Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ancient People of the Arctic

You can't really click to look inside. You will have to go to Amazon to do that, but that's the cover of Ancient People of the Arctic, Robert McGhee, author, a book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the prehistory of the Canadian Arctic. The title is a little misleading since it suggests that it covers all of the Arctic.  It doesn't.  Its focus is on present day Canada.  Still, you will find lots of good stuff here.  There isn't much about kayaks here, but plenty of other amazing stuff.
The main insight that the book offered to me was the notion of what makes a place a good place to live.  Why would anyone choose to live in the Arctic?  The answer apparently is availability of food.  The Arctic was a place where you could catch lots of sea mammals and therefore have a diet rich in protein and fat.  Climate was a secondary consideration.  Nowadays, we think of places like Southern California as desirable places to live, based mostly on year-round pleasant temperatures.  Perhaps, now that we can ship food from elsewhere and move water around to raise crops in the desert, but two thousand years ago the Canadian Arctic may have looked  more attractive to a people that had the appropriate technology to exploit the food resources of the region and stay warm. Californians meanwhile were subsisting on a diet consisting mostly of grass seed and the occasional rabbit or deer.
The Arctic may well have been a homeland of choice rather than a consolation prize for late arrivals unable to move into territory already occupied by paleo Indians.

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