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High arctic late Dorset - maintaining contacts

The aim of the project is to describe and suggest explanations to the disappearance of Late Dorset from the High Arctic areas. It is postulated that the disappearance of the Dorset people is caused by a complex interplay of changes in internal factors (social, spiritual and cultural) and external factors (social and physical environment).

It is also suggested that the High Arctic Late Dorset people was organised around a number of regional "hot-spots" and that a breakdown in the internal communication lines between these regional groups combined with changes in the physical and social environment (the dramatic climatic fluctuations around the middle of the 13th Century and the arrival of the Ruin Island Thule migration) led to the collapse of the Dorset culture.

The last Tunit of Northwest Greenland – a publication project (2005)

The author finished his PhD-thesis in 2004 "De sidste palæoeskimoer – Nordvest Grønland 800 – 1300 e.v.t." [The last palaeo-eskimos – Northwest Greenland AD 800 - 1300] and is presently in the process of preparing two articles on some of the major conclusions of the thesis:

The first article will centre on deepening our understanding of the late Dorset megalith sites (also known as "longhouse sites"). It is suggested that the megalith sites – in their High Arctic variant – primarily should be seen as nodes in a number of complicated social and ideological networks binding together the late Dorset groups. In this context the commodities traded and exchanged in between these nodes were very important in maintaining the social and ideological viability of the otherwise dispersed late Dorset local and regional groups.

The second article will focus on a multi-causational approach to the question of why the late Dorset culture disappear from the Smith Sound region during the 13th and 14th Century. It will be argued that the particular social and ideological structure of the late Dorset culture played a far more significant role in the collapse than shown previously. It is suggested that the late Dorset social and economic organisation was stretched to its outermost limits in the 12th Century, being dispersed over waste geographical areas and with a reduced mobility. The late Dorset life way (social, ideological and economic organisation) reached its limit during the 12th and 13th centuries when confronted with the competition from the Thule groups becoming well established in Smith Sound region. The Thule groups among others may have taken over the trade/exchange in meteoric iron, which had been the medium through which the Smith Sound late Dorset groups had maintained contact with groups outside the region for centuries. Furthermore the late Dorset groups would have had to cope with changing climatic conditions and the limitation in the possibilities for long-distance mobility as the Inuit/Thule had settled large parts of the Eastern Arctic.

The manuscript will be ready for submission by the end of 2005.

Further reading

Appelt, Martin (2004) De sidste palæoeskimoer – Nordvest Grønland i perioden 800 – 1300 e.v.t. PhD.-thesis on file at Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, Aarhus University. 

Appelt, Martin & Hans Christian Gulløv (eds.) (1999) Late Dorset in High Arctic Greenland. Final report on the Gateway to Greenland project. The National Museum of Denmark and the Danish Polar Center. Danish Polar Center Publications, No. 7

Gulløv, Hans Christian & Martin Appelt (2001) "Social bonding and shamanism among Late Dorset groups in High Arctic Greenland". In: Price, Neil S. (ed.) The Archaeology of Shamanism. Routledge.