Nadlok and the Origin of the Copper Inuit


Nadlok's 1450-1750 A.D. occupation spans the transition from local Thule to Copper Inuit culture. Thule origins are best seen in open-socketted harpoon heads, untanged ulus and the rare but persistent use of pottery. Later Copper Inuit common traits are copper staples (Fig.1) and rivets (Fig.2) for joining tool parts, tanged ulus, decorated bone-tube needlecases, thimble-holders, the meat fork or marrow spatula, the copper-bladed whittling knife and "man's" knife, and closed-socket harpoon heads.

Staple; MbNs-1:2144 Ulu handle; MbNs-1:586
Figure 1 A staple made of native copper. Figure 2 An ulu handle that used to hold its blade by copper rivets.

Comparisons beyond coastal Copper Inuit include crude unground black chert arrowheads with wide shoulders and nephrite adzes like those west in the Mackenzie Delta and northwestern Alaska. The decoration on the finely engraved man's knife handle is like that on a specimen at Langton Bay, between Coronation Gulf and the Mackenzie Delta.

Figure 3 A spruce fire-making spindle with a small fire-hearth on its side.

Nadlok is close to a traditional trade route linking Bathurst Inlet and the Caribou Inuit, and it may be that some of its abundant wood came from the Thelon River at Akilineq. Here in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Copper Inuit met Caribou Inuit who in turn were trading with the Hudson's Bay Company. Before the fur trade the Thelon may already have been used by the Copper Inuit as a wood source. Nadlok pieces include fire starting equipment -- a bow fragment, blackened spruce fire-hearths and several charred fire spindles (Fig.3). Others are birchbark vessel fragments from trees with diameters of about 15 to 20 centimetres, and may suggest trade or other connections with the forested interior to the south. A birchbark basket of similar size exists further north on Coronation Gulf.

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