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Historical map showing the territory of Hudson Bay, present-day Nunavik, and Labrador to the east.

The People

Detail of a 1612 nautical map showing the territory of Hudson Bay, present Nunavik and Labrador. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ)

The Thule
750 BP to contact with Europeans

The Thule arrived when a new wave of immigration occurred around 1 000 years BP, originating in Alaska and spreading across the Eastern Arctic to reach Nunavik about 750 years BP. There was a climatic warming trend in this period and it is thought that the layer of sea ice must have been greatly affected, thus necessitating the development of new techniques for hunting on open waters.

Flat stone blade of roughly rectangular shape, with dark color and reddish spots.

Thule blade, 1000-1700
McCord Museum Collection, M5832

Different scenarios have been proposed by archaeologists to account for the transition from Tuniit to Thule cultures. Recent archaeological research tends to support the hypothesis that the Thule, being better adapted to hunting marine mammals, were able to displace the Tuniit throughout the Eastern Arctic. Some Tuniit groups may have simply disappeared, while others probably adapted by assimilating elements of Thule technology to the point that they lost their Tuniit “identity.” According to some hypotheses, the Tuniit continued to live on Southampton Island at the entrance to Hudson Bay right up to the beginning of the 20th century.

The Thule were expert whale hunters and travelled over water in great boats, called umiaks, measuring up to 9 metres in length by 2 metres across. These boats, covered with seal or walrus skins, were light and could carry as many as 20 people as well as large quantities of material.

Thule technology is characterized by stone tools that are ground rather than chipped into shape. The newcomers also made greater use of bone and ivory. Soft stone, schist in particular, was utilized to make semi-circular knives (ulus) and pointed blades. The Thule hunted on land with bows and arrows; on the sea, they captured marine mammals, including whales, with harpoons and spears. Recipients and oil lamps were made in various shapes but always out of soapstone. The technological innovations introduced by Thule populations include the bow drill (which made a continuous rotating movement possible), dogsleds, umiaks and kayaks for travelling over water and hunting marine mammals, throwing boards to increase the range of harpoons and spears, and goggles to protect the wearer’s eyes from the intense reflection of the sun on snow.

Like the Dorset people, the Thule used tents as dwellings in the summer months. In winter, they built igloos for shelter as they travelled on the sea ice. They also developed a new type of semi-subterranean house with an ingenious feature consisting of an entrance tunnel that dipped in the middle, so that cold air was prevented from flowing into the interior. These dwellings had one or two areas for burning fuel and a sleeping platform built over storage compartments. The upper structure of the house was erected with whale bones or driftwood and covered with skins or turf.

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