Posts Tagged ‘iron’

New research: Forbears of today’s Inuit sought trade

February 27, 2010

Did the first Inuit migrate to Nunavut chasing metal?
Original article: NunatsiaqOnline

The probable migration route of Inuit from Alaska to Greenland, part of Robert McGhee's paper, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?” The paper was published in the book <I>The Northern World AD 900-1400: the Dynamics of Climate, Economy, and Politics in Hemisphere Perspective.</i>
The probable migration route of Inuit from Alaska to Greenland, part of Robert McGhee’s paper, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?” The paper was published in the book The Northern World AD 900-1400: the Dynamics of Climate, Economy, and Politics in Hemisphere Perspective.

The direct ancestors of today’s eastern Arctic Inuit may have come looking for iron.

A new theory by a Canadian archaeologist argues that the ancestors of modern Canadian Inuit traveled rapidly from Alaska to Greenland, in search of iron for tools and trade.

Ruin Island, between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, may be the earliest Inuit settlement outside Alaska, Robert McGhee, former curator of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s Arctic archeology department, says in an essay.

“The Ruin Island complex would not appear to be the product of a slow Inuit expansion from the Western Arctic, but of a purposeful expedition across approximately 4,000 kilometres of Arctic geography that had no previous Inuit occupation,” McGhee said in his essasy, “When and why did the Inuit move to the Eastern Arctic?”

Ruin Island lies near Cape York in Greenland, where an iron meteor fell from the sky sometime in the past.

The region was also frequented by Norse hunters, and many Norse-style iron tools were among the artifacts uncovered at Ruin Island.

McGhee asserts that rumours of the iron at Cape York and-or the potential for Norse trade reached the ancestors of today’s Inuit in Alaska through the Dorset people, or Tuniit, who inhabited the eastern Arctic at the time.

Also, McGhee said Ruin Island’s Inuit artifacts have more in common with the societies of the western or northwestern Alaskan coast than with the northern coast.

Citing earlier research. McGhee said the people of that region were involved in trading metal between Asia and North America, so rumours of eastern iron could have acted as a magnet, drawing Inuit explorers and settlers east.

Previous theories hold that the migration of Inuit from the west took decades at least, driven by environmental factors.

But McGhee points to Knud Rasmussen’s expeditions and the documented travels of 19th century Inuit to argue that a group of families could have traveled the distance in only a few years by dog-sled and umiak.

So, according to McGhee, the Inuit mounted what amounts to a mercantile colonial expedition into the eastern Arctic.

“In not comprehending this interpretation earlier, we may have been led astray by the deeply-rooted archaeological tendency to ascribe different sets of motives and different cultural processes to aboriginal peoples than we apply to Europeans or other societies with a written historical record of individual accomplishment,” he wrote.

“Future archaeological work may indicate that ancestral Inuit may be more accurately viewed as an entrepreneurial people from the coasts of the Bering or Chukchi seas, who were attracted to the Eastern Arctic during the 13th century in order to trade with Europeans, and whose way of life has developed as a part of the European world ever since.”

In the essay, McGhee took a new look at older evidence, especially radio-carbon dating that he says is not reliable.

Radio-carbon dating is a method by which a modern laboratory can test an artifact made from a plant or animal.

Such a test gives the approximate date when the plant or animal stopped living, and therefore when the artifact was made by a human being.

The method is one of the lynchpins of archeology.

But in the Arctic, radio-carbon dating is often based on artifacts made from willow trees or driftwood. In both cases, the original tree may have died long before being made into a tool.

So reliance on wood-based radio-carbon samples isn’t a good way of estimating the age of an artifact and where it came from.

McGhee looked at older research and took out the data that came from such unreliable sources, and came up with new, later, dates for the approximate ages of Inuit settlements.

Based on the new dates McGhee estimated, the Inuit settlement on Ruin Island started around AD 1330, rather than the established estimate around of AD 1280.

An Inuit settlement at Creswell Bay on Somerset Island had been thought to begin around AD 1190

After removing data from wood radiocarbon dating, McGhee estimated the site there only dates back to about AD 1360.

Hornorkesteret posted news of this interesting theory earlier, as this touches on one of our favourite subjects: The habit historians have of completely underestimating the abilities of ancient peoples. Of course ancient man travelled the oceans long before the british naval empire. They knew the world was round, they navigated by the stars. Of course the early inuits would cross the tundra in less than a generation for such a precious resource like iron.

Inuit ancestors crossed Arctic from Alaska in search of iron: book

February 10, 2010

A handout photo of Cape York meteorite specimens  outside the  Geological Museum in CopenhagenRandy Boswell, Canwest News Service Published: Monday, February 08, 2010
A handout photo of Cape York meteorite specimens outside the Geological Museum in Copenhagen

One of Canada’s top archaeologists argues in a new book that the prehistoric ancestors of this country’s 55,000 Inuit probably migrated rapidly from Alaska clear across the Canadian North in just a few years — not gradually over centuries as traditionally assumed — after they learned about a rich supply of iron from a massive meteorite strike on Greenland’s west coast.

The startling theory, tentatively floated two decades ago by Canadian Museum of Civilization curator emeritus Robert McGhee, has been bolstered by recent research indicating a later and faster migration of the ancient Thule Inuit across North America’s polar frontier than previously believed.

Now, in a just-published volume of essays by some of the world’s leading Arctic archeaologists, Mr. McGhee advances his theory — a 4,000-kilometre beeline quest for iron from Greenland’s famous Cape York meteorite deposit — as the likeliest explanation for the sudden spread of the Thule culture across Canada around 1250 AD.

“Current evidence increasingly suggests that the concept of a relatively slow, environmentally driven Thule Inuit expansion across Arctic Canada, beginning around AD 1000, is no longer viable,” Mr. McGhee writes in The Northern World: AD 900 to 1400, a newly released book he co-edited with two U.S. scholars.

Instead, he argues, new radiocarbon data and other reassessments of Eastern Arctic archeaological sites suggest the Alaska-based Thule undertook an epic voyage by skin boat and dogsled — almost directly from Alaska to Greenland, and within a few summer travelling seasons — about 750 years ago.

Significantly, Thule Inuit archeaological sites near the Cape York deposits are older than others in Canada closer to Alaska — further suggesting an initial dash to the northeast Arctic followed by a more gradual dispersal of population groups throughout present-day Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Mr. McGhee believes the Thule Inuit had learned about the valuable metal at the Cape York meteorite field from contact with Canada’s aboriginal Dorset people, who were already using iron and trading it with Norse sailors from southern Greenland and Iceland.

“It would seem plausible to suggest that metal — meteoric iron from the Cape York meteorites and metal goods traded from the Norse — may have been the magnet that drew ancestral Inuit eastward from Alaska,” Mr. McGhee contends.

He adds that this interpretation of Inuit origins in Canada — as resulting from “commercial motives” and “mercantile exploration” — challenges the prevailing view that ancient native cultures would only migrate to new territories incrementally and in response to environmental pressures, dwindling food supplies or competition from rival peoples.

“We may have been led astray by the deeply rooted archeaological tendency to ascribe different sets of motives and different cultural processes to aboriginal peoples than we apply to Europeans or other societies with a written record of individual accomplishment,” Mr. McGhee concludes. “Future archeaological work may indicate that ancestral Inuit may be more accurately viewed as an entrepreneurial people” driven by the same kinds of economic opportunities that prompted such explorers as Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and Jacques Cartier to sail for the New World centuries later.

Mr. McGhee, who lives near Ottawa, told Canwest News Service on Monday that the Thule Inuit used iron for weapon points but also to carve the antler and bone implements central to their technology and culture.

The apparent target of the Thule Inuit’s suspected race for Arctic resources — reminiscent of the current “rush” for polar oil by Canada and the four other Arctic coastal states — was the series of enormous nickel-iron space rocks that crashed to Earth in northwestern Greenland unknown millennia ago.

The Dorset people — a “paleo-Eskimo” culture that disappeared from the Canadian Arctic when the Thule Inuit arrived — are known from archeaological investigations to have used Cape York meteoric iron for centuries.

But it wasn’t until the 1890s that U.S. Arctic explorer Robert Peary first documented the meteorites and arranged for the transport of several large specimens to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they are still on display.

Another enormous Cape York meteorite was shipped to Denmark, which governs Greenland, and can be seen today outside a geological museum in Copenhagen.

From The National Post
Original article here