The Inuit are fascinating people, particularly for their resilience and adaptability to the harsh, cold winters of the North American Arctic. For centuries, the ice-cold temperatures in the inhospitable polar region have dictated the lifestyles of the Inuit, a word which stands for “the people” in one of the dialects of Inuit language.
In the vast coldness of the Arctic, many tribes of Inuit sought comfort in snow-bricked, circular igloos. While some were permanent living spaces–a typical igloo could sometimes house up to 20 people–smaller igloos were erected as temporary homes, for example, when on a hunting trip by kayak.
Aside from the igloo, the most well-known type of Inuit housing, people have utilized other shelters. During warmer periods, a tepee-like tent would do the trick. Some Inuit would also use earthhouses, which are dug several feet below the surface and only up to three feet above ground. Whalebone and wood would typically support their construction.
Food? Largely what comes from the sea: fish, as well as larger marine prey including seals, walruses, sea lions, and whales. The diet might include some reindeer too. Inuit garments often incorporate a lot of fur to cope with the hostile weather. Invention of the original parka is attributed to the Caribou Inuit.
These fur-lined jackets traditionally had an outer layer of caribou or seal skin and could be waterproofed with fish oil. Don’t forget the heavy boots for the snow. Mukluks are the traditional soft Inuit boots, also made from caribou or seal skin. Intriguingly, latest research has confirmed that the earliest inhabitants of the Arctic, from thousands of years ago, are not genetically linked to the modern-day Inuit.
Groups and cultures in the Arctic have changed over the millennia, therefore they are divided into Paleo-Eskimos, who first appeared some 6,000 years ago, and a much later wave of settlers who are termed Neo-Eskimos. Both groups migrated to the region via the Bering Strait.
The first group helped form the pre-Dorset as well as the Saqqaq cultures. Later on, around 800 B.C., the Dorset culture appeared and it existed until around 1200 A.D., when it suddenly disappeared.
This is when the Thule culture, which originated in Siberia, migrated into the area from settlements in Alaska. Modern-day Inuit are believed to be genetically derived from the Thule, from between the 16th and the 19th centuries.
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The Thule culture is also believed to have been among the first to master whale-hunting in the world. In heritage, they left a number of cultural goods to the modern-day Inuit, including some of the immediate associations we have when we think of them. Dog sleds as a means of transport is one example.