Southern Baffin Island Chert Provenance Project

Study Area: Interior of southern Baffin Island, NU; Amadjuak and Mingo Lakes, Hone and Nuvungmiut Rivers
Submitted by:
Brooke Milne


To understand the relationship between stone tool technology and human social and technological organizational strategies, it is essential for archaeologists to know the source of lithic (i.e. stone) raw material used by toolmakers. Without it, we cannot accurately understand variation within lithic technological systems nor can we assess how knowledge of source availability articulates with settlement locations and mobility strategies. 

Archaeologists refer to the original inhabitants of the Arctic as Palaeo-Eskimos, and chert is the most common type of stone used for their technological needs. However, few lithic sourcing studies have been done in the Arctic meaning little is known about how, from where, and when Palaeo-Eskimo peoples acquired this essential toolstone.

In 2007, we began a pilot provenance study to identify from where local Palaeo-Eskimo populations were acquiring chert. We focused our efforts on the interior of southern Baffin Island for three reasons: local oral histories attesting to the availability of the stone near Amadjuak Lake and a place known as “chert island;” recent geological mapping indicating the presence of chert-bearing formations in the interior; and, our own first hand observations of widespread surface scatters of the stone in close proximity to previously identified Palaeo-Eskimo sites. 

While we were sure chert could be easily found in the interior of the island, its highly variable macroscopic properties and unusual geological context (i.e. extensive surface scatters of nodular chert) made it especially challenging to source. Moreover, we had yet to find the in situ bedrock outcrops of the stone.

Our pilot study successfully developed a chert sourcing protocol, which we applied to raw chert samples collected from several locations in the island’s interior in addition to archaeologically derived chert from local Palaeo-Eskimo sites. The data generated indicate at least one local source of chert that was used by Palaeo-Eskimo toolmakers as well as three other types of chert of unknown provenance.

Project Description

Our current four-year research project, funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant, will build on these preliminary results by applying our sourcing methodology to achieve the following objectives: (1) identify other potential sources of chert used by the Palaeo-Eskimos in the interior of southern Baffin Island; (2) determine if the Palaeo-Eskimos who used the neighbouring coastal regions also used chert from these same inland sources; (3) combine our inland and coastal findings in order to reconstruct Palaeo-Eskimo mobility patterns and settlement using chert as a proxy; and, (4) develop a database of chert distribution, both from archaeological sites and from "raw" sources, and make it available as a resource for other researchers and local stakeholders. 

To meet our objectives, we carried out two seasons of archaeological and geological survey in 2012 and 2013 to collect additional raw chert samples to expand our existing comparative database, and to locate and test new Palaeo-Eskimo sites in the region. Ideally, we had hoped to identify quarry locations in the interior where Palaeo-Eskimo toolmakers mined the chert stone they used to make their tools. Fortunately, in 2013 we found two such quarry locations. One is located on the banks of the Hone River while the other appears to be the infamous “chert island” along the shores of Amadjuak Lake. We also successfully identified extensive limestone exposures containing abundant nodules of in situ chert adjacent to these quarry sites, which confirms Palaeo-Eskimo toolmakers came to these places to get chert.

The fieldwork portion of the project has been immensely successful and our analyses of the newly acquired raw and archaeological chert samples acquired are now beginning. We will spend the next two years of the project acquiring geochemical signatures for the chert found in the interior and comparing these data to those that will be similarly acquired from Palaeo-Eskimo sites located in neighbouring coastal areas. These comparisons will provide us with the unprecedented opportunity to reconstruct seasonal land use patterns and technological organization for Palaeo-Eskimo populations in this region of the eastern Arctic using lithic provenance data.


Milne, S. Brooke, Robert W. Park, Anne C. Hamilton, and Mostafa J. Fayek (2011). Chert Sourcing and Palaeo-Eskimo Raw Material use in the Interior of Southern Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 35(1):117-142.

Milne, S. Brooke, Anne C. Hamilton, and Mostafa Fayek (2009). Combining Visual and Geochemical Analyses to Source Chert on Southern Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Geoarchaeology 24(4):429-449.


Principal Investigators: Brooke Milne, Mostafa Fayek (Geological Sciences), Robert Park (Anthropology, University of Waterloo), Douglas Stenton (Director, Culture and Heritage, Government of Nunavut) 

UM Participants: Rachel ten Bruggencate, Post-Doctoral Fellow, David Landry, PhD candidate (Anthropology, University of Manitoba)

Funding/Other Support

Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Insight Grant Program (#435-2012-1176); Polar Continental Shelf Program, Natural Resources Canada (# 617-12 and # 647-13); Canada Foundation for Innovation, Leaders Opportunity Fund – Established; Manitoba Innovation Fund

Northern Scientific Training Program, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Manitoba Heritage Grants Program (#12F - H145) 


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Locations of study areas in the interior of southern Baffin Island, NU. Credit: Google Earth 2013.


In situ chert nodules located at the Rapids Site (LbDt-1), southern Baffin Island, NU. Credit: Brooke Milne.


Dr. Mostafa Fayek (Geological Sciences, University of Manitoba) and David Landry (Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, University of Manitoba) acquiring raw chert samples from limestone bedrock at the Rapids Site (LbDt-1), southern Baffin Island, NU. Credit: Brooke Milne.


Undisturbed surface scatter of chert debitage (i.e., tool production waste flakes) at the Rapids Site (LbDt-1), southern Baffin Island, NU. Credit: Brooke Milne.