Thule and their Ancestors

The Thule culture were the predecessors of the various Inuit groups. They were a fast moving culture spreading from the Russian Far East through Northwest Alaska to the Canadian High Arctic and to parts of Greenland.

The Thule tradition (which lasted from about A.D. 1 to A.D. 1500). It seems to have developed out of the Norton tradition. It represented a new kind of adaptation to the Arctic environment, based on the hunting of large sea mammals in open water through the use of drag floats attached to the harpoon line. Large skin boats and the use of dogs to pull large sleds were other Thule innovations. Winters were spent in sometimes large communities of semisubterranean houses, subsisting on a stored surplus obtained most typically by hunting bowhead whales. The earliest sites are on islands in Bering Strait and exhibit an almost complete reliance on maritime resources, but later sites demonstrate reliance on both maritime and terrestrial resources. This kind of adaptation developed around Bering Strait but it spread, primarily though migration, to encompass practically the entire Arctic region by A.D. 1000. In the Canadian Arctic the Thule people replaced the Dorset culture in a poorly understood fashion. Climatic deterioration following the thirteenth century is widely credited with causing the Thule people to modify their way of life into the way of life of the various Historic Inuit groups.


The red line indicates the extent of the Thule Culture. Red dots represent major Thule sites; the green dot represents a major Birnirk site, and the blue dot represents the Arctic Woodlands.


Precursor and contemporary cultures to the Thule

Birnirk (AD 600-1300)

In the 1950s, archaeologist Wilbert Carter and his crew collected over 20,000 artifacts from the Birnirk site and surrounding areas. The Birnirk site is the type site for the Birnirk culture, a pre-Thule culture dating from 600 A.D.-1300 A.D. The permafrost preserved materials that are often missing in the archaeological record. With such a large array of artifacts, archaeologists were able to make significant inferences about every-day life in the ancient arctic.

The Arctic Woodland Culture (AD 1250-1760)

Giddings (1952) described the Arctic Woodland Culture as a blend of Eskimo and Athabascan material culture traditions. In traveling along the Kobuk River, Giddings was able to locate archaeological sites such as the Ahteut and Eseavik sites that displayed both insight and evidence of a transition from coastal culture and population, to an inland culture that moved away from sedentary villages. In dating the archaeological sites, he was able to recognize patterns in dendrochronology that indicated when the house pits were constructed. Behavior and cultural changes that took place through time. The gradual move away from sedentary villages that consisted of many house-pits that closely resembled the patterns of coastal settlements line to a more smaller, nomadic lifeway people is evidenced through changes in tools, food resources (fauna), and cultural elements that give the Arctic Woodland Culture significance.