Hudson Bay Helicopters:

Part Two
Blood on Stone

  Regretfully, we left the bears to traverse Hubbard Point. As we approached the site, Virginia rang out over the intercom, "look at those tents rings, look how big they are, they are gigantic!"

       There is no doubt that the stone tent rings were big, and, that she was excited. Not only were they big, however, they were plentiful. This had been an active hunting site for the Eskimos a thousand years ago and more.

Hubbard Point Scenic View

Steve circled the point as we squeezed off some shots. He had not landed here before, but that was not a problem. Steve merely looked over the site and then placed her down as gently as a breeze sweeping across the grass covered hillside. The plan was to drop Dan, Virginia, and myself off to start our exploration of the point. Steve would take Quentin straight up to 3-5 thousand feet over the island. From that advantage, Quentin was to take slightly off-perspective aerials from which Dan, who was also the acknowledged computer wizard, would build a 3-D model of the point's contours for the Seal River web site.
Quentin handed me the sawed off shotgun with some quick instructions for warding off the polar bears if they decided to check us out. The first two rounds were "cracker" shells that would burst with a crackling explosion to scare off any wayward bear, but the remaining rounds were for real. Slugs and BB's to knock them on their ass. I am not one to worry unduly over low probabilities so I tucked the gun into my belt and backed off slightly to get some photographs of Steve getting airborne. After Steve's helicopter had shrunk to the size of a green hornet, I headed up the hill to view the stone tent rings.

Stone Tent Rings

Virginia had already flown like a spring bee from flower to flower in her excitement to hover over the multitude of culturally rich sites. "Here is a kayak rest," she pointed out. I looked blankly at a jumble of stones.
"Where? I asked. I don't see anything."
Virginia pointed out two parallel lines of stones and the image sprung to my mind. I could envision how an Eskimo could pull a kayak up along the center of those stones and leave the kayak high and dry. The only problem was that we were 30 meters away from the shoreline and 10 meters above the high water mark. The archeologist explained that as the glaciers melted and retracted they relieved a great weight off the land. After a predictable amount of time the land would rebound and the shoreline would recede. Thus the stone tent rings and kayak rests are now to be found at least 10 meters above the high tide mark.
In fact, Virginia had worked out the details of such a "rebound" theory and predicted that you could find evidence of camping and hunting sites at certain levels of terrain and from the elevation you could date the period the camps were inhabited.
From here we went on to closely examine the tent circles. We were mostly concerned with finding some archeological evidence, other than the most obvious stone circles, of inhabitation. Stone tools are the best find, but percussion flakes or bone fragments are acceptable. Within minutes I found a percussion flake knocked off from a piece of chert.
Chert is a flint like stone that flakes easily with the right strike pressure, and combined with a percussion point it is direct evidence of human habitation. A percussion point can only be made by deliberation. Percussion points cannot be made by an accident in nature. Thus, even if an archeologist cannot find an arrow head or a skin scraper tool, they can still find out a lot about the civilization who lived in the tents by the type and amount of man-made chert flakes found littered around the old camp sites.
At first Virginia doesn't believe me as I hold up my precious find, but after examination she concurs. Shortly after she finds herself some stone flakes and begins to fill a small zip-lock plastic bag with a series of treasures. After an hour of this she is visibly disappointed at not finding anything more. This site, however, has most likely been picked over by passing hunters and the occasional amateur archeologist to where only a proper dig could uncover more. We knew that anyway. But the stone circles were enough. They were huge, they were numerous, and they were impressive.

View of the Hunting Grounds

These sites must have been a slaughter of activity during the hunting season. The tents would have been erected near the water where they could quickly launch their kayaks from their door-stones. The question we pondered as we sat upon the stones looking over the bay was what brought them here in the first place? What did they come to hunt? Seals, caribou, whales? Our question was answered as about then a large pod of beluga whales entered the bay heading to what looked like a dead end corner.
The beluga swam slowly and peacefully into the depth of the bay and then proceeded to turn slightly to swim through a breach in the reefs jutting off from the shore. I never thought they could get through, but they managed nicely. As we watched a second larger pod of about 50 individuals entered the bay and headed through the same breach. Virginia surmised that this path must have been the same one follow for the past thousand years, except then the land would have been much lower in elevation and consequently the reefs easier to breach.
The hunters gathered here to hunt the whales as they still do in parts of the arctic. The uploading of the land and the rising of the terrain would not have been noticed by either the hunters or the hunted as they passed through the generations. Only the geologists and the archeologists of the world notice.
In the meantime, Steve has come back announcing his presence with a fly-by. Like a green winged teal checking out a landing site, Steve sweeps the area at full speed and then comes back in for a landing. Hover landing. There is nothing sweeter.
After finishing their photo assignment, Quentin had a second chance to photograph the polar bears and he managed to get some great shots. So did I.

Summer bears waiting to dine

Reluctantly, as we do not want to leave Hubbard Point, we all climb back into the Helicopter. Virginia has been pouring over the maps and has some high ground picked out for Steve to have a look at as we fly home. Her theory is that, although these areas are now land locked, they would have been right on water's edge back a few thousand years ago. The likelihood was that they would have been good camp sites and thus good areas to look for habitation. Tent rings and the like.
As we approach the area, I can see Virginia is getting excited. The high ground looks promising. She can see evidence of more rings. It doesn't take much coaxing from her to convince Steve to land so we can take a look around. Besides, considering the lack of anything enticing around to attract anyone else here, there is a good chance no one has ever landed here before. A real bush pilot could not resist such temptation. So land Steve does.
Here on this barren hummock, was a good 6 to7 healthy bushes growing in perfect circle clumps. A mystery to me, but not to Virginia. These were tent circles. Even after the hundreds of years that have passed since these hunting sites were abandoned, the sites were still fertile from bio-nutrients. The smeared seal fat, the bits of bone and marrow, the urine from the guys stepping out and having a pee in the snow. The proteins and fats and minerals left from human habitant still clung to the barren soil and fed the nutrient requirements of these hardy bushes.
Since the bushes thrived because of the tent circle nutrients, they also grew in a tight circle right inside where the tent used to stand. Around these circles we began our search for evidence of stone tools. Although no one said it, we knew this site was virgin and with the constant wind erosion on the sandy soil there must be some exposed tools laying on the surface somewhere. The probabilities were high on finding a tool in it's entirety.
Time was short, however, and besides, the inland black flies were ferocious. (Another good reason for pitching camp near the ocean. Less bugs. The polar bears and the caribou know that.) Finding the site was the most important event of the day, as it proved Virginia's theory that you could locate important archeological sites by the lay of the land. By reading contours according to the time frame laid out by the unloading of the land and with the proximity to water during the most likely periods you could make a best guess estimate of where to find habitation. Within minutes Virginia had found percussion flakes.
Now if we could only find a tool. Personally I felt challenged, because I had always prided myself on having a knowledgeable eye for spotting man made artifacts at archeological sites. I had been good at finding arrow heads and scraper tools since I was 10 years old. As the blackflies ate my ankles into hamburger I scoured the ground. I started near the tent circles, but as time ran short I concentrated on the visibly eroded sandy spots. I consciously thought of Richard Leaky along the shores of Kenya's Lake Turkana.
Time was now up and we headed back to the helicopter. Steve needed to be back in Churchill before dark and he needed to drop us at the Seal River Heritage Lodge before continuing. As every one else climbed back into the chopper, I dragged out my last moments like a smoker having the last pull before boarding the plane. I walked slowly across the last sandy patch, knowing I had flown 10,000 miles to get to this place. Knowing that I would never get back here. Never.
And then it appeared like every 10 year old kid's shiny "nickel." A true sign from heaven is if god places the price of an ice-cream cone right on your pathway like the shining star of Bethlehem itself. A chert scraper tool. A small insignificant little thumb tool. I bent over to pick up my treasure and it fairly leapt to it's cradle. Twice again as big as my thumb, with a valley flaked out to fit the fat of the thumb and a ridge to push on, the split chert was as sharp as any knife. The Eskimo would scrape the fat off the freshly slaughtered caribou or seal by holding the tool between the thumb and the forefinger and pushing forward and upward with gentle rhythmic motions.

Man made scraper tool        I felt the smoothness of the obsidian like stone and with my other thumb the sharpness of the blade. It was still sharp and for the most part clean after all these years. Along the edge of the blade and on a spot along the top were tiny growths of red and light green lichen. Like the weather worn bushes surviving inside the ancient tent circles, the lichen clung to the last of the blood nutrients left on the blade by its maker. Here was, written in blood and stone and as read by animal and vegetable, the circle of life. I held the tryst in my hand. As fashioned by man, I had the sword in the stone. And I would not give it up.
As I walked to the helicopter, I slipped the stone tool from between my finger and thumb into the palm of my hand. Here I clutched the cold until it grew warm. I kept it to myself, because to me it meant the connectivity between the past and my present. In a museum the cold stone tool would get a tag and number and be filed in some dark room. In my palm it gave life meaning. I walked off that barren knoll with the ghost of the hunter/tool maker clutched in the palm of my hand. I felt his presence. Like the artisan who passed the tool making skills to his son, I wanted to pass that spirit to my son,.
Only man can make a percussion point. Only man can fashion such a tool. Only man can make the connectivity between past and present. And only with deliberate effort whether it is blood on stone or blood on steel. That is the history of us all.

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Approach to Hubbard Point

Final to Hubbard Point

Landing Hubbard Point
Imagesİ by John S Goulet

Article and Images by John S Goulet

*Churchill and the Seal River Heritage Lodge.  The Fly-in Pancake Breakfast, and where we meet our hosts Mike and Jeanne Reimer. Ringed seals and Inuit tent rings. Polar bears and beluga whales. We have it all! Including the pancakes.

Editor's Note: Steve Miller is retired.

The attitude indicator will take you to Aviation Friends.

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Part one of this story.


Last modified on April 21st, 2013.
(c) Virtual Horizons, 1996.