09 September 2006

Inuit and Viking Settlement in the Far North

Prolific book reviewer Danny Yee posted a longish review last month of John Hoffecker's A Prehistory of the North (Rutgers U. Press, 2004).
The Vikings reached Greenland before the Inuit, but unlike the latter they were unable to cope when temperatures dropped after the Medieval Warm Period; their basically European economy and technology was not readily adapted to northern latitudes. A Prehistory of the North begins with this recent episode, but is otherwise a chronological account of early human settlement of the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

This is a story not of steady northward progress, but of successive movements — including some retreats — constrained by climate change and enabled by anatomical changes and technological innovation. Hoffecker covers the paleoanthropological and archaeological record, but sets it in the context of changing climates and broader ecological trends....

The final chapter surveys later developments, moving from Europe eastwards: the Late Stone Age in northern Scandinavia, the Siberian Neolithic and movements to the northeast, the Paleo-Eskimo world in North America, and the expansion of the Inuit.
"The modern Inuit are the direct descendants of what archaeologists have termed the Thule culture. Thule culture was the product of a number of interrelated technological and organizational developments that began in the Bering Sea region slightly more than 2,000 years ago. These developments enabled the Alaskan ancestors of the Inuit to expand rapidly across the central and eastern Arctic after AD 1000, creating the remarkable uniformity of culture encountered by the Europeans."
There were numerous technological innovations, including maritime technology, sleds and dogs, and the use of mammal fat in lamps.

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