Late Dorset chronology
The Dorset culture is the latest of the pre-Inuit cultures in Eastern Arctic. The earliest and latest radiocarbon dates are from the Ungava Bay area, southern part of Hudson Bay.
It is traditionally divided into three phases:
Early Dorset approximately ranging from 9/800 BC to 300 BC
Middle Dorset from 300 BC to 500-600 AD
Late Dorset from 400-500 AD to 1500 AD
In Greenland only the earliest and latest phases are represented in the material dated so far; approximately 700 BC - 200 AD, and 800 - 1300 AD
Geographical areas of Late Dorset
Early Dorset culture ranges from Banks Island in the west to Ammassalik in the east and from Thule in the north, to Saint Pierre et Michelon in the south. Middle Dorset is found mainly around Hudson Bay, and in Labrador and Newfoundland. In Late Dorset the extension of the culture is about the same as in Early Dorset, with the exception of Greenland, where it seems to be limited to the northwest coast, with a possible expansion into Northeast Greenland.
Social organisation of Late Dorset
The size and layout of the dwelling structures in Greenland suggest that the basic social unit was the family; possibly an extended family. The Dorset semi-subterranean dwelling tends to be somewhat larger and more solid than what is known from earlier periods of the eastern Arctic prehistory. Perhaps suggesting a larger number of inhabitants in each dwelling, as well as a more sedentary way of life.
The semi-subterranean dwellings are often found in groups of 2 to 6, some with substantial midden layers in front of them. If the structures can be considered contemporaneous, the cold season sites may have accommodated 20-35 people. Warm season dwellings, on the other hand, are about the same size as those from previous periods – suggesting that the social units may have been nuclear families, or in some cases specialised task groups.
In opposition to the early pre-Inuit periods the Dorset period contains direct evidence of larger groups of people gathering for short periods during their annual cycle of movement. Sites with so-called "megalith structures"/ "long-house structures" often display linearly arranged rows of fire-places. These rows may contain anywhere from four to 30 hearth units; that should probably been seen as representing four to thirty families gathering on the "long-house sites", i.e. somewhere between 25 and 200 people. These gatherings may well have played a central part in creating a common identity among regional groups, living dispersed for the greater part of the year. This common identity is also expressed in the uniformity in the design of both art and more utilitarian objects, throughout the vast Late Dorset area.
It has been suggested that a special position may have been held by shamans or artists, as expressed in a number of unique carvings and other religious paraphenalia found in especially large numbers in the Late Dorset phase. Furthermore, it may be suggested that the gatherings at the "longhouse" sites also had a strong religious and collective element, but also served a basis in maintaining shamans' religious and artistic positions.
Natural resources of Late Dorset
A number of natural resources were critical to the Dorset existence in the High Arctic. Judging from the location of Late Dorset sites, the most important resources were marine mammals – a large number of sites are located in proximity to primary or secondary polynyas. The importance of marine mammals is also reflected in a number of sites by the bones preserved in the midden layers. However, quite a few of the middens also contain a substantial number of bones of terrestrial mammals and birds. In the midden connected to House 1 on Qeqertaaraq, Arctic fox, Arctic hare, muskox and caribou comprised about half of the bones found. Similar to a number of other Late Dorset sites, Arctic fox bones made up a very large portion of bones recovered (in House 1 and its midden about 80 % of the bones from landmammals).
Another important resource was the lithic material from which a variety of weapons and knife blades were manufactured. The Late Dorset flint-knapper were capable of working a broad spectrum of lithic materials including slate, silified slates, basalt, agate, quartz crystals, quartzite, and soapstone.
Sod may have been an important resource, as turfs were used in the construction of walls in cold season dwellings.
Driftwood may also have been a valuable feature, but it does not seem to have been crucial for the settlement pattern, as many Late Dorset sites in the High Arctic were without a continuous supply. But, as it was probably part of the dwelling super-structure, we may assume that driftwood was acquired over considerable distances.
Late Dorset subsistence
Late Dorset subsistence in the High Arctic was based almost exclusively on hunting, with the main emphasis on various species of seals, ringed seal being the most common. At a number of Late Dorset sites in the High Arctic, walruses may have been just as important. Even though the walrus is represented by a relatively low number of bones in the middens, they may have been taken in considerable numbers, representing the crucial element in the diet. From ethnographic sources we know that the larger part of the skeleton is left at the killing site, i.e. on the ice, to reduce the weight that hunting parties had to carry back to their villages. Therefore, only a few bones from each animal are found in middens. In Late Dorset middens one usually finds a strong over-representation of cranial parts of the walrus, probably reflecting a similar butchering pattern. Judging by the construction of the harpoons, the largest number of marine mammals was taken either at their breathing holes, or from the ice-edge.
On a number of sites, bones of terrestrial mammals comprise a substantial portion of the bones found, predominantly Arctic fox, with caribou, muskox and Arctic hare represented in fewer numbers. Caribou are likely to have been taken on inland sites, connected to so-called "caribou drives". Unfortunately, inland fieldwork is limited in the High Arctic, with the exception of Banks Island. Arctic fox and Arctic hare were probably taken with snares, a method that is, more or less, archaeologically "invisible".
A third large category of game animals is the various bird species, that often comprise c. 20% of the bones found. As with Arctic fox and Arctic hare, we can only guess about the technique of taking birds – by nets or on open water, when flightless during their moulting season. The relatively few fish bones in most middens suggest that fishing was of minor importance, but most sites produced a number of fish spears. Finally, bones of white whale or narwhal and polar bear are frequently found.
Exchange and trade of late Dorset
A variety of finds from the High Arctic sites strongly indicates that a substantial exchange network covered the region. Meteoric iron from Northwest Greenland spread a least as far west as Bathurst Island and Little Cornwallis Island and south to the northern part of Hudson Bay. From the areas around Coppermine River, nuggets of natural copper were dispersed throughout the eastern Arctic. Various kinds of lithic materials seem to have been part of the exchange network as well. Furthermore, stylistic changes in Dorset carvings and more utilitarian objects, such as harpoon heads, occurred across the Dorset area at approximately the same time, indicating frequent contact amongst dispersed groups. The extensive exchange and trade networks are in sharp contrast to the technological limitations on transportation – the Dorset people having neither dog sledge nor umiaq. This indicates that exchange probably took place within a network of neighbouring sites (a "down-the-line exchange network"), perhaps in connection with the annual gatherings at the so-called "long-house sites".
On a few sites from the terminal phase of Late Dorset, objects of both Thule culture and Norse origin are found, suggesting that the trade and exchange involved groups foreign to the Dorset people. Overlap in the radiocarbon datings of the three mentioned groups support this suggestion. This indicates that exchange probably took place within a network of neighbouring sites, perhaps in connection with the annual gatherings of the so-called "long-house sites".
Late Dorset history of research
The Dorset culture was defined by Diamond Jenness in 1925 on the basis of artifacts found near Cape Dorset (Jenness 1925), but it took another 25 years to gain approval by all Danish archaeologists. It was only after Meldgaard's and Mathiassen's excavations on the Sermermiut site (Disko Bay) in 1953 and 1955 (Larsen & Meldgaard 1958; Mathiassen 1958) and Knuth's excavations in Peary Land in 1949 (Knuth 1950) that the Dorset culture was acknowledged as a discrete culture, older than the Thule culture. However, already in 1935-37 Holtved had recognised the presence of Dorset culture in Greenland. While excavating a number of Thule culture house ruins in the Thule area, Holtved found that Late Dorset artifacts were both incorporated in the turf used for constructing the walls of the Thule houses and in the middens upon which the Thule houses were built (Holtved 1944; Gulløv 1996).
Since these early excavations the presence of Dorset culture has been demonstrated in most parts of Greenland (Meldgaard 1977, 1985, 1991; Gulløv 1983; Møbjerg 1986; Jensen 1994, 1995; Andreasen 1996; Kramer 1996), all of which can be ascribed to the Early Dorset period. In 1991 and 1993, the Thule Museum performed surveys in both northern and southern part of the Thule district. The surveys revealed several Late Dorset sites (Diklev & Madsen 1992). The renewed focus on the Thule area lead to the excavation on three Late Dorset sites. These revealed a large number of well preserved structures (Gulløv 1997; Arneborg & Gulløv 1998; Appelt 1997a, 1997b; Appelt, Gulløv & Kapel 1997, 1998). Correspondingly, a large number of articles, reports as well as a book on Late Dorset, have been published in Canada. Among the publications are Helmer et al. 1994 and 1995, Maxwell 1985, McCollough & Schledermann 1996, McGhee 1985 and 1996, Renouf 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994, Schledermann 1990 and 1996.
Andreasen, Claus (1996) A Survey of Paleo-Eskimo Sites in Northern Eastgreenland. In: B. Grønnow, (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland. New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology. Danish Polar Center, Copenhagen.
Appelt, Martin (1997a) Arkæologer kaster nyt lys over tidlig grønlandsk kultur. Polarfronten 2. Dansk Polarcenter, København.
Appelt, Martin (1997b) Porten til Grønland. Nyt fra Nationalmuseet 74. Nationalmuseet, København.
Appelt, Martin (2004) De sidste palæoeskimoer – Nordvest Grønland 800 – 1300 e.v.t. PhD-thesis on file University of Aarhus, Institute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Lingvistics.
Appelt, Martin and Gulløv, Hans Christian (eds.) (1999) Late Dorset in High Arctic Greenland. Final report on the Gateway to Greenland project. Danish Polar Center Publications no. 7.
Appelt, Martin; Gulløv, Hans Christian and Kapel, Hans (1998a) Dorset II eller sen Dorset - de sidste palæoeskimoer i Grønland. In: Rygaard, J. (ed.): Cultural and Social Research in Greenland 1997. lisimatusarfik/Atuakkiorfik.
Appelt, Martin; Gulløv, Hans Christian and Kapel, Hans (1998b) De sidste palæoeskimoer i Grønland. Nyt lys over den gådefulde Dorsetkultur. Nationalmuseets Arbejdsmark 1998.
Damkjar, Eric (2000) A Survey of Late Dorset longhouses. In Appelt, M., Berglund, J. and Gulløv, H.C. (eds.) Identities and Cultural Contacts in the Arctic. Danish Polar Center Publications, no. 8.
Damkjar, Eric (2005) Late Dorset Longhouses: A look inside. In Sutherland, Patricia D. (ed.) Contributions to the Study of the Dorset Palaeo-Eskimos. Mercury Series, Archaeological Papers no. 167. Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Diklev, Torben and Madsen, Bo (1992) Arkæologisk Berejsning i Thule 1991. Rapport til Avanersuup Katersugaasivia / Thule Museum.
Friesen, T. Max (2000) The Role of the Social factor in the Dorset-Thule Interaction. In Appelt, M.; Berglund, J. and Gulløv, H.C. (eds.) Identities and Cultural Contacts in the Arctic. Danish Polar Center Publications, no. 8.
Gulløv, Hans Christian (1983) Nuup kommuneani qangarnitsanik eqqaassutit inuit-kulturip nunaqarfii / Fortidsminder i Nuuk kommune - inuit-kulturens bopladser. Kalaallit Nunaata katersugaasivia & Nationalmuseet, Nuuk.
Gulløv, Hans Christian (1997) Porten til Grønland. Arkæologiske undersøgelser i Thule 1996. Nationalmuseet, København.
Gulløv, Hans Christian and Arneborg, Jette (eds.) (1998) Man, Culture and Enviroment in Ancient Greenland. Status on Research Programme. Danish Polar Center, Technical Papers, No. 4.
Gulløv, Hans Christian and Martin Appelt (2001) Social bonding and shamanism among late Dorset groups in High Arctic Greenland. In Price, Neil (ed.) The Archaeology of Shamanism. Routledge.
Helmer, James; Le Moine, Genevieve & Hanna , Donald T. (1994) Report on the 1994 Excavations at Arvik (QjJx-1), Little Cornwallis Island, Northwest Territories. University of Calgary.
Helmer, James; Le Moine, Genevieve & Hanna, Donald T. (1995) Report on Excavations at QjJx-10 (Tasiarulik), Little Cornwallis Island, Northwest Territories. University of Calgary.
Holtved, Erik (1944) Archaeological Investigations in the Thule District, I-II. Meddelelser om Grønland 141.
Jenness, Diamond (1925) An Eskimo Culture in Hudson Bay. Geographical Review 15 (3): 428-437.
Jensen, Jens Fog (1994) Den to-delte bolig - en rumlig analyse af et midtergangsildsted og dets oldsagsinventar. In: Rygaard, J. (ed.): Cultural and Social Research in Greenland 1994. Ilisimatusarfik/Atuakkiorfik.
Jensen, Jens Fog (1995) Annertusuaqqap Nua - en Dorset-boplads i Sydostbugten, Vestgrønland. Tidskriftet Grønland 6.
Jensen, Jens Fog (2006) Stone Age of Qeqertarsuup Tunua (Disko Bugt) a regional analysis of the Saqqaq and Dorset cultures of Central West Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland/Monographs on Greenland, Man & Society, Vol. 32, 272 pp. Danish Polar Centre (peer reviewed).
Kramer, Finn Erik (1996) The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures in Sisimiut District, West Greenland: Aspects of chronology. In: Grønnow, B. (ed.): The Paleo-Eskimo Cultures of Greenland. New Perspectives in Greenlandic Archaeology. Danish Polar Center, Copenhagen.
Larsen, Helge and Meldgaard, Jørgen (1958) Paleo-Eskimo Cultures in Disko Bugt, West Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland, 161(2). Copenhagen.
LeMoine, Genevieve (2003) Woman of the House: Gender, Architecture and Ideology in Dorset Prehistory. Arctic Anthropology Vol. 40(1).
LeMoine, Genevieve M. (2005) Understanding Dorset from a different prespective. Worked Antler, Bone and Ivory. In Sutherland, Patricia D. (ed.) Contributions to the Study of the Dorset Palaeo-Eskimos. Mercury Series, Archaeological Papers no. 167. Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Mathiassen, Therkel (1958) The Sermermiut Excavations 1955. Meddelelser om Grønland 161 (3). C.A. Reitzels Forlag. Copenhagen.
Maxwell, Moreau S. (1985) Eastern Arctic Prehistory. London.
McCollough, Karen & Schledermann, Peter (1996) Ellesmere Island Archaeology Project: Report of the 1995 Field Season. Calgary: The Arctic Institute of North America.
McGhee, Robert (1996) Ancient People of the Arctic. Vancouver, UBC Press/Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Meldgaard, Jørgen (1977) The Prehistoric Cultures in Greenland: Discontinuities in a Marginal Area. In: A. D. Kylstra (ed.): Continuity and Discontinuity in the Inuit Culture of Greenland. Arctic Center, University of Groningen, Netherlands.
Meldgaard, Jørgen (1985) Dorset-Kulturen - udviklingstendens og afbrydelser. In: C. Andreasen and R. Petersen (eds.): Vort Sprog - Vor Kultur. Pilersuiffik, Nuuk.
Meldgaard, Jørgen (1991) Bopladsen Qajaa i Jakobshavn Isfjord. En rapport om udgravninger 1871 og 1982. Tidsskriftet Grønland 4-7.
Murray, Maribeth S. (1999) Local heroes. The long-term effects of short-term prosperity – an example from the Canadian Arctic. In Rowley-Conwy, Peter (ed.) Arctic Archaeology. World Archaeology, Vol. 30(3).
Møbjerg, Tinna 1986A contribution to Paleoeskimo Archaeology in Greenland. In: A. McCartney (ed.): Arctic Antropology 23 (1-2). The University of Wisconsin Press.
Park, Robert (1993) The Dorset-Thule Succession in Arctic North America: Assessing Claims for Culture Contact. American Antiquity.
Park, Robert (2000) The Dorset-Thule Succession Revisited. In Appelt, M.; Berglund, J. and Gulløv, H.C. (eds.) Identities and Cultural Contacts in the Arctic. Danish Polar Center Publications, no. 8.
Renouf, Pricilla (1991) Archaoelogical Investigations at Port au Choix National Historic Park; report of the 1990 Field Season. St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Renouf, Pricilla (1992) The 1991 Field Season, Port au Choix National Historic Park: Report of Archaeological Excavations. St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Renouf, Pricilla (1993) The 1992 Field Season, Port au Choix National Historic Park: Report of Archaeological Excavations. St. Johns, Newfoundland.
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.
Schledermann, Peter (1996) Voices in Stone. A Personal Journey into the Arctic Past. Calgary, Arctic Institute of North America of the University of Calgary.
Sutherland, Patricia D. (2000) Strand of Culture Contact: Norse-Dorset Interactions in the Canadian Eastern Arctic. In Appelt, M.; Berglund, J. and Gulløv, H.C. (eds.) Identities and Cultural Contacts in the Arctic. Danish Polar Center Publications, no. 8.
Sutherland, Patricia D. (2001) Shamanism and the iconography of Palaeo-eskimo art. In Price, Neil (ed.) The Archaeology of Shamanism. Routledge.