Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Website Search Box
{search_item}

Department of Anthropology

Arctic Studies Center

Paper Abstracts

‘ARCTIC CRASHES’: Human, Climate, and Habitat Agency in the Eastern Arctic and North Atlantic


Igor Krupnik (NMNH, Arctic Studies Center)
THE SMITHSONIAN ‘ARCTIC CRASHES’ PROJECT, 2014–2015: A SHORT INTRODUCTION

Session ONE: CLIMATE CHANGE, ANIMAL CRASHES AND ABORIGINAL PEOPLE

William Fitzhugh and Walter Adey (NMNH, Smithsonian Institution)

CLASHES, CRASHES, AND CAUSES: EXAMINING THE DYNAMICS OF LABRADOR INUIT POPULATION MOVEMENTS

A perennial problem in interpreting the prehistory and early history of Labrador has been identifying causal factors of observed culture change. Following the initial appearance of Paleoeskimos ca. 4200 BP, the Paleoeskimo and subsequent Inuit people experienced four well-documented culture and population expansions and contractions: Pre-Dorset (4200/3400), Groswater (2800/2200), Middle/Newfoundland Dorset (2000/1400), and Labrador Inuit (600/250/present). Each of these expansion periods (except Middle Dorset) coincided with climate cooling as recorded in most climate proxies. The retreat of these arctic-adapted peoples from their southern limits generally coincided with warming events. It has been considered that environmental forcing and sea ice expansion or contraction was the prime factor in these Arctic culture excursions, although the Labrador Inuit expansion had the additional factor of enticements of European whalers, fishermen, and traders in southern Labrador and Newfoundland waters. This paper evaluates the timing of these population movements, the nature of associated climate and environmental change, the role of social and cultural factors, and the relationships with other Inuit, Indian, and European groups in order to obtain a more nuanced understanding of people’s cultural responses at the Arctic-Subarctic boundary.   

Bjarne Grønnow (The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark)

CRITICAL TRANSITIONS: HUMANS AND RESOURCES IN HIGH ARCTIC GREENLAND  

The paper deals with large-scale changes in the settlement patterns of High Arctic Greenland. Several critical demographical transitions are seen in the archaeological record, reaching from periods of dense palaeo-Eskimo and Inuit settlement in the Thule area, Peary Land and North East Greenland to complete abandonment of vast regions and isolation of small human groups. Settlement patterns in the Thule area and North East Greenland reflect human interaction with the rich but also dynamic and vulnerable game resources in and around recurrent polar polynias (open water). In contrast, Peary Land stands out as an Arctic desert – a ‘funnel’ -   where only terrestrial resources were accessible periodically. Based on ongoing interdisciplinary research, the paper explores the variables that determined the characteristic unstable demographic picture in High Arctic Greenland during the past 4,500 years. 

Bernadette Driscoll Engelstad (NMNH, Arctic Studies Center)

FUNCTION & COSMOLOGY/PREDATION & PRAYER: THE ART OF ARCTIC CLOTHING DESIGN


The use of animal furs in the production of clothing by Arctic peoples has long been a key focus of ethnographic studies.  Until recently, however, such studies have focused on the functional aspects of fur clothing as an essential element of human survival in the Arctic.  Beginning in the 1970s, community fieldwork with Inuit seamstresses and elders, as well as the work of Inuit artists, began to bring about a fuller understanding of the metaphoric and symbolic aspects of Arctic clothing design. In the thematic spirit of this symposium, this paper considers the wide variety of animal resources used by Arctic seamstresses to create skin and fur clothing, focusing on the manner in which these materials are shaped or tailored over time and space, not only to protect the human body but to alter human appearance with the purpose of mediating the relationship between human and animal, hunter and prey.  By emphasizing the conservative nature of regional clothing forms across the Arctic, we view clothing design as a key artifact-type able to contribute to a fuller understanding of changes in the exploitation of animal resources across the Arctic, as well as an indicator of migratory paths of Arctic peoples in the pursuit of animals over time.

James Woollett (Université Laval, Québec, Canada)

INUIT LANDSCAPE AND RESOURCE INTERACTIONS ON THE NORTH-CENTRAL LABRADOR COAST
(provisional title)

Human-environment interactions with relation to landscape and resource history of terrestrial and marine environments in northern Labrador have been researched by multidisciplinary teams for more than 20 years. Utilizing archaeological, palaeoecological and historical data, research has focused on documenting shifts in Inuit settlement and land-use patterns, climate-related changes in the geosphere and biosphere arenas, and corresponding anthropogenic ecosystem impacts. Zooarchaeology provides evidence of regional and seasonal-scale biogeographic shifts in seal populations in northern coastal Labrador related to dynamic sea ice regimes. Changes in seal availability and reduction of whales and walrus over time have resulted in adoption by Inuit of new winter settlement patterns and seal hunting strategies.   

Session TWO: HISTORICAL COMMERCIAL HUNTING AND ANIMAL CRASHES

Moira McCaffrey (Independent Researcher, Ottawa, ON, Canada)

WALRUS ON THE ÎLES DE LA MADELEINE: A CULTURAL AND NATURAL HISTORY

At the dawn of the 16th century, Basque, French, and English merchants in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were engaged in walrus hunting at numerous locations. Each summer their ships could be found vying for access to deep harbors and "échoueries", or walrus haul out sites. By the late 18th century, the Atlantic walrus in the Maritimes had been extirpated, save for occasional walrus sightings up to the present. Ethnohistoric sources document indigenous participation in these hunts, while archaeological evidence extending back 8000 years suggests walrus hunting may have been an ancient activity. This paper provides a first synthesis of human-walrus interaction in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with a focus on ethnohistoric and archaeological evidence from the Îles de la Madeleine. This human-walrus history is viewed in light of emerging biological, ecological, and climate data.

Brenna A. McLeod (Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Halifax, Canada)

EXAMINING THE IMPACTS OF 16TH - 17TH CENTURY BASQUE WHALING ON WHALE SPECIES IN THE WESTERN NORTH ATLANTIC

The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is one of the world’s most endangered large whales. 16th and 17th century Basque whaling in the western North Atlantic has been widely believed to be responsible for the most dramatic decline of the species, with an estimated ~12250 - 21000 whales killed in this region between 1530 and 1630. These catch numbers have, in turn, been used as the foundation for estimates of pre-exploitation population size and for the subsequent setting of recovery goals. However, while the right whale was thought to be the primary target of the Basque hunt, it is known that the Basques targeted two species in this region: the North Atlantic right whale and the bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus. To further examine the proportions of each species hunted, and to gain genetic insight into historical population characteristics, we collected samples from 364 whale bones during a comprehensive search of Basque whaling ports from the 16th to the 17th century in the Strait of Belle Isle and Gulf of St. Lawrence. Molecular analyses indicate that bowhead whales, not right whales, were the principal target. Genetic analyses of the single right whale bone suggest that the 16th century population was genetically similar the extant population, which exhibits very low levels of diversity. Together these findings do not support the idea that the population suffered a major population reduction due to Basque whaling. For reasons yet unknown, the species might have existed in the western North Atlantic with relatively low genetic diversity and low population numbers prior to the whaling. Such data have re-written the history of the species and provide a new context in which the status and recovery potential need to be considered and addressed.

George Humbrecht (University of Maryland, College Park, MD)

MOBILIZING THE PAST TO ADDRESS CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN THE CENTRAL SUB-ARCTIC NORTH ATLANTIC: THE DONOP NETWORKS

This presentation conceptualizes archaeological data as ‘Distributed Long-term Observation Networks of Human Ecodynamics in the Past’ (DONOP). This concept is used to describe data from archaeological sites that, among other things, produce environmental and biological data that can be used to build more robust records of past species demographics, understand these demographics in the face of human as well as environmental pressure, and finally to possibly recover lost genetic variation, especially in domestic animals. This presentation will focus on research on two species, Gadus morhua (Atlantic Cod) and Bos Taurus (domestic cattle) in various historical settings across the North Atlantic. This session will also speak to the fact that the phenomenon we are discussing, rapid environmental change, is destroying these valuable DONOP archives here in the present.

Frigga Kruse (Arctic Centre, University of Groningen, Netherlands)

ARCTIC CRASHES CAUSED BY EARLY COMMERCIAL HUNTING: THE CASE OF THE BOWHEAD WHALE (BALAENA MYSTICETUS) IN SVALBARD

Svalbard in the European High Arctic was a pristine ecosystem until the arrival of Willem Barents in 1596. There never had been any indigenous people, and the archipelago was discovered fairly late. It therefore presents a unique case study of the consequences of 400 years of commercial exploitation on living resources. The first bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) was killed in 1611. The slow-swimming species was subsequently heavily pursued until its protection in Norway in 1939. The bowhead whale is now a rare visitor to the islands.

This case study of early European hunting additionally benefits from exceptional historical sources spanning the whole of the four centuries. Accounts of Arctic voyages and whaling logs among other documents have been evaluated using traditional historical methods. The effect of whaling on Svalbard’s marine ecosystem is therefore relatively well known, and the case has led to important lessons being formulated for modern fisheries. Future research stands to gain from an interdisciplinary approach. DNA analysis could help determine if bowhead whales off the coast of Svalbard today are of the original subpopulation. Combined traditional and interdisciplinary methods must now be applied to other key species in the Svalbard ecosystem (e.g. Atlantic walrus, polar bear, Arctic fox, and Svalbard reindeer) to generate a comprehensive image of human-animal-relations in the European High Arctic.

Session THREE: CHANGING VISIONS ON HUMAN-ANIMAL-HABITAT RELATIONS IN THE ARCTIC

Mark Madison (Chief Historian, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

130 YEARS OF GAME MANAGEMENT, WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT, ENDANGERED SPECIES RESTORATION, AND ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT: “OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES” OR EVOLVING PARADIGMS FOR A CHANGING PLANET

Wildlife abundance and management has been the critical issue for federal wildlife agencies for 130 years.  Beginning in 1885, C. Hart Merriam and the U.S. Biological Survey sought to take a census of North American Wildlife with the ultimate goal being restoration of wildlife numbers across North America.  In the 20th century a number of new experiments were tried including the first federal regulations involving wildlife (1900), the first national wildlife refuges (1903), and endangered species restoration laws (1966–1973).  These new conservation tools accompanied an expanding circle of protection, from charismatic birds and game species to eventually encompass a broader array of wildlife and plants by the end of the 20th century.  Implementation of these tools in the Arctic environment has always involved special challenges, nowhere more so than in the issue of global climate change which represents a qualitative existential change in wildlife work whose magnitude is just beginning to be dealt with by federal wildlife agencies.

Carleton Ray (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA)

‘ARCTIC CRASHES”: A NATURALIST’S PERSPECTIVE

Ecosystem “state” change, emergent crises and causes, and species’ inherent natural-history attributes can all, separately or together, initiate what we may call a “crash” of a population. By way of example, I will confine myself to Arctic marine mammals, many of which are essential components of ecosystems, as well as resources for indigenous people. First, what does a “crash” look like historically? For the Atlantic walrus as well as fur seals and great whales, the picture seems to be, simply, anthropogenic overexploitation. For the Pacific walrus and others, a number of population fluctuations due to historic subsistence exploitation and climate variability are assumed, and recently climate change, also induced largely by humans, may forecast a “crash”. In reality, however, recent population declines involves a complex, decadal interaction of physical, ecosystemic, and biological causes, involving top-down and bottom-up processes and feedbacks, in which species behavior and changing environmental conditions are inextricable. Such processes and feedbacks call attention to ecosystem behavior-resiliency, social-evolutionary attributes of the species themselves, and changing patterns of human exploitation.

Charlie Inuarak, Enookie Inuarak (Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada), Martin Nweeia, and Glenn Williams.

OBSERVING AND HUNTING NARWAHL AROUND POND INLET IN THE TIME OF CLIMATE/SEA ICE CHANGE – AN INUIT PERSPECTIVE

Changes in seasonal ice formation and break-up, more frequent large shipping traffic, and seismic testing influence the distribution and behavior of narwhal. In years when there is less ice, narwhal can go to new areas such as Cambridge Bay and Eureka and in years of greater ice formation, as was evident last year, less narwhal are seen. Narwhal populations appear stable and they come up and leave the area around Pond Inlet the same time each year. However, the changing ice conditions are the most important factor affecting when and where they appear in the surrounding inlets. Recent “savassats” like the one in 2008 may be associated with seismic testing. Hunters observed that narwhal caught then were from Greenland and not familiar with the area and ice patterns and thus more prone to being trapped.

Thomas H. McGovern, Megan Hicks, Seth Brewington, Konrad Smiarowski, Arni Daniel Juliusson, Andy Dugmore, Ian Simpson, Richard Streeter

‘CRASHES,’ NEAR MISSES, AND LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY IN THE NORSE NORTH ATLANTIC


In the early Viking Age (ca 800-1000 AD) the North Atlantic islands (Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Iceland, Greenland and briefly Vinland/ Newfoundland) were colonized by a hybrid Nordic/Celtic population practicing a mixed farming/ hunting/ fishing economy that produced both subsistence goods and items for trans-Atlantic trade.  This migration brought farming economies for the first time into the low Arctic areas of the Western Hemisphere, and resulted in widespread impacts upon vegetation, soils, and wild species. Some of these impacts proved catastrophic in the long term and serve as illustrations of how even small pre-industrial societies can crash resources and degrade landscapes. However, recent research indicates that the Norse settlers were often good stewards of landscape and resources and provide examples of both “near miss” failures and actually sustainable management strategies effective on the century to millennial scale. This presentation draws on the collaborative work of the ongoing NABO Comparative Island Ecodynamics Project  (https://www.nabohome.org/projects/cie/) to present some of these new perspectives on Arctic crashes averted as well as endured.

Torben Rick (NMNH, Anthropology)

ARCTIC ‘CRASHES’ AS A MODEL FOR HISTORIC HUMAN-ANIMAL RELATIONS (Concluding remarks)

[ TOP ]