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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: October 2012

2 - Inuit and climate change in prehistoric eastern Arctic: a perspective from Greenland

from Part I - Lessons from history: time, scale, and causality

Summary

Abstract

This chapter addresses traditional Inuit societies and their responses to climatic changes. It is argued that, due to the Arctic region's island-like status concerning environment, climate, geography, and cultural history, and due to an interdisciplinary Arctic research tradition, this region is particularly favourable to study and learn from, with regard to societies and climate change. Moreover, it is argued that societal response to climate fluctuations is best understood in an intergenerational time perspective and at large geographical scales, as can be provided in the deep archaeological time-scale within the Arctic world. From recent fieldwork in north-east Greenland, this area's prehistory is discussed in relation to climate change. This case is followed by a discussion of four aspects of Inuit prehistory of the eastern Arctic that are considered crucial to the Inuit adaptation and success during the centuries, i.e. (1) the initial Thule culture migration into the eastern Arctic; (2) breathing-hole sealing technology; (3) snow house technology; and (4) Inuit long-distance travels in the eighteenth century. In the chapter it is concluded that the Inuit did not invent new strategies or technologies in relation to stress induced e.g. by climate change. Instead they relied on an inherent flexibility in their living and being in the Arctic, involving high mobility and frequent migrations at the individual level, which enabled them to overcome crises caused by social conflicts as well as environmentally dependent changes. Further, it is concluded that the Inuit had an ability to creatively integrate technologies and life-ways resulting from their cultural encounters, e.g. with people from the Late Dorset culture, European whalers, and Moravians, that were successfully employed when climatic-induced environmental changes affected their life and societies.

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