Timeless Trygghamna - commercial hunting and human impact in Trygghamna and at Alkepynten (Timeless Trygghamna)

In August 2019, a team of archaeologists will investigate several features related to historical hunting of different animals in and around Trygghamna. These features include a 1) walrus slaughter site, 2) blubber ovens, 3) fox traps and a likely bear trap, and 4) a ship wreck. Drone reconnaissance and environmental sampling are key methods.

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  • field work
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  • marine biology
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  • human dimensions / attitudes,preferences,behavior
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts

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In Svalbard, the archaeological remains of four centuries lie at or near the surface. Most have been registered in Askeladden (; many have received some archaeological attention (reports available from the Sysselmann). However, past archaeological research remains largely unsystematic, that is to say unconnected, and very little is as of yet known about the holistic archaeological landscape (and seascape!) of the island group. This project is a pilot study to look into the archaeological landscape of commercial hunting at and around Trygghamna (Isfjorden). It is associated with the five-year research project Timeless Arctic. Trygghamna and Alkepynten are listed in Askeladden as KUL K366, a rich regional cultural area that includes a whaling station, blubber ovens, a large Russian hunting station, several graves, a Norwegian trapping station, and more. Of interest to us are also the so-called fangstinnretninger (hunting installations). Despite this archaeological wealth, the scientific knowledge about these sites is limited, and none have been dated with any certainty. One could argue that it is not important to accurately date sites in a region that has a little over 400 years of human history "only", but we argue that precise dating becomes extremely important when we try to quantify anthropogenic pressure on this Arctic ecosystem over space and time and to understand overall human-induced environmental impact here. We will adopt a multifaceted approach with the least possible disturbance of archaeological remains in order to assess the archaeological potential of landscapes such as Trygghamna, gather new environmental data about former hunting practices, and further archaeological field science in Svalbard and the Arctic as a whole. We have four archaeological objectives: 1) We want to assess the walrus slaughter site (Askeladden ID 133851-1) both by drone flight and traditional archaeozoological methods in order to 1a) assess how drone reconnnaissance can best assist archaeozoology under difficult (Arctic) conditions and 1b) investigate this particular bone assemblage for evidence of human impact. We want to take soil samples from among the walrus remains (not of the remains!) for geomorphological site reconstruction. 2) We want to carry out a detailed investigation of three blubber ovens (93193-1, 139725-1, 93221-1) by taking cores through the blubber cement and into the underlying natural sediments. We want to test the blubber cement for 2a) lipids and 2b) environmental DNA in order to discern which animal species were boiled out here. The lipids may only reveal a marine signature, but we hope to provide essential data points with which to refine the method. eDNA may additionally highlight different species such as bowhead whale and walrus as well as other whales and seals. Furthermore, we want to use 2c) state-of-the-art optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on the underlying sediments. In a recent paper (Williams et al, 2019), "The first successful application of Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating to a colonial era (<0.25?ka) archaeological site in Australia" has been reported. A drainage system was documented to 1814-16 CE and dating returned an age of 1826 (1806-46) CE. Such an accurate date from the colonial era is very exciting news for Svalbard! So in a pioneering effort, we want to pinpoint the establishment date of these blubber ovens. If OSL proves conclusive, it opens up a much needed avenue for precise dating in the archipelago! 3) We intend to use traditional field-walking combined with drone flight to 3a) confirm registered animal traps, 3b) find unregistered ones, and 3c) deduce likely trapping locations where no evidence remains. 4) We hope for good conditions to fly the drone over the ship wreck (125048-1). Although a bunch of shipwrecks have been registered for Svalbard, too little is known about the seascape. Good drone imagery may stimulate research in this direction.

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