Identification of a Probable Aarnguaq in a Sadlermiut Grave from Native Point, Southampton Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Karen Ryan and Janet Young


The skeletal remains of an adult Sadlermiut Inuit woman were excavated from a grave at the Native Point site on Southampton Island, Nunavut, Canada, in 1959. Forming part of the woman’s mortuary assemblage was a small wooden human figurine that had been perforated in its face, chest, and pelvic regions. Such modifications had not previously been noted on Thule Inuit anthropomorphic carvings and the rationale for their presence on this figurine was not initially apparent. However, examination of the associated human remains revealed skeletal abnormalities that matched two of the figurine’s three perforations; indirect evidence suggests a third now archaeologically invisible soft tissue pathology was also present. This paper uses ethnohistoric accounts of the Sadlermiut, in combination with ethnographic observations made among other Inuit groups, to suggest that the Native Point figurine was not simply a “doll,” but was instead an aarnguaq (object with powers) wielded by a shaman as part of a healing ritual intended to heal an obviously ill person.

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