Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Change in the Arctic: Environmental History and Archaeology along the Northwest Passage

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair

January 8, 2006

Whale bone ‘tales’ from the Northwest Passage on the agenda for next MVFN

The fourth in the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists seminar series, “Change in our Natural World,” will focus on, “Change in the Arctic: Environmental History and Archaeology along the Northwest Passage.” Our guest speaker, Dr. Art Dyke, will tell the amazing story of the Northwest Passage from ice-age hunters some 10-20,000 years ago, to the postglacial bowhead whaling cultures. From this he will lead us to present day speculation about an ice-free NW passage. The story is ‘read’, in part, from the examination of more than a thousand samples of recovered whalebone.


Dr. Dyke, a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, has conducted archaeological research on ancient human civilizations and large sea mammals in the Canadian North. His work also includes geological mapping with a focus on historical aspects of climate change, sea level change and glacial history from the last ice age to the present. Dr. Dyke is co-author of “Mapping Ancient History,” a website, developed with the Museum of Civilization, of mapped radiocarbon dated artifacts, which allows users to follow the historic migration of human societies and animals. Several years ago, Dr Dyke also contributed to important research on an abrupt climatic change caused by drainage of a lake ‘de-plugged’ by melting of the massive ‘Laurentide’ ice sheet. Historic information such as this is being used to understand and reduce vulnerability to future climate change in Canada.

In his work on skeletal remains of the Atlantic walrus and the bowhead whale in Paleo- and Neo- Eskimo archaeological sites, Dr. Dyke examines historic ranges and interaction with human societies. Thursday’s seminar will focus on research to determine whether the central portion of the Northwest Passage, plugged year-round in modern times, was ever ice-free. The history of sea ice is of interest due to the potential for a lucrative new NW shipping lane, should the climate warm significantly. In addition to shedding light on this exciting prospect, new information on the links between human and climatic history will be revealed, depicting ‘peaks’ and ‘crashes’ of human populations along the Northwest Passage over the last 10,000 years.

Join MVFN members and Vice President Mike McPhail, who will host the presentation. The event takes place Thursday, January 19th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church on Elgin St. Members of the public are welcome. Following the presentation, all are invited to enjoy refreshments. A non-member fee of $5 applies, or, for those interested, MVFN memberships can be purchased at the door. For more information, please contact MVFN Program Chair Tine Kuiper @ 256- 8241 or see the MVFN website at


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