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History Of Arctic Art Essay

1542 words - 6 pages

The ancient arctic art cannot be understood without deeply understanding the culture of pre-dorset, dorset, norton and the thule peoples. An important turning point in the study of the Eskimo problem was marked by the archaeological excavations of the Thule expedition under Rasmussen, particularly by those of Mathiassen in the Central Eskimo area. It is true that a number of ancient sites had been excavated earlier in the Aleutian Islands1, but the published materials contain few data that throw light on cultural phases and chronological relationships in connection with the problem of the origin of Eskimo culture.Mathiassen's excavations2 revealed an ancient Eskimo culture to the north of Hudson Bay which Mathiassen called the Thule culture. As Mathiassen pointed out, this culture was found to be not primitive but, on the contrary, developed and specialized, and containing all the most characteristic traits widespread throughout the area occupied by the Eskimos.This culture was typical for people engaged in hunting sea mammals, particularly whales, who lived predominantly in permanent houses, and who made use of a wide variety of tools of highly elaborate form. The Thule culture is typically arctic art and, at the same time, coastal: it must have originated on a coast abounding in large game, particularly whales. In addition, wood [driftwood] must have been abundant on the coast for the construction of umiaks (since it is either impossible or very difficult to throw a whaling harpoon from a kayak) and of dwellings. Permanent conditions of this kind prevailed only in the west.In emphasizing the close relationship between the Thule culture and that of the Central Eskimo on the one hand, and that of the Eskimos to the west at Point Barrow, on the other, Mathiassen notes that the connection between them was even closer and more direct in the past. The problem remained of the place of origin of the Thule culture, of whether it was in the central area or to the west, and of the direction of its spread. Mathiassen came to the conclusion that this culture, with all of its specifically whale-hunting traits, originated somewhere in the west, in the Arctic art, where whales had been abundant and where wood [driftwood] occurred in sufficient quantity, that is, on the coast of Alaska or in eastern Siberia, north of Bering Sea. There, all the conditions requisite for the formation of this culture were to be found, and it is from there that it spread eastward as far as Greenland. Among the finds in the central area, Mathiassen pointed to a whole series of traits whose occurrence was known only in western regions and which, therefore, could have come only from there. Of Birket-Smith's three phases, two, in the opinion of Mathiassen, were unquestionably valid and were represented by the Thule culture and that of the modern Central Eskimo. The third, oldest phase so far remained hypothetical. Inasmuch as the Thule culture found by him was not primitive but, on the...

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