Magnifying the differences: Investigating variability in Dorset Paleo-Inuit organic material culture using microscopic analysis

Matilda Siebrecht*, Sean Desjardins, Sarah Merina Hazell, Susan Lofthouse, Elsa Cencig, Katie Kotar, Peter Jordan, Annelou van Gijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Arctic archaeologists generally accept that Dorset Paleo-Inuit (Tuniit) (ca. 800 BC- 1300 AD) toolkits exhibit high levels of typological uniformity across Arctic Canada and Greenland. This understanding implies that the artifacts were likely produced according to a standardized set of practices that were somehow reinforced over time and shared across the isolated sites and communities inhabiting this vast region. In contrast, recent theoretical developments in the study of technology highlight that material culture traditions are reproduced through localized social practices, and involve both individual- and community-based decision-making processes, which would predict a higher level of variability in local manufacture and design features. Our aim in this pilot-study is to test whether Dorset artifacts are, in fact, produced and used in highly-standardized ways. We focus on two important tool types crucial to survival in the North: needles and harpoon heads. We sampled assemblages from three Dorset sites located up to 800 km from one another and dating to different Dorset cultural periods. Our results indicate that the sets of tools were made and used in very different ways despite their outward typological similarity. This may reflect the fact that local technological traditions were being learned and practiced differently at each site, though much more work is needed to fully understand the implications of these results in terms of social learning, cultural inheritance, and inter-regional interaction patterns.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBones at a crossroads
Subtitle of host publicationIntegrating worked bone research with archaeometry and social zooarchaeology
EditorsMarkus Wild, Beverly Thurber, Stephen Rhodes, Christian Gates St. Pierre
PublisherSidestone press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9789464270068, 9789464270075
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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