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Independence II or Greenlandic Dorset

Independence II or Greenlandic Dorset

Independence II is often considered an intermediary stage between Late Pre-Dorset and Early Dorset or an Early Dorset phase. Within Greenland datings originate from sites in Peary Land and Northeast Greenland. Both areas seem roughly contemporaneous although a few datings in Northeast Greenland suggest a prolonged stay in that region. The oldest dates are around 800/600 BC (cal). Reliable dates are from muskox bones or local wood (Arctic willow) and they indicate a presence in Peary Land up to around 400 BC (cal). Further south, around Dove Bugt, the youngest dates are around 200-0 BC (cal). Dates from the east coast are mainly from marine mammal bones. Recent studies of the Lithic technological traditions of the Greenland Paleo-Eskimo cultures has confirmed that Independence II is identical to Early Dorset in Greenland thus designated "Greenlandic Dorset" (Grønnøw & Sørensen 2006).

Social organisation of Independence II

The dwellings are mainly tent-rings of the mid-passage type with a solid mid-passage divided into sections by vertical flags. No supra-structure elements have been found. The space left inside has room for 4-6 persons indicating the presence of a nuclear or slightly extended family in each dwelling. There seem to be a tendency at some sites for 4-6 dwellings to form a group. There may be several groups at one site. It is assumed that this indicates a closer group of 20-40 people travelling and hunting together. No ruins stand out as special purpose structures and other signs of status or differences in rank are lacking. Graves are not found either. The extensive site on Île de France might be an aggregation place where groups met at certain intervals. A few objects are interpreted as amulets, but otherwise no objects, which can be interpreted as religo-magical, have been found.

Geographical areas of Independence II

Some sites are known from the Canadian High Arctic archipelago and northernmost West Greenland, a larger group is found in Peary Land along Midsommersøerne (Midsummer Lakes), at Jørgen Brønlund Fjord, and in Danmarks Fjord, but the main part is located in Northeast Greenland. On the northernmost eastcoast several hundred features have been found along the coasts of Amdrup Land and Holm Land. Further south, at Kap Skt. Jacques on Île de France, is the largest site ever found with 400-500 dwellings, most of them probably belonging to Independence II. In and around Dove Bugt several small to medium sized sites are found. Most are located on the outer coast and on islands. Apart from the sites in North Greenland no features have been found inland.

Natural resources of Independence II

In Peary Land the main terrestrial animal was the muskox which today is found 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 Palaeo-Eskimo 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 found at a number of locations. Along the east coast the same terrestrial mammal species, fish and birds are found although in larger quantities. At sea walrus, ringed seal, bearded seal and narwhal are found. Lithic resources (i.e. agate, chalcedony, quartz crystal, and sandstone), except for soapstone, seem to be available in each area. Driftwood is available only along some fjords. The vegetation is sparse and the coastal areas are defined as Arctic deserts. Independence II is present in the area during a period where the climate probably was somewhat similar to the present.

Independence II subsistence

Most sites in Peary Land are located inland along larger lakes and the rest along the coast. Along the east coast most sites are situated on the outer coast and on the islands. Contrary to Peary Land only a few features have been found inland. Middens are seen only in Peary Land and northernmost Northeast Greenland. In Peary Land muskoxen were important prey followed by tinged seal, bearded seal, Arctic fox, fish, birds (mostly migratory species) and polar bear. On the northern coastal sites muskoxen were absent and here walrus, seals and polar bear dominate as well as some birds.

Further south no bones are preserved, but the topographical situation indicates that sealing (ringed seal), walrus and muskox hunting was important. Sites on the east coast are preferably placed next to polynyas or near polynya-like localities with easy access to marine mammals, especially in the spring. Around Dove Bugt resources are more plentiful with muskoxen, seals, walruses, fishes, birds etc. and generally with easier access to both marine and terrestrial resources from the same site. The few bone artifacts (needles, harpoon heads) are made of bone or 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 Independence Fjord, Danmarks Fjord and Dove Bugt.

Exchange and trade of Independence II

The sparse material does not indicate trade and exchange. The presence of walrus bone as material for artifacts on inland sites in Peary Land may be a product of trade or exchange with coastal walrus-hunting groups; it is, however, more likely that the same people migrated between coast and inland. This is due to the fact that sealskin and blubber must have been essential for clothing, tent-skins and energy. Wood for tent-poles and harpoons, bows, arrowshafts and other tools is found in small quantities on the coasts of the Independence Fjord and around Dove Bugt and further south.

Independence II 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 findings from Jørgen Brønlund Fjord as "Palaeo-Eskimo finds". In 1956 he split them into two based on differences in artifacts, dwelling styles, altitude above present sea level and C14-datings: the oldest culture was called Independence I and the youngest Independence II. In several publications Knuth draw attention to the Dorset-elements in Independence II and to the fact that it also exhibits some Independence I traits.

A transition between Pre-Dorset and Dorset is seen on Ellesmere Island (Helmer, Schledermann, Sutherland). Independence II in North and Northeast Greenland probably has its origin in Northwest Greenland - Eastern Canada. Within the Independence II artifact assemblage traits reminiscent of the "Grosswater Dorset" in Newfoundland have often been pointed out.

Until the late 1980s only a few Independence II sites were known south of Peary Land. Archaeological work since then has documented a large number of Independence II sites (Andreasen & Elling 1990, 1995; Andreasen 1996, 1997, 1998). Until now the southern limit is c. 75°N, which probably is due to lack of futher surveys. On the northern coast of Scoresby Sund Palaeo-Eskimo remains are found at several places but it remains uncertain whether these finds might be more related to Early Dorset from West Greenland than to the Independence II culture (Sandell 1996). Further south the Dorset culture emerges around Ammassalik (Møbjerg 1988).


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.

Andreasen, Claus (1997b) The prehistory of the coastal areas of Amdrup Land and Holm Land adjacent to the Northeast Water Polynya: an archaeological perspective. Journal of Marine Systems 10 (1997) 41-46.

Andreasen, Claus (1997a) Independence II in Northeast Greenland - some new aspects. In: Gilberg, R. and Gulløv, H.C. (eds.): Fifty Years of Arctic Research. Anthropo-logical Studies From Greenland to Siberia. Department of Ethnography, The National Museum of Denmark. Copenhagen.

Andreasen, Claus (1998) NEWland: settlement patterns, social organisation and economic strategies at a High Independence II in Northeast Greenland - some new aspects. In: Arneborg, J. and Gulløv, H. C. (eds.): Man, Culture and Environment in Ancient Greenland. Report on a Research programme. Danish Polar Center Publications No. 4. Danish National Museum and Danish Polar Center. Copenhagen.

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.

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, pp. 1-403.

Grønnow, Bjarne & Sørensen, Mikkel (2006) Palaeo-Eskimo Migrations into Greenland: The Canadian Connection. In: Arneborg, Jette; Grønnow, Bjarne (red.): Dynamics of Northern Societies. Proceedings of the SILA/NABO Conference on Arctic and North Atlantic Archaeology, Copenhagen, May 10th – 14th, 2004. PNM, Publications from the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology & History, Vol. 10. Copenhagen, p. 59 – 74, 2006. (peer reviewed).

Helmer, James W. (1992) The Paleo-Eskimo Prehistory of the North Devon Lowlands. Arctic 44(4). Calgary.

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 (1956) Archaeology of the farthest North.Proceedings of the 32nd International Congress of Americanists. Copenhagen August 10th.

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

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

Møbjerg, Tinna (1988) De paleoeskimoiske kulturer i Ammassalik distrikt. In: Møbjerg, T.; Grønnow, B. & Schultz-Lorentzen, H. (eds.): Palæoeskimoisk forskning i Grønland. Indlæg fra et symposium på Moesgård 1987. Århus. Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

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.

Schledermann, Peter (1990) Crossroads to Greenland: 3000 Years of prehistory in the Eastern High Arctic. Komatic Series, 2. Calgary. The Arctic Institute of North America of the University of Calgary.

Sutherland, Patricia D. (1996) Continuity and Change in the Paleo-Eskimo Prehistiry of Northern Ellesmere Island. In: Grønnow, B. (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland - New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology. Danish Polar Center Publications No. 1. pp. 271-294. Copenhagen.

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