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Coastal, fjord and inland dwellers

Settlement Patterns in Central West Greenland

By Bjarne Grønnow and Ulla Odgaard

Settlement Patterns
Test excavations were carried out in some areas. Kerstin Pasda determined the bones.

The processes of change of settlement patterns in Central West Greenland are the main theme of this project. Research in the inland of Angujaartorfiup Nunaa, Maniitsoq Municipality, has demonstrated the potential of combining the rich archaeological and ethno historical sources in a direct historical and contextual approach to the study of summer settlement patterns in this "classic" caribou hunting area. Through collaboration with the Greenland National Museum, the results of the studies of the inland areas will be combined with the results of recent surveys along the coasts and fiords in the Maniitsoq Municipality.

Settlement Patterns
This tent house was still in use in the 1950s according to Agnethe Rosing, who was a guest here in 1954.

During the field seasons 2001, 2002 and 2003 the project (with the pet name "Habakuk's hunting grounds" after a historic hunter) has concentrated on making reconnaissance in those areas of Angujaartorfiup Nunaa, where no earlier archaeological examinations had been carried out. The greater part of the area is a high plain with peaks up to 1400 m and with many rivers and lakes. It's lying between Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord) to the North and three ice caps to the west, south and east and the climate is "arctic desert".

Settlement Patterns
A hunters's bed is a frame of rocks. Historical sources describe that the hunters used these structures for resting while on hunting expeditions.

In this deserted landscape we have made reconnaissance by walking along routes and through areas that according to the historical sources from 18th and 19th century were used by the hunters. The result is more than 300 sites, such as base camps where families spent the summer, and hunter's beds and rock-shelters used when on hunting expeditions. Tent rings, meat caches, hunting blinds and hunting drives (as rows of head-cairns) are other groups of features there are plenty of in Angujaartorfiup Nunaa. Two kinds of archaeological features, previously not registered in Greenland, are cairns marking long routes through the landscape and anthropoid rocks – possibly ritual sites – arranged strikingly in the landscape.

Settlement Patterns
In the foreground are two hunters's beds. Notice the rocky terrain.

Test excavations have shown that hunters used the area long before historical times. A Carbon-14 sample from a hearth in a stone age Saqqaq tent ring gives the dating 3500 BP, and another from an old Thule culture base-camp 1350 AD.

In 2003 the project included ethno-archaeological studies in Angujaartorfik, a former assembly camp at the coast of Kangerlussuaq, where  video-documentation of caribou meat procurement was made.

Settlement Patterns
Natural rock-shelters were also used for resting places on hunting expeditions.

An international team of researchers carried out the fieldwork:

Bjarne Grønnow, Mille Gabriel, Pauline Knudsen and Ulla Odgaard, SILA, Denmark

Clemens Pasda, Jena University, Germany

Kerstin Pasda, München University, Germany

Charlotte Damm, Tromsø University, Norway

Settlement Patterns
"Cairns" as small rocks on top of bigger boulders marks the location of structures or routes across the landscape.

In Angujaartorfiup Nunaa we find a long hunting tradition in an intact and undisturbed landscape, where the archaeological remains are so well preserved you can nearly feel the presence of the hunters. The surveys has made it possible to investigate aspects of mobility- and settlement patterns, territoriality, resource exploitation, hunting ethics and ideology through times. A publication on the results of the project with contributions from Bjarne Grønnow, Pauline Knudsen, Clemens Pasda, Kerstin Pasda and Ulla Odgaard (ed.) is now in preparation.

Settlement Patterns
Some of the cairns have striking appearances, like this yellow anthropomorphic rock, placed in a small "chamber" of other rocks on top of a big square boulder.
Settlement Patterns
Pauline Knudsen and her informant Agnethe Rosing in front of Agnethe's drying rack in Angujaartorfik 2003.
Settlement Patterns
Modern summer camp at Angujaartorfik. Today modern hunters have their base camp close to the fjord and their motorboats.
Settlement Patterns
The landscape of Angujaartorfiup Nunaa is renowned for its beauty. This is a view to the Eternity Fjord between two ice caps.