The Material Culture of Iñupiat Whaling: An Ethnographic and Ethnohistorical Perspective

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Anne M. Jensen


Whaling has long been the organizing focus of coastal North Slope Iñupiat culture. Many scholars believe that whaling was important in Thule culture prior to the Thule migration. Despite this, abundant evidence for whaling has not been found at many Western Thule sites. I examine the material correlates of current and historic modern Iñupiat whaling, primarily in Barrow through interviews with active whaling captains and their wives, as well as historic data. I look at the items that are associated primarily with whaling and where these items are used and stored. Although modern whaling appears on the surface to have changed markedly, it is suggested that the basic activities are relatively similar and therefore the associated patterns of material culture can be of assistance in detecting past whaling. I also briefly describe a locus at the Nuvuk site that appears to have been associated with whaling activities at the very beginning of the modern whaling period.