Saturday, September 03, 2011
Tents Rings and Stories
During our recent sheep hunting trip in the Brooks Range Gregg and I used rocks to hold our tent pegs down and to create wind breaks. We also built a little hearth at every camp site to hold our wood stove up off of the ground. Thus, at each camp we left behind our own little archaeological site (see bottom photo).
When I am on archaeological survey I look for such tent rings and for evidence of prehistoric camps. So, at first, I felt a little guilty about creating an archaeological site that might confuse later archaeologists. But on reflection I realized that sheep hunters like Gregg and I are a part of the land use history for the area. We are a part of the story. In the future, archaeologists might be interested in how sheep hunters of the 21rst century did things. Sheep hunters of today are as much a part of the history of the area as the prehistoric hunters of the past.
I think our tent rings will be a bit confusing because we left so little behind. We tried to pick up every bit of trash, and our 'hearth' was really just some rocks built into a platform to hold up a wood stove. But Gregg and I also found some 'ugly' sheep hunter camps. Most of these camp sites were characterized by trash - in particular the remains of mountain house freeze dried meal packets.
At one such camp we even found a stone cairn with a sub legal sheep skull inside it (see second to bottom photo). There were sheep bones and trash scattered across the site, and from the evidence I re created my own little story about what happened. It looks like some 'ugly' hunters shot a sub legal sheep (not quite full curl) and tried to break off the horn tips to make it look naturally broomed and therefore legal. They gave up their efforts knowing that they would not be able to fool a wildlife enforcement officer, and cached the head and meat. Later a bear dug up the meat and scattered the bones and trash across the site. This story does not reflect well on sheep hunters.
On Baffin Island in the Canadian East Arctic (top 3 photos) when I worked out there in the early 1990s I got pretty good at recognizing the different types of tent rings that we would find. Older tent rings only used rocks to hold down the edges of the tent like in the top photo of such a tent in use. More recent tent rings had both an inner such ring of rocks that held the edges down and an outer ring of rocks used to hold down guy line tent pegs. While on survey we even found CF Hall's square tent rings from a scientific expedition in the 1860s. He used square canvas tents.
The third photo down shows what a 600 year-old late Dorset tent structure looked like on the surface. That is a 'mid passage' hearth feature in the center with 2 upright supports that would have been used to hold up a soapstone container.
Back to Gregg and I's tent rings. I did think about trying to put all the rocks back were I found them. But that would have been disingenuous because the rocks would not have been placed exactly just so. In the past I have noticed when campers have tried to do just that. Inevitably one notices rocks with the lichen side down etc. You can tell that the place has been used for camping and in my opinion it is just as messed up as a camp like Gregg and I left it. All camps impact the landscape - only with our camp there is a better story.