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1 February 2011
Canadian Arctic sites face climate threat

Archaeological sites in Northern Canada are threatened by climate change, but they may be saved thanks to new high-tech equipment, said Doug Stenton, director of culture and heritage for Nunavut territory.  New 3D technology and a ground-penetrating radar system can be used to quickly map the surface and sub-surface, and could be used to deal with sites affected by coastal erosion and melting permafrost, Stenton added. The University of Manitoba has received funding to buy the technology and plans to use it in the Arctic.
     Stenton said that there are about 12,000 documented sites in Nunavut, dating back as many as 4,500 years. Discoveries can include stone tools, clothing, bone and stone carvings, and masks. As an example of a threatened site, Stenton pointed to photos of a site containing artifacts from the Tuniit or Dorset people, who predate the Inuit. A large section of the site near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, has washed into the ocean. "This is one example of the kind of erosion that we see at the sites and the kinds of things that we're going to have to probably pay more attention to as a consequence of climate change, global warming and melting of permafrost."
     Brooke Milne, a professor of archaeology at the University of Manitoba, received money from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to buy the new equipment, which she said has never been used in the eastern Arctic. "It will allow us to define the overall extent of the site in a digital capacity without necessarily having to excavate it the same way that we traditionally would have had to do to get the same kind of information," she said. The technology will also help to find sites in areas of the sub-Arctic where there is more vegetation.
     The archaeologists hope to team up with the engineering department at the University of Waterloo to develop a strategy to stabilize threatened sites. Stenton says other circumpolar countries are in the process of identifying rich heritage sites that are at risk because of the changing climate.

Edited from CBC News (28 January 2011)

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