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Independence I

Independence I

Independence I is part of "Arctic Small Tool" tradition and the oldest culture in North and Northeast Greenland. Within Greenland most datings come from features in Peary Land and Northeast Greenland. Dates on muskox bones are the most reliable and they indicate an arrival around 2.400 BC (cal). In Peary Land, North Greenland, the Independence I culture seems to disappear around 2.000-1.800 BC (cal) although a few dates fall around 1600 BC (cal). In Northeast Greenland the dates are few and mainly on marine mammal bones. Corrected dates encompass the period 2.400 - 1.300 BC (cal). The datings indicate the possibility that Independence I explored the east coast in an early phase and then around 2.000 BC (cal) migrated out of Peary Land into Northeast Greenland.

Geographical areas of Independence I

Independence I sites are known from the Canadian High Arctic archipelago from where they spread into North Greenland. A few sites are known in Northwest Greenland, but most are found in the southern part of Peary Land along the Midsommersøerne (Midsummer Lakes) and at Jørgen Brønlund Fjord (see blue area on map). Along the east coast some Independence I sites are known down to c. 75°N. Further south the area is unknown regarding pre-Inuit features due to lack of surveys. A few artefacts found in the area proves the existence of older Palaeo-Eskimo groups, but it is unknown whether they should be attributed to Independence I or to the northern parts of the East Greenland Saqqaq culture.

Social organisation of Independence I

The dwellings are tent-rings mainly of the mid-passage type with a solid mid-passage and a separate, square hearth built into it. Other dwellings are simpler with only a flagged dwelling floor or a tent-ring with a simple, square hearth. No elements of the supra-structure have been found. The space left inside leaves room for 4-6 people. No studies have been undertaken of the social organisation but dwelling size indicates that a nuclear or slightly extended family lived in each dwelling. Often we find five or more dwellings at a site indicating a basic working group of 20-30 people. No ruins stand out as special purpose structures and other signs of status or difference in rank are also lacking. Detailed faunal analysis is lacking and nothing is known about possible seasonal movements except that in Peary Land people may have moved between the coast (spring-summer) and the inland lakes (fall-winter) where they may have gathered in larger groups than during summer.

Natural resources of Independence I

In Peary Land the main terrestrial animal was the muskox which is found today in the vegetated river valleys and along the lakes. Arctic fox was present, but it is unknown whether caribou lived in the area at the same time during pre-Inuit time. In some lakes Arctic Char can be caught. During summer the area is visited by a number of migratory bird species. In the Independence Fjord ringed seals are present. No other marine mammal species has been reported in any quantity. Polar bear is present too. Along the east coast the same terrestrial mammal species, Arctic char and birds are found although in larger quantities. At sea walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal and narwhal are found. Polar bear is found at a number of locations. Lithic resources (i.e. agate, chalcedony, quartz crystal, and sandstone) seem to be available in each area. Soapstone is not found in the area. Driftwood is available only along some fjords. The vegetation is sparse and the coastal areas are defined as Arctic deserts.

Independence I subsistence

Most sites in Peary Land are found inland along larger lakes with a few on the coast. Along the east coast some sites are situated on the coastline but generally they are located in more protected areas away from the outer coast. A few have been found on islands. Contrary to Peary Land only a few sites have been found inland. Middens have been found only in Peary Land and northernmost Northeast Greenland. In Peary Land muskox was an important prey species followed by seal, fox, fish, birds (mostly migratory species) and polar bear. On the east coast some walrus bones are found whereas muskox bones are very scarce. Further south no bones are preserved, but the topographical situation indicates that sealing (ringed seal) and muskox hunting was essential. Around Dove Bugt resources are more plentiful with muskox, seals, walrus, fish, birds etc. and generally with easier access to both marine and terrestrial resources from the same site. The few bone artefacts (mainly needles) seem to be made of walrus tusk. Lithics are local flint-like material. Soapstone is not present and lamps and pots are not found. Driftwood has probably been picked up around the Independence Fjord, Danmarks Fjord and Dove Bugt.

Exchange and trade of Independence I

In each region the used and present material is local. Artefacts made of walrus bone found on inland sites in Peary Land may be a product of exchange with coastal groups at the "Northeast Water" polynya, but it may as well be the same people who migrated between the inland and the outer coast. If there was one group in Peary Land and another in East Greenland they might have traded but it is hard to see what kind of material would encourage this trade.

Independence I history of research

The first major recording of prehistoric Eskimo sites in Northeast Greenland took place in 1906-08 (Thostrup, 1911). In 1938 Knuth started his investigations which he continued until 1995 (Grønnow & Jensen 2003). He covered Peary Land and parts of the northern east coast. In the early 1950s the presence of Palaeo-Eskimo cultures was established on the west coast (Meldgaard 1952) and in 1954 Knuth published his finds from Jørgen Brønlund Fjord as "Palaeo-Eskimo finds". In 1956 Knuth split them into two on basis of difference in artefacts, dwelling styles, altitude above present sea level, and C14 datings: the oldest was called Independence I and the youngest Independence II. Until the late 1980s Independence I was hardly known south of Peary Land. Later archaeological work in that area has documented some Independence I sites (Andreasen & Elling 1990, 1995; Andreasen 1996; Elling 1992, 1996). In recent years finds of the same age have appeared in the Thule district but so far no comparative analyses have been undertaken. On the east coast the southern limit for Independence I is c. 75°N which probably is due to lack of survey. On the northern coast of Scoresby Sund the oldest Palaeo-Eskimo culture seems to originate from the West Greenland Saqqaq culture (Sandell 1996). For many years researchers have stressed the differences between the Independence I culture and the Saqqaq culture. In recent years focus has been on the similarities and to enterpret the differences mainly as a product of different access to resources and adaptation to an High Arctic environment versus a sub-Arctic environment (Elling 1996; Appelt 1997).


Andreasen, Claus & Elling, Henrik (1990) Biologisk-arkæologisk kortlægning af Grønlands østkyst mellem 75°N og 79°30'N. Del 5: Arkæologisk kortlægning mellem Shannon (74°N55'N) og île de France (77°N41'N), sommeren 1989. Grønlands Hjemmestyre, Natur- og Miljøforvaltninng. Teknisk rapport nr. 18 -juni 1990.

Andreasen, Claus & Elling, Henrik (1995) Biologisk-arkæologisk kortlægning af Grønlands østkyst mellem 75°N og 79°N 30'N. Del 7: Arkæologisk kortlægning mellem Germania Land (76°30'N) og Lambert Land (79°30'N), sommeren 1990 - Grønlands Hjemmestyre, Miljø - og Naturforvaltning. Teknisk Rapport nr. 25 - januar 1992.

Andreasen, Claus (1996) A Survey of Paleoeskimo Sites in Northern Eastgreenland. In: Grønnow, B. (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland - New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology. Danish Polar Center Publications No. 1, pp. 177-190. Copenhagen.

Appelt, Martin (1997) The Construction of an Archaeological "Culture". Similiarities and differences in early Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland. In: Gilberg, R. & Gulløv, H.C. (eds.): Fifty Years of Arctic Research: Anthropological Studies From Greenland to Siberia. Department of Ethnography, The National Museum of Denmark. Copenhagen 1997.

Elling, Henrik (1992) De palæoeskimoiske kulturer i Nordgrønland og Nordøstgrønland i relation til de vestgrønlandske. In: Grønlandsk kultur- og samfundsforskning 92. Ilisimatusarfik, Nuuk. 1992.

Elling, Henrik (1996) The Independence I and Old Nuulliit Cultures in Relation to the Saqqaq Culture. In: Grønnow, B. (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland - New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology. Danish Polar Center Publications No. 1/1996. pp. 177-190. Copenhagen.

Grønnow, Bjarne & Jensen, Jens Fog (2003) The Northernmost Ruins of the Globe. Eigil Knuth’s Archaeological Investigations in Peary Land and Adjacent Areas of High Arctic Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland/Monographs on Greenland, Man & Society, 29, 1-403.

Knuth, Eigil (1954) The Paleo-Eskimo Culture of North-East Greenland elucidated by Three New Sites. In: American Antiquity Vol. 19, No. 4, Salt Lake City.

Knuth, Eigil (1984) Reports from the Musk-ox Way. A compilation of Knuth's published articles and expanded with 14C-dates. Private edition. Copenhagen, 1984.

Meldgaard, Jørgen (1952) A Paleo-Eskimo Culture in West Greenland. In: American Antiquity, Vol. 17, No. 3 pp.: 222-230. Salt Lake City.

Sandell, Hanne & Sandell, Birger (1996) Paleo-Eskimo Sites and Finds in the Scoresby Sund Area. In: Grønnow, B. (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland - New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology.Danish Polar Center Publications No. 1. pp. 161-176. Copenhagen.

Thostrup, Chr. Bendix (1911) Ethnographic Description of the Eskimo Settlements and Stone Remains in North-East Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland, Vol. 41. Copenhagen.