 61% in the same time period. The same trend was found valid for geese, which increased over time while the importance of auks decreased. Harbour porpoise seem to have decreased while walrus increased in relative importance through time. Caribou seem to be of greater importance in phase 3 with 55% compared to 45% in phase 1. The slight shift in preferred resources may be explained by fluctuating abundance and availability of the game species combined with the development of new hunting tools. Based on the new investigations in the Sisimiut District, the gap between Saqqaq and Dorset Culture in Central West Greenland has been diminished. Although resource exploitation at the site seems to have been very stable through all three phases, there are aspects of cultural change bridging the transition from Saqqaq to Dorset Cultures. The introduction of bevelled tools, sturdy harpoon or lance heads and the abandonment of the bow and arrow in phase 3, show cultural affiliation with Dorset technology. This is also true in terms of lithic raw material preference, the introduction of soapstone artefacts and the absence of dwelling structures with a well-defined box-hearth. At the same time it looks like, the central occupation area for the Saqqaq Culture shifted southwards from the Qeqertarsuup Tunua area towards Sisimiut and Nuuk.Oxford University Press, London: 24o p. Kinze, C.C. 1994. Phocoena ... Kinze, C.C. 1995. Exploitation of Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena ... Vertebrate Taphonomy: Cambridge manuals in Archaeology. - Cambridge University Press, Cambridge:anbsp;...

Title:Nipisat - a Saqqaq Culture Site in Sisimiut, Central West Greenland
Author:Anne Birgitte Gotfredsen, Tinna Møbjerg
Publisher:Museum Tusculanum Press - 2004


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