The Backbone of the Saqqaq Culture: A Study of the Nonmaterial Dimensions of the Early Arctic Small Tool Tradition

Igor Krupnik, Kenneth L. Pratt and Bjarne Grønnow


Inspired by ethnographic analogies and interpretations of late Dorset symbolic representations an attempt is made to understand the material evidence concerning spiritual worlds and cosmology of the earliest human societies of the eastern Arctic, designated “early Arctic Small Tool tradition” (early ASTt) by archaeologists. Excellently preserved archaeological finds from two permanently frozen Saqqaq sites (ca. 2400–900 B.C.) in Disco Bay, West Greenland, form the starting point of the analyses, and comparative materials from Pre-Dorset and Independence I sites in Canada are included. Analyses of technology and design suggest that the material culture of the early ASTt acted as a constant reminder of strict cultural norms within which these geographically widespread and mobile pioneering people operated. This homogenous materiality ensured cultural and social coherence in a pioneering society, which constantly was on the move into unknown and uncertain landscapes. Analyses of decorated objects, possible amulets, and fragments of drums—the earliest in the Arctic—suggest that the early ASTt material culture was an integral part of an animistic cosmology.

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