Bone of Construction

On September 5, 1892, Danish anthropologist and cartographer Therkel Mathiassen was born. He studied Arctic cultures at sites from Greenland to Nunavut and followed the spread of culture and emigration of Inuit ancestors. He named these the Thule people. Mathiassen located little groups of depressions in the ground around which were splayed the 6- to 8-meter (20- to 26-foot) jawbones of bowhead whales. He theorized that these and other whalebones had served as construction materials to support coverings of sod and skins to provide hunting or wintering camps for the Thule.

Manually digging and sifting through sod and soil of the ancient middens, or household refuse piles, Mathiassen uncovered the stone lamps, slate knives, and toggling harpoons that he recognized were similar to modern Inuit tools.

Mathiassen postulated that the Thule had originally migrated from Alaska, perhaps following their primary marine food source. The bowhead, a whale that remains for its long life in the Arctic sea, had gradually migrated east as climate changed conditions in the Arctic. Later research not only confirms Mathiassen’s theory but also extends the ancestral migration from the Aleutian Islands. Linguistic studies confirm that present day languages native to Arctic peoples are also related.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage

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