The Bear Trap

Reinvestigation of a Unique Stone Structure on the Northwest Tip of the Nuussuaq Peninsula, Greenland

Matthew J. Walsh, Daniel F. Carlson, Pelle Tejsner and Steffen Thomsen


A dry-stone structure known as the Bear Trap—“Bjørnefælden” in Danish and “Putdlagssuaq” (The Great Trap) in the local Greenlandic Kalaallisut—is a unique and enigmatic feature on the Arctic landscape of the Nuussuaq Peninsula in northwestern Greenland. Despite its suggestive name, the intended function of the Bear Trap has been the subject of scholarly debate since 1740. Here we present new findings on the Bear Trap, update the archaeological context of the site and its surroundings, and present the first three-dimensional (3D) digital reconstruction of the site and its surroundings. Investigations of the Bear Trap and its surroundings during the summer of 2019 revealed previously undocumented graves in the vicinity. Based on the newly discovered graves and quantitative data extracted from the 3D models, we concur with previous scholarly speculations (e.g., Rosenkrantz 1967) that the Bear Trap was possibly used as a grave or possible cenotaph rather than as a skemma, the typical stone storage structure of the Greenland Norse. In addition, we demonstrate the use of 3D modeling to digitally preserve cultural heritage in the rapidly changing Arctic and permit remote, quantitative analysis of archaeological sites.

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