Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thule Harpoon - Who were the Thule?

I'm working on a Thule harpoon this week. The Thule were the ancestors of the Inuit and they moved rapidly into the Eastern Arctic from the west in the 12th or 13th century AD. The culture and technology they brought with them was unlike anything before them. Bob McGhee makes some good arguments that they were drawn eastward rapidly and suddenly by the opportunity to trade with the Norse in Greenland. The Norse wanted furs and ivory which the Thule could supply in abundance in exchange for much coveted iron, copper, and bronze.

I have a personal and professional interest in the Palaeoeskimo -- the people the Inuit call "Tunit" -- who lived in the Arctic before the Thule Migration, but I love the opportunity to work on Thule reproductions as well. They moved eastward during a slightly warmer time in the Arctic and much of their technology is dedicated to open water sea mammal hunting of everything from seals and walrus all the way up to Bowhead whales. They brought marvellous new machines with them, including large and small boats (Umiaks and Kayaks), bows and arrows, snow houses, bow drills, dogs and sleds, and range of fantastically intricate harpoons for every situation.

The harpoon that I'll be working on is based on ethnographic and archaeological examples from Labrador. Similar styles were found throughout the Arctic and I do go to Baffin Island and Greenland resources to help fill in the blanks. I'll talk more about what makes these harpoons such unique and interesting machines as I work on the current reproduction. In the meantime, here's a peak at one I did in 2006 for the Gateway to Labrador Visitor Centre in L'Anse au Clair.

There is a lot of Thule and Inuit archaeology being done in Labrador these days by researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland. You can read more about the Arctic, Thule, and Tunit in these books by Canadian Archaeologist Bob McGhee:

The Last Imaginary Place, 2005
The Ancient People of the Arctic, 1996

Photo Credits:
First-Fifth: Tim Rast
Sixth: Lori White

Photo Captions:
First: Thule House at Radstock Bay, 2008
Second: Elder Jamesie Mike explaining the house to Adventure Canada passengers.
Third: Elfshot Thule reproduction whalebone snow knife. This knife is based on Labrador examples and is in use by interpreters at The Rooms.
Fourth:
Elfshot Thule reproductions, slate ulu and bone needle on permanent exhibit at the Gateway to Labrador in L'Anse au Clair.
Fifth: Elfshot Thule Harpoon reproduction. Composite photo of harpoon on permanent exhibit at the Gateway to Labrador in L'Anse au Clair.
Sixth: Photographing a house floor at Snack Cove, Labrador, 2003.

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