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Silhouette tundra horizon, covered by a sky with clouds separating after the storm.

The People

Tundra after the storm

4 000 to 2 500 BP

The human occupation of the Eastern Arctic began about 4 500 years BP. The migration of populations from Beringia occurred in a period when the climate was warming. Groups of hunter-gatherers, apparently coming from Siberia, settled in Alaska to begin with, but then spread out over the Arctic’s vast territories, from Devon Island to the fringes of coastal Labrador.

These populations occupied continental land to the south of open water, as well as certain islands of the Lower Arctic, from the northern areas of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nunavik to the shores of the straits of Hudson and Labrador.

The Pre-Dorsets mainly hunted caribou, seals and walruses. Their flaked stone implements, made in the Arctic Small Tool tradition, consisted essentially of scrapers, microblades, finely worked projectile points, knives and burins. In addition to stone, these people used bone, wood and antler to make bows, arrows, harpoon heads and spears.

Pre-Dorset dwelling structures were of two types. In some cases they were oval or circular tents made of caribou or marine mammal skins, with storage pits nearby, while in others they were semi-subterranean houses built in boulder fields. The interior of both these types of houses, which were associated with cold season use, generally had food caches, work areas and two sleeping areas separated by a passage way with a central hearth in the middle. In contrast, the dwellings used in summer were simpler and lacked interior divisions.

The transition between the end of the Pre-Dorset period and the beginning of the Dorset period continues to raise many questions. Around 3 000 BP, the populations of the Eastern Arctic and Nunavik were subjected to a series of fluctuations in the climate. This climatic instability seems to have brought about changes in the distribution of animal resources, which meant that the human populations living in the territories had to adapt their technology and economy to new conditions. Two hypotheses are proposed at present to explain how the Dorset culture replaced that of the Pre-Dorsets. According to the first hypothesis, there was a certain cultural continuity between the two cultures, while, according to the other, the Pre-Dorsets disappeared before new groups arrived and recolonized the territory around the Hudson Strait about 2 900 years BP. The results of recent archaeological research conducted in Nunavik should shed some light on these questions.

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