Lost Visions, Forgotten Dreams

Life on the Edge of The World

Landscape In the first part of this exhibit, the Arctic environment was depicted as it appears during the summer season. For a few months each year, constant daylight turns the tundra into a carpet of flowers grazed by herds of musk oxen and caribou, and sea mammals navigate channels of food-rich water between the floating ice. But there is another season to the Arctic environment. For most Arctic creatures, winter is a time of hunger, darkness and bitter cold. Depending on the latitude, the darkness of the winter night is unbroken for a period ranging from a few weeks to several months. Temperatures during this season generally remain below -30°C, and the winds constantly drift snow across a landscape lit only by the shifting aurora and the circling moon. Many animals migrate to more southerly regions. Seals retreat beneath the sea ice, and other animals move to wintering areas where it is difficult for hunters to find them.

Image Map
1.Projectile Point
2.Projectile Point
3.Projectile Point
7.Harpoon Head

The Inuit traditionally survived the Arctic winter by living in well-insulated houses built of stone, turf and snow. Food and fuel for the oil lamps, which provided winter heat and light, were stored from summer hunts. By Inuit standards, the Palaeo-Eskimos were very poorly equipped to survive Arctic winters. With neither permanent insulated houses nor oil lamps, they seem to have spent winters in skin-covered tents, heated by small open fires burning stems of Arctic willow, small pieces of driftwood, heather and animal bones. Most families probably spent the winters in isolation, and close to the edge of survival. Hunting would have been difficult in the cold and darkness, and starvation must often have followed an unexpected movement of the animals they preyed upon, or an accident or illness affecting a hunter. With scarce food, and only enough fuel for occasional small fires, much of the winter night may have been passed in sleep and dreams.

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