Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Dorset Culture, up the Arctic without a Kayak

The Dorset culture is named after Cape Dorset, the place in the Canadian Arctic where the first artifacts from that culture were found.  The Dorset are thought to have occupied the region from 500 BC to AD 1500. A small subgroup of the culture is believed to have survived in Newfoundland until 1903.

The Dorset are believed to have had a fairly complex stone tool technology but lacked drills, bows and arrows, dog sleds and possibly also kayaks.  Whether the Dorset did not use drills, bows and arrows, dogsleds and kayaks by choice like the Amish who make conscious decisions about what technology to adopt or whether they abandoned certain technologies for practical reasons like access to sufficient sources of wood or whether knowledge of these technologies were lost as the result of some disaster is not known.  It

Twentieth Century Inuk with bow and arrow, a technology that the Dorset lacked.

What is interesting is that the Dorset were able to survive without all the technology which we tend to think of as quintessentially Arctic.  Apparently, the Dorset were especially well adapted to hunting on the ice and thrived in an era of great cold when ice could be found year round.  So lack of a kayak may not have been a problem.  Apparently, the Dorset culture went into decline when the climate became warmer starting around AD 800.  There was less ice to hunt from and Dorset groups had to migrate farther north to find year-round ice. If the Dorset culture had adapted especially to hunting from the ice, they would not have had any use for kayaks. 

An ice-based seal hunter of recent times, using a hunting method that the Dorset may have taught to the newly arrived Inuit.

Around AD 1000 Thule Inuit also started migrating east from Alaska. Whether they displaced the Dorset or whether the Dorset went into decline for other reason is not known. By AD 1500, the Dorset culture was essentially gone except for the small remnant that survived in Newfoundland until 1903.

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