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Trade and Exchange in Greenland

The Steatite Objects Analyses Project 2005-07

By Martin Appelt

S.O.A.P. 2005-7
The Nuuk region with with areas with soapstone shown in red.

This summer the first phase of the joint Greenlandic/Danish/German/Swedish initiative called S.O.A.P. carried out in the Nuuk area. The initiative is one of the sub-projects under the International Polar Year project "Dynamics of Social Strategies in Arctic Environments: Long Term Perspectives on Movement and Communication" (IPY Activity ID #6). The project is furthermore one of only two humanities project mentioned in the recent Danish IPY-folder.

S.O.A.P. 2005-7
The 18th and 19th trade-networks in which the soapstone from the Nuuk region played an important role. From Gulløv (ed.), 2004.

While taking its point of departure in an archaeological investigation of the Nuuk areas renowned (but under-documented) steatite quarry-sites the ambition is to bring to together the substantial historical and ethnographical source material in developing a number of solidly founded models for the historical trade and exchange in soapstone, and their imprint in the archaeological record. On the basis of these models we intend re-examine the large prehistoric soapstone material found on sites both inside and outside the Nuuk-area.

S.O.A.P. 2005-7
Professor C. Pasda at the so-called Clemens Q-site The quarry-site have distinct negative scares from the extraction of more than 60 soapstone performs.

15 discrete soapstone quarry-sites were visited, recorded and sampled for geological provenance analyses. Four of these sites were archaeologically unknown prior to the trip. The newfound quarry-sites have tentatively been called; Clemens Q-site, Mikkel Q-site, Mariane Q-site and Uummannaq SE-site.

Five of the soapstone-formations are situated within a few hundred metres of a very promising dwelling site with archaeological remains ranging in time from the Saqqaq-periode until the 1950s, situated at the shore of the Kangersuneq Icefiord. The dwelling-site shows substantial remains of having been used the major place for transforming the soapstone preforms into finished objects.

S.O.A.P. 2005-7
Curator Mikkel Myrup standing at a modern soapstone quarry-site (at Uummannaq Island).

The S.O.A.P. groups are headed by:

Martin Appelt, Research fellow, SILA – The Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark

Bjarne Grønnow, Head of SILA – The Greenland Research Centre at the National Museum of Denmark

Clemens Pasda, Professor, Friederich-Schiller-Universität (Jena), Germany

Mikkel Myrup, Curator, The National Museum & Archives of Greenland

Yvon Csonka, Professor, University of Greenland/Ilisimatusarfik

Lars Larsson, Professor, University of Lund, Sweden

Further reading

"Speckstein als prähistorisches Exportprodukt" [Soapstone as a Prehistoric Export Commodity] via Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (in German).

Philbert, Poul-Erik, "Fra fedtstensbrud til køkkenmødding" [Soapstone from Quarry-site to Middenarea], in: Polarfronten no. 3/2005 (in Danish).

S.O.A.P. 2005-7
The negative scares from the extraction of two very large soapstone vessels, at a site near Narssatsiaq (the Kangersuneq Icefiord).
S.O.A.P. 2005-7
The outline of a soapstone-lamp that for some reason were left behind. At the Clemens Q-site (northern Kangiussap Nunaa).
S.O.A.P. 2005-7
Minister of Culture Henriette Rasmussen and Curator emeritus Mariane Petersen joined the team for some good days of fieldwork.
S.O.A.P. 2005-7
Museum Director Daniel Thorleifsen and son on the way from Narssatsiaq to Kangiussap.