PROJECT 2 - THULE MIGRATION IN THE CENTRAL ARCTIC
Dr. James Savelle
Dr. Arthur S. Dyke

 

The Thule Migration and Later Developments

Our 2007 and 2008 field investigations were centred on the coastlines adjacent to Prince Regent Inlet, Gulf of Boothia, and western Foxe Basin, and concentrated upon three related topics:

 1) The record of naturally stranded Holocene bowhead whale remains:  Such remains provide an indication of changes in bowhead whale distribution and abundance throughout the Holocene, and in turn serve as proxy evidence of changes in Holocene sea-ice conditions.  While important in interpreting Holocene sea ice conditions in the Arctic in general, in the context of the present project such proxy evidence is particularly important in establishing the regional and local availability of bowhead whales during the Medieval Warm Period, when Thule expanded across the Arctic from Alaska through northern Canada and into Greenland.  While some have suggested that this expansion was along a bowhead ‘corridor’ that linked eastern and western Arctic stocks, others have suggested such a corridor did not exist.  The preliminary results of our Holocene bowhead surveys have confirmed our earlier interpretations for eastern and western bowhead stock range coalescence during the early and mid-Holocene.  More importantly, the distribution of naturally stranded late Holocene bowheads suggests that a bowhead corridor connecting the eastern and western Arctic stocks during the time of the Thule migration cannot be ruled out.

2) Regional settlement patterns following the initial Thule expansion into the area: Specifically, our surveys were designed to determine the distribution and characteristics of major Thule sites in the field areas, and how these may relate to regional socioeconomic patterns.  Our preliminary results are consistent with previous suggestions that the southeastern coast of Somerset Island formed the core of Thule bowhead whaling activities in the central and eastern Arctic channels, and that this area can be viewed as the ‘core’ in the equivalent of a world system, with peripheral sites adjacent to the core.  Likewise, the distribution of major Thule sites in the southern Gulf of Boothia and Foxe Basin regions suggest a similar ‘core’ in northern Foxe Basin focused primarily on a walrus-based economy, with associated peripheral sites in adjacent areas.

3) The precise nature of the earliest Thule occupations in the study region:  While several Thule sites in the Prince Regent Inlet region had previously been excavated, these all can be considered ‘classic’ (post-pioneering) Thule.  However, one site examined in the area in 2007 appeared to predate the ‘classic’ sites, on the basis of location (well inland and above adjacent Thule sites) and appearance (Ruin Island-style dwellings).  This site was excavated in 2008 by a field crew led by Don Johnson.  Preliminary analysis suggests the dwellings are indeed Ruin Island in design, and we anticipate continued analysis will provide additional information regarding the precise date of the occupation, and on the relationship between this occupation and ‘classic’ Thule occupations in the area.       

 

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