Freshwater Pond on Southampton Island Contains Traces of the Extinct Sadlermiut People

Joyce Chen ’23

Figure 1: Freshwater biomes are remnants of past human existence and environmental shifts.

The Sadlermiut were a past civilization that lived on Southampton Island in Nunavut, Canada. Accustomed to the harsh weather of Arctic Canada, the Sadlermiut were natural hunter-gatherers and fishermen. Recovery of past artifacts and skeletal remains suggested that the civilization occupied regions of Southampton Island ranging back to 1250 CE up until 1903, when they were wiped out by a pandemic introduced by European whalers. Bung Stick Pond, a small freshwater pond found at the “Native Point” of the island, was discovered to contain heavy traces of the Sandlermiut people. Using biochemical methods, Dr. Finn A. Viehberg and his research team chose to focus on Bung Stick Pond to investigate the environmental changes caused by the ancient inhabitants’ activity. 

The team measured sediment distribution, pH, and temperature of the water around the pond for analysis. Specifically, they wanted to determine the amount of carbon and nitrogen isotopes for radioactive dating and gain additional insight into the lives of the Sadlermiut. Based on analyses on the water samples, Bung Stick Pond reportedly contained higher levels of nutrients and organic matter than other bodies of water on Southampton Island. Furthermore, due to the sediment distribution around the pond, the water had an abnormally high alkalinity. The collection of sediment allowed the team to determine the evolution of the marine life of the pond. The researchers were able to infer that the Sadlermiut people arrived between 1250 to 1300 CE due to the lack of aquatic life and a change in carbon to nitrogen ratio in the sediment deposited on land. In addition, several of the earliest Sadlermiut artifacts were discovered and dated to around this time. After the civilization settled at the site, aquatic life began to increase within the pond, leading to an increase in iron concentrations from 1250 CE and onward. 

The results of Dr. Viehberg and his team’s study support previous findings of the whereabouts and disappearance of the Sandlermiut people. Aside from providing insight into the Sandlermiut people’s lifestyle prior to extinction, the biochemical analyses assist in advancements for future studies by providing a baseline methodology for other research teams to follow in their investigations on anthropology. In conclusion, the well-preserved footprints left behind by the Sadlermiut strengthen society’s understanding of how humans and other organisms can leave an impact on their environment for centuries. 

Works Cited: 

[1] F.A. Viehberg, et al., The influence of a lost society, the Sadlermiut, on the environment in the Canadian Arctic. Sci Rep 11, 18504 (2021). doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-97631-7

[2] Image retrieved from:


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