Edmund S. Carpenter, in Greenland, circa 1997. Photo by Adelaide de Menil.
Carpenter visited numerous Arctic locations throughout his life, beginning in 1951, when he wintered with an Inuit family near Igloolik, Canada. He returned to Igloolik several times in the 1950’s, witnessing the effects of a winter famine in 1954. With his friend and colleague Jorgen Meldgaard of the Danish National Museum, Carpenter traveled to Greenland to attend a ceremony to repatriate human remains to a Kalaalliit grave site, and to visit Paleo-Eskimo village sites in coastal Alaska. And during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, he spearheaded the discovery and excavations of ancient inhabitations on Zhokov Island, Siberia, where material evidence carbon dated 30,000 years old were found.
In a report written by Carpenter, August 6, 2001, he discussed the finding of bones on the island, and nearby:
“…Finally, in early September, the remaining crew will check out a site on the Yana River, east of Tiksi. In 1983, a young Soviet geologist, prospecting for gold, found a Clovis-like foreshaft there. It was made of rhinoceros horn. Rhinos became extinct in this area at least 18,000 years ago. The foreshaft came from an ‘elephant graveyard’, a former lake or river crossing where mammoths, rhinos, giant panthers, huge horses, early bison, etc., fell through the ice. The geologist, in Moscow, agreed to take us there. He joined us in Tiksi and we helicoptered over for a one-day visit.
“While the paleontologists gathered big bones (so many, so heavy, the copter hopped from pile to pile), I focused on small, cracked bones. Suddenly I found 2… 3… 40, including bird bones, together with chips. Two classic bi-faces & an ivory scraper lay nearby. The cracked bones occupied a stained area, roughly 18″ across, 5” deep: a pit encased in a block of earth that most likely fell from a cliff above, but remained intact, as a deposit.
“The problem with such evidence is that later peoples, say contemporaries of those on Zhokov, utilized ‘bone sites’ for resources, especially ivory. Everything, then, depended on carbon dating the cracked bones. The geologist immediately took them to Moscow. We were at dinner on Zhokov when the report reached us by satellite: 30,000 BP. Silence, awe.
“A handful of Russian & American archeologists long suspected that paleolithic peoples occupied the Siberian High Arctic. But, until now, evidence was lacking. Suddenly, there it was…”