Baker Lake has two archaeological sites that are accessible by road and within walking distance of town. Anyone with an hour or two of free time could visit either of these for a glimpse into our distant past as well as a superb hilltop view of the town of Baker Lake and its setting. Kinnga’tuaq Site is the nearer of the two (and the more interesting) and can be reached in a short 15-minute walk from the Hamlet Building. Siuraqtarvik Site is past the airport near the top of Blueberry Hill, overlooking the mouth of the Thelon River.
The Kinnga’tuaq Site lies along the top of a small hill known locally as M.O.T. Hill or “Kinnga’tuaq”. The Upper Air Meteorological Station, VHF Directional Finder, and Telesat Satellite Dish are also located on this hill. You can walk to the site from the new Hamlet Building. Follow the road east past the Community Hall and M.O.T. houses. The hill will be on your left, and the easiest route to the top is to continue on the same road to the side road leading left and uphill toward the satellite dish.
Most of the archaeological features you will see are tent rings made of heavy boulders. The archaeologist who excavated tent rings 5 and 12 in 1958 found tools such as a red slate ulu blade which was left there by Thule people approximately 400-800 years ago. The Thule cache is worth a close look; you’ll be impressed by the size of the boulders used in its construction. A bear would have to go to some trouble to get food stored in this cache.
Afternoon, July, in the year 1498.
It is a warm day; the horizon dances in shimmering heat waves. A woman carrying a small baby on her back paces the hilltop, trying to move away from the clouds of mosquitoes that hover around her. The baby inside her caribou amaut is very hot and cries continually. She stops to start a small fire of brush and then sits downwind in the smoke, enjoying a short rest from the mosquitoes, and takes her baby out.
This hill was also home to a Paleo-Eskimo family who were here long before the Thule people, maybe 3000 years ago. The remains of their tent-like shelter were completely excavated by two archaeologists in 1955 and 1958, so there is nothing left of it except the barren rectangular excavation and a pile of rocks at its northernmost corner (#4). The archaeologists found an 11 x 20 ft. rectangle of rocks which had held down the edges of a skin tent, once possibly banked with sod. The cooking place had been in the middle of the structure: ashes and blackened stones were found there as well as many small bits of quartzite rock which had been used as knives and scrapers.
As you stand near the Paleo-Eskimo excavation, your view encompasses 3000 years; the Paleo-Eskimo home stood near an ancient shore, when the waters of the lake covered the present townsite. About 500 years ago Thule people camped along the hilltop to catch the summer breezes. Today you see the town, roads, and technology of our times. There is a lesson we can all learn at this site. Evidence of our heritage is easily destroyed through carelessness and ignorance: when the road was built along this hilltop, ancient tent rings were bulldozed. Once destroyed, these reminders of the past can never be repaired.
This site (“gravel pit” site) is located uphill from the airstrip (A) near the top of Blueberry Hill (B). You can drive to the site by taxi or Honda, or otherwise it is a round trip walk of about 10 kilometers from town. As you near the airport on the main road, turn right on the access road which takes you around and uphill from the airport and on through the gravel pits (the public is not allowed to cross the airstrip to reach Blueberry Hill). Once past the gravel pits (G), take the upper-most Honda trail near the top of the hill. The site (X) is roughly 15 meters to the left of the rail and marked with a sign and a garbage can for picnickers.
Here you’ll see four tent rings that lie just below a small rocky ridge. The site is thought to be a Thule site (400-800 years old) because there are so many piled-up rocks that held down the edges of the tents. The third tent ring from the road is the largest, maybe because people played traditional games of strength and dexterity inside it. The people who lived in these tents undoubtedly camped here for the view: they could spot caribou at the river mouth, shoreline, or surrounding hills. They must have used the top of Blueberry Hill as a look-out to see inland as well. If you have the time to go on, you would also enjoy the view from the top of Blueberry Hill.