Monday, July 12, 2010

A Dorset Maskette

This walrus ivory maskette -- that's what archaeologists call amulets in the shape of a human face -- five centimeters long, was recently excavated from the Nuvuk Islands in Canada. It is about a thousand years old and derives from the Dorset culture, the people who preceded the Inuit in the arctic:
The Tunit made our country habitable. They built the line of boulder cairns that guide caribou to the river-crossings where they can be ambushed by hunters, and they furnished the rivers with fish-weirs.” – An Inuit story, from Ancient People of the Arctic by Dr. Robert McGhee

Today archaeologists believe that the “Tunit,” who are mentioned in Inuit stories, flourished in the arctic during ancient times, vanishing around the 14th century AD.

Archaeologists first encountered their remains in 1925 at a place called Cape Dorset on Baffin Island. They gave them the name “Dorset culture,” a term that is still used today.

The Dorset developed special technologies that allowed them to survive in the harsh arctic environment. They used harpoons and lances to hunt down walrus and other animals. They constructed semi-subterranean houses made of stone and sod, to shelter themselves from the elements. To improve their tool repertoire, they obtained pure iron from meteorite remains at Cape York in Greenland – pounding them with heavy rocks to remove flakes that could then be hammered into an edge.

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