Thule Eskimo Whaling in the Central Canadian Arctic

  • McCartney A
  • Savelle J
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Recent interpretations of prehistoric Thule Eskimo culture of the Canadian Arctic emphasize whaling as well as nonwhaling subsistence patterns, depending upon location and period. Mathiassen was the first archaeologist to contrast the whaling pattern with the non- whaling pattern of caribou/seal hunting and fishing. The Somerset Island-Boothia Peninsula- King William Island area, at the center of the Canadian Archipelago, is an excellent locale for studying these two major adaptations because whaling sites facing open summer waters are found near non- whaling sites facing ice-choked channels. Whale bones occur in abundance at Thule winter sites between Creswell Bay and Bellot Strait on Somerset Island; much of the beach there is postulated to have been used by Thule Eskimos as a whaling beach. Boothia Peninsula and King William Island sites, by comparison, have very few whale bones, but are situated near caribou crossings and /or sealing localities and rivers and lakes rich in fish. By contrasting these two dominant subsistence-settlement systems, the variability of the Thule archaeological record may be clarified in regard to local and regional ecological adjustments. Methodologically, we note that combined aerial and foot surveys have proved to be important in locating sites and associated subsistence activity areas such as whaling beaches.

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  • Allen P. McCartney

  • James M. Savelle

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