Tuniit history – Native Americans

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Pre-Dorset fish hook

Pre-Dorset fish hook

Several thousand years after the first people crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America, other people came to North America by boats, crossing from Siberia across the Arctic Ocean to Alaska. This was about 7000-5000 BC. Archaeologists call these people the pre-Dorset Culture. These people seem to have begun to leave Alaska about 4500 BC, when a warming period melted some of the Arctic ice, and they reached Greenland about 2500 BC. It seems like a long way from Alaska to Greenland on the map, but maps show Canada all stretched out: really it’s not that far. (To get a better idea of distances, check out this website or use a globe.) The pre-Dorset people hunted musk ox and reindeer in the north, and further south they hunted seal and caribou, and like most people in the world at this time, they fished a lot.

Tuniit carving of a polar bear

Tuniit carving of a polar bear

A second wave of people migrated into the Arctic from the west about 1000 BC. Archaeologists call these people the Dorset Culture, and the Inuit called them the Tuniit. These people were tall and strong, and they seem to have reached Greenland, on the Atlantic coast, about 500 BC. About 200 AD, the Tuniit seem to have abandoned Greenland again, and then around 1000 AD they began to migrate back south into Greenland, at first living mainly in the north and gradually moving south. The Arctic was getting warmer around 1000 AD. So maybe this made it harder for the Tuniit to find and hunt the animals they depended on for food.

ivory chessmen

Lewis chessmen, carved of walrus ivory. They were probably carved in Norway, but were found in Scotland

The warmer weather melted the ice and made it easier for outsiders to invade Tuniit land. So about 1000 AD, a third wave of Inuit people conquered the Tuniit people. Again, the Inuit were moving east from Alaska along the Arctic Circle. The Inuit seem to have reached the Atlantic coast by around 1300 AD. These Inuit people were shorter than the Tuniit, but they had big military advantages because they had dogs and boats and iron tools, and apparently the Tuniit didn’t.

Inuit whalebone house at Tikigaq, in Alaska

Inuit whalebone house at Tikigaq, in Alaska

The Inuit seem to have come east in order to trade with Vikings coming from the west. The Inuit bought iron and steel weapons and tools from the Vikings. They sold the Vikings walrus ivory and furs. With the steel weapons, the Inuit hunted whales. They used the meat to eat and the bones to build their houses. They pretty much conquered all the Tuniit.

Learn by doing: soap carving
More about the Inuit
Life among the Inuit

Bibliography and further reading about Tuniit history

More about the Inuit
Cree people
Algonquin people
Native Americans
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By | 2017-08-10T09:13:34+00:00 August 10th, 2017|History, Native American|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Tuniit history – Native Americans. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 10, 2017. Web. December 13, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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