The Arctic

The people of the farthest northern reaches of the Americas live in a world of scarcity: finite resources and a hostile environment have created a resourceful and resilient people who retain much of their ancestral tradition and lifestyle.

Far north of the tree line, they depend heavily on the animals that live around them, making clothing, complex tools and even structures from the creatures they hunt and fish. With hunting so vital to Arctic livelihood, a variety of specially adapted tools and techniques were developed specifically to catch and utilise prey both on land and by sea.

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Bird spear
  • 1

    Bird spear, Inuit, 19th century 

    Bird spear

    Bird spears like this one have an array of ivory spikes to bring down several fowl in a single cast. Seasonal visitors to the Arctic such as ducks and geese provide the Inuit with regular opportunities to replenish food supplies in preparation for the harsh winters.

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    Model kayak, Greenland Inuit, Mid 19th century 

    Model kayak

    During the summer thaw, Arctic hunters take to the seas in kayaks, similar to this model, constructed from animal skins and driftwood. Fast and streamlined, these vessels allowed hunters to pursue prey far out to sea.

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    Copper ulu knife, Inuinnait, Early 19th century 

    Ulu knife

    An ulu knife such as this one made from meteoric copper, was traditionally used by women and is perfectly designed for removing the skin and fat from the carcass of an Arctic animal.

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    Caribou skin clothing, Inuinnait, Mid 19th Century 

    Caribou skin clothing

    In the frozen climate of the far north, warm clothing was especially important. Sewn from caribou hides, this suit could keep both a mother and her baby protected during even the coldest weather.

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    Bone needle case, Inuit, Early 19th Century 

    Needle case

    With resources scarce and clothing vital, needles, usually ivory but sometimes of meteoric copper, were objects of great significance. To ensure their safety, they would be carried in ornate cases, such as this bone example.

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