Last week we celebrated Valentine’s Day, a day to tell your significant other how much they mean to you. In keeping with the romance and love theme I thought I would enlighten you as to how romantic archaeology can be. Yes, I said archaeology can be romantic; at least for some of us (isn’t my wife lucky?). The best example of just how romantic it can be is exemplified by the case of Junius Bird.
In the early 1930s Bird, an American archaeologist, became best known for his finds of early Aboriginal Americans—as early as the newly discovered Clovis culture—at the tip of South America, in caves atop a lava field a stone’s throw from the Straits of Magellan. Later in his career he became “…curator for South American archaeology at the then Department of Anthropology (now the Division of Anthropology), American Museum of Natural History in New York, from 1957 until 1973; he then reigned as curator emeritus until his death in 1982. Not bad for a man who lacked a university degree in a field where today a doctorate is common currency” (Mammoth Trumpet).
In 1934 Bird married Margaret McKelvy. They spent part of their honeymoon traveling to Labrador on the Effie M. Morrissey with Captain Bob Bartlett eventually making their way to Hopedale where Bird surveyed the area and spent part of the summer excavating Inuit house pits. After Labrador they went to South America searching for signs of early man and woman. This portion of their honeymoon was a 1,300-mile trip down the coast of South America in Hesperus, a 19-foot sailboat, followed by a bumpy ride across the windswept plains of South America in a Model T Ford powered variously by gasoline, wind, and oxen (Mammoth Trumpet). Tell me that’s not romance?
Bird spent 61 days surveying and excavating in the Hopedale area. The places he worked at included “Avertok (a place of whales), near Hopedale. Of the 20 ruins found here, nine were excavated. Another important abandoned settlement known as Karmakulluk (place of old low house walls) consisted of only nine ruins, all of which were excavated. At Anniowaktook Island, about 4 miles east of Hopedale, an examination of the midden refuse in front of one of the four ruins was sufficient to place them culturally. At Napatalik (island of plenty trees) Island, 8 miles north of Hopedale, one of two large ruins was cleared. Of nine ruins found on Iglosoataligarsuk (little island of old houses), 8 or 9 miles up the bay from Hopedale, three were excavated” (Bird 1945). The ruins referred to by Bird were Inuit housepits. In total he found 44 house pits and excavated 22 of them. The excavations were done by Bird, his wife and an Inuit assistant at a lightning fast pace. Today, an archaeologist may excavate one or two housepits in a summer, depending on the size of the house and size of the crew. Needless to say a lot the finer details were lost during Bird’s excavations.
One of Bird’s lasting contributions to Labrador Inuit archaeology was his housepit classification scheme which was in use for decades after his work:
- Type I is primarily a small, rounded, single family house with a bed platform at the rear. The a, b, c subdivisions under Type I refer to its smallest form; a wider variation; and a two-room structure, each room of which is really an individual unit similar in arrangement to the two preceding.
- Type II is a two-family structure, rectangular in outline, with two sleeping platforms, one at each side of the floor.
- Type III is a large, rectangular, multiple-family house with an irregularly shaped floor and an extended sleeping platform along the rear and side walls. (Bird 1945)
Bird, Junius 1945 Archaeology of the Hopedale Area, Labrador. Volume 39: Part 2 Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Mammoth Trumpet Volume 23, Number 4, October, 2008