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Land of the Aurora Borealis
The land of the Aurora Borealis stretches from Alaska, over northern Canada, through to Greenland. To the uninitiated, it is harsh, cold and forboding. To those who live here, it is home. (Oh, we don't quite go up to "coding land" .. no one lives at the North Pole Proper!) These lands cover the caribou hunting grounds, and the fishing villages of the Inuit (Inupiat/Inupiaq), Yupik and Aleut.
For those who wish to create specific villages herein, frigid as they may be, please contact me, Mangas Cochise @mangascochise.
The Eskimo-Aleut was the most recent language phyla to arrive in the Americas, and the speakers of this root language appear to have crossed over the Bering Strait from Siberia. The main language families, and their subdivisions, are:
Aleut, located in southwestern Alaska
the Yupik, who reside in western Alaska and easternmost Siberia
The Inuit, also known as the Inupiaq, who reside in northwestern Alaska, and across the northern coast of Canada, and into Greenland
The Caribou Hunt
On the order of four thousand years ago, the future inhabitants of the Arctic arrived from Siberia to settle Alaska, north Canada, and eventually stretch out to Greenland. It is hypothesized that their tools for life on the frozen tundra may date back to the seal hunters of Lake Baikal, back over in Asia.
The ancient stone arrowheads, harpoon tips and knives were small - some measuring about an inch - that these early peoples earned the name "Arctic Small Tool Culture".
The migration eastward to Greenland of these paleo-Inuit probably occurred over nearly 500 years. It is surmised that at this time game was rich in the aftermath of earlier disappearance of heavy glaciation. Homes were skin tents, and it appeared that during the winter the people hibernated as best they could.
A "Little Ice Age" occurred around the 18th century BC. Many settlements likely died out.
Alaska saw the rise of the Denbigh culture, a subset of the Small Tool Culture people. They were avid caribou hunters. Much later, they would form into the Ipiutak Culture, centered around Point Hope. These people buried their dead in elaborate facemasks; and developed other ivory carvings.
A second wave of Inuit appeared - this is considered the Pre-Dorset period. They used composite bows made of driftwood and caribou sinew.
Climate grew colder over time, and by 500 BC a permafrost was established in the range of the Inuit. Supplementing the caribou diet was walrus and seal. The Dorset period had arrived. These people hunted with harpoons and lances. They also made tiny sculptures of animals, from ivory.
A final early Inuit group was the Thule Culture, who in some regions drove the Dorsets out. While mostly involved in fishing and walrus/seal hunting, they also followed the caribou.
The Fishing Village
In the small Inupiat fishing village, located by the cold oceanic waters, perhaps 200 people live, living as they have for generations.
There is not much of a class distinction among homes; keeping warm is a more important value than expansive interior space. These houses all have a couple common features. They are partially underground, for insulation, and there is a tunnel running below the living area for the entrapment of cold air. Think our common word, "igloo", if built of ice and snow, although a more common building material is sod. Since wood was rare, framing was done with whalebone or with the odd piece of driftwood. Homes usually were rectangular rather than circular, and typically housed 8 to 12 people in a compact space. Although these homes might flood during the summer as everything melted, in the summers the people had above-ground encampments as they followed migratory patterns of their prey. A few buildings were set aside for community purposes.
A fishing villiage might not only fish, but for the coastal inhabitants, this was the primary source of protein in the diet. Whales and other oceanic animals were hunted and harpooned by boat. Other fish were also taken: varieties of salmn, cod, herring, whitefish and halibut all formed important parts of the Inupiat diet. There was not much in the way of vegetables in the diet, and all parts of animals such as the whale were utilized. Even the blubber was important for its oil, and for its properties in helping to deter frostbite.
The Inupiat made use of many tools. The bow drill was essential. With this implement, holes could be drilled in tough material, and fires could be started. Sophisticated harpoons were developed. They also used a variety of nets, hooks, spears, arrows and so forth in their pursuit of a meal.
Whale hunting had to be done by boat. Using the skin of sea mammals, they would build a 15 - 50 foot long boat known as the Umiaq, although its length was usually at the smaller end of this scale. Several people would hunt the whale in any one boat. For solitary travel, the kayak was used. Sea mammal skin also was used for its hull.
Sleds and snowshoes promoted travel over ice, or on land.
Clothing came from a variety of sources, such as caribou. Waterproofing could be accomplished by using sea-mammal intestines, although warmer underlayers were needed.
- Arctic History
- Museum of the Aleutians
- Arctic Studies Center(Aleut)
- Indigenous People (Inuit)
- Write in Inuit
- Alaska Native People / Alaska Native Heritage Center
Coming soon! Contact @mangascochise if you have any thoughts or contributions for this write-up!
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