A Dorset parka inspired post

I have been very this week working on a lecture I am giving to an archaeology class at MUN next week. I had intended to write this post on some archaeology site maps I produced for my work. When I saw the post on the Elfshot blog about Tim’s intention to make a Dorset Palaeoeskimo parka. Along with the description of his project, he posted some nice shots of Dorset art. I had collected similar photos of other Dorset art last year that I was going to use in a future post but seeing what Tim was up to on Elfshot made me think that I may as well ride his coat tails, so to speak. (I voted for Tim to make the Beothuk bow, a project I think he should still do!)

The Dorset Palaeoeskimos were an Arctic adapted people who were first recognized archaeologically by anthropologist Diamond Jenness in the early 1920s at Cape Dorset, Hudson Bay. The Dorset are part of a larger cultural manifestation archaeologically known as the Arctic Small Tool Tradition. In Labrador the Dorset are subdivided into Early, Middle and Late phases and are archaeologically visible from ~2500 years ago to ~600 years ago. On the Island of Newfoundland they are confined to the Middle Dorset but are almost as long lasting dating from ~2500 years ago to ~800 years ago. Currently on the Island of Newfoundland, there are 255 known Dorset Palaeoeskimo sites and about 400 in Labrador.

Dorset art shows up occasionally at their archaeological sites throughout the entire Dorset period in the Arctic and in this province. Dorset art in Labrador tends to be more naturalistic and made from inorganic material while on the Island the art tends to be more stylistic and made from organic materials. For example, then graduate student Robert Anstey found the carvings below, which he interpreted as Polar Bear heads, on the Point Riche site near Port au Choix in 2010. Their function is uncertain although the little hole near the top (?) may indicate they were worn as charms, decorations for clothing or tools or maybe they were part of a necklace.

Dorset stylized Polar Bear head carvings from Point Riche. (Anstey)
Dorset stylized Polar Bear head carvings from Point Riche. (Anstey)

Towards the end of the Dorset period, their material culture starts to go through some pretty drastic changes in Labrador. A warming climate (not a good thing for a cold weather, arctic adapted culture) and or the introduction of the Thule/Inuit and Norse (Europeans) into the traditional Dorset homeland are possible causes for the changes in the Dorset culture. While the exact cause of the changes are unknown, the changes were manifested in things like Dorset stone tools, which become much larger and a seeming increase in the quantity of Dorset art. In this province, 40 Late Dorset sites are known from northern Labrador, several of these sites have produced Late Dorset art. Perhaps the best-known art comes from Avayalik Island and Shuldham Island.

Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)
Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)
Shuldham Island 9, Saglek Bay. (J Sproull Thomson)
Shuldham Island 9, Saglek Bay. (J Sproull Thomson)
Wooden mask
Wooden life sized mask
Part of a human face
Part of a human face carved if soapstone
Part of a human face
Part of a human face carved in soapstone
A human face carved into a ball
A human face carved into a ball of soapstone
Seated Dorset figure with typical high collared coat
Seated Dorset figure with typical high collared coat carved of soapstone
Human figure
Human figure carved of soapstone
Seated Polar Bear
Seated Polar Bear carved of soapstone

All of these carvings are small as you can tell from the scale in several of the pictures. With the exception of the mask which is large enough to be worn by a person. There are carvings of Polar Bears, human beings, seashells, birds and a possible seal or walrus.

More Dorset art:

http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/paleoesq/pegh1eng.shtml

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