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Dorset Tradition


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Arctic cultures found in western Greenland, around the northern Hudson Bay area, and the islands of northern parts of North America, dating to the period 550 bc to ad 1100. Seemingly developing from the Pre‐Dorset cultures of the Arctic Small Tool Tradition, Dorset Tradition communities lived mainly on the coast. They were hunters and their subsistence economy was based mainly on sea mammals, especially seals, and other resources derived from the shoreline. However, terrestrial mammals such as caribou and even polar bears were also exploited, along with many smaller species.

Their material culture included bone hunting equipment such as toggling harpoons, lances and spears. Chipped and polished stone was also used for edged tools and weapons. Small stone lamps were used. Houses were rectangular semi‐subterranean structures.

Dorset art styles were well established and elaborate. The repertoire includes lifelike portraits of actual people, and Dorset carvers were adept at working antler, bone, ivory, soapstones, and wood. Over half of their carvings were of human beings or polar bears. Few decorated objects were utilitarian pieces: most were masks, figurines, and plaques that were used in funerary rituals and in shamanistic and magical ceremonies.

Skeletal remains show that Dorset Tradition communities were the ancestors of modern Inuit, and it may be that when some of the Inuit legends refer to ‘Tunnit’ folk, giants with enormous strength, and people without dog sleds or bows and arrows, they are talking about Dorset Tradition societies.

Subjects: Archaeology.


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