Friday, March 15, 2013

Dorset Parka Options

This little Dorset carving
shows a man wearing a
fairly big parka which
ends above his knees.
As I'm going through the Dorset Palaeoeskimo carvings that I have access to in person, or through photographs, I'm seeing three styles of parka showing up; 1) a short outer parka which ends at the waist, 2) an inner parka which hangs slightly lower on the hips, and 3) a long outer parka which ends at the lower thigh or knee level.  The carvings are not so detailed that you can determine the type of skin used in their construction or how the fur was treated (ie. hair left on, hair removed, hair facing in, hair facing out, etc) so I'll use ethnographic analogy with Inuit clothing to make some guesses about that along the way.

Inner and outer parkas are interpretations of the Dorset carvings that people have made throughout the years based on Inuit clothing.  An inner parka is a warm, insulating layer worn next to the body with the fur or hair side facing in. A warm layer of air is trapped in the hair of the parka, next to the wearer.  An outer parka is worn over this insulating layer, with the hair facing out.  Often the outer parka will completely cover the inner parka, however, some of the Dorset carvings appear to give us glimpses of their inner parkas.  The most clear is in the wooden figure on the left.  You can see two lines at the man's waist where a short outer parka hangs to the waist and a slightly longer inner parka extends to the hips.  You can also see the cut of his trousers and his high boots, but that's another project.

This tiny carving from Komaktorvik Fiord, Labrador is only 2.1 cm tall, but it does have a few  clothing hints.  There is a slight pinching at the waist which is emphasized by two horizontal two lines.  For this blog post, I'll use it as another example of a inner and outer parka, like the wooden figure on the left, but I'm reserving the option to interpret it as a belt at a later date.

What's happening under his chin, inside his big collar?
Muffler? Scarf? Turtleneck inner parka?
One of the soapstone figures from Labrador may also give us a glimpse of an inner parka, this time at the neck.  Inside the large three-sided collar of the figure, there seems to be another layer, under the person's chin that looks kind of like a turtleneck sweater.  Hides and fur don't stretch, and since all of these parkas are designed to be pulled over your head, perhaps a turtleneck isn't the best analogy, but it does seem that there is some sort of extra collar covering the neck inside the collar of the outer parka.

Over time, I'd like to make versions of all three of these parkas, but for now, I want to start with the largest.  An inner parka on its own isn't really complete.  The same is true of the short outer parka - unless you make an accompanying inner parka its not really going to look finished.  However, the big heavy, knee length coat covers everything (except for that turtleneck looking thing at the throat), so that's where I want to start.  It also figures into one of my favourite descriptions of the Tunit.  The following passage is a description of the Tunit (Tornit) recorded on Baffin Island by Franz Boas in the 1880s, decades before archaeologists first described the Dorset culture.
The Tornit lived on walrus, seals, and deer, just as the Eskimo do nowadays, but their methods of hunting were different. The principal part of their winter dress was a long and wide coat of deerskins, similar to the jumper of the Eskimo, but reaching down to the knees and trimmed with leather straps. When sealing in winter they wore this garment, the lower edge of which was fastened on the snow by means of pegs. Under the jacket they carried a small lamp, called tumiujang [TU-ME-U-JANG](literally, resembling a footprint) or quming [COO-M’NG] over which they melted snow in a small pot. Some Eskimo say that they opened the seals as soon as they were caught and cooked some meat over these lamps. When the seal blew in the hole they whispered, “Kapatipara” [KA-PA-TI-PA-RA] (I shall stab it) and, when they had hit it “Igdluiliq.” [IG-D-LU-EE-LICK] Frequently they forgot about the lamp and in throwing the harpoon upset it and burned their skin. (Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo 1888)

I think you can see his knees, shins and toes
pressing against the front of his parka.
Nearly 100 years later, archaeologists excavating on Shuldham Island in Northern Labrador found a tiny soapstone carving at a Dorset site that seems to illustrate this story.  It depicts a human figure with the distinctive Dorset collar, but instead of wearing a waist length coat, the little man seems to be squatting down with his knees tucked inside of a large parka.  Caribou skin was a preferred winter clothing option amongst many Inuit groups because of the superior warmth that comes from the hollow, insulated hair.  Caribou are available in the area around Shuldham Island and since the story recorded by Boas specifically references large caribou skin coats, that is what I will use for this reproduction of a long Dorset Palaeoeskimo outer parka.

Part Parka, Part Tent?
I'm also very curious about the mechanics of building a coat so large that you can pin it to the ground, tuck your legs inside and build a fire in a lamp in it.  When you actually start to think about how much space your butt and knees take up when you squat down, this coat is going to need a lot of volume.  As one friend pointed out 'you're basically making a ball gown'.  I also think of it as a wearable tent.  I think it will be fun to test this story.  I mean, if you are going to pin your coat to the ground and have a lit lamp inside of it, wear does the smoke go?  Maybe the Dorset collars are part hood and part smoke flaps.

Photo Credits:
1,3-6: Tim Rast.  All of these photos are of artifacts on display at The Rooms in St. John's.
2: Plate 2 from Ancient People of the Arctic, Robert McGhee 1996.

1 comment:

  1. "wear does the smoke go? Maybe the Dorset collars are part hood and part smoke flaps" -- sounds like the best explanation for the high collars i've yet to hear!


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