About the project

During the years 1921 to 1924 Danish scientists Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen explored the Arctic. They excavated archaeological sites and made detailed records of the Inuit ways of life. One collection of ancient artifacts was especially intriguing as the forms of the tools were nearly identical to those used by Inuit with whom the Danes lived. The archaeologists called the older culture “Thule” and hypothesized that the Thule people were the ancestors of Inuit. The development of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s lets us discover the age of archaeological sites. Thule sites date to between 700 and 900 years old in the Canadian Arctic.

One of the more enigmatic features of Thule sites are the remains of houses that were semi-subterranean (partially dug into the ground) and constructed from whale bones. By carefully excavating these remains, archaeologists have learned much about the kinds of things people did in the houses and how they organized their space. After the houses were abandoned, the bones collapsed in a jumble. In following years Thule people may have taken some bones to make new houses. More recently, Inuit artists may have removed bones to create contemporary art. We continue to be puzzled about how the houses were actually built and what it might have been like to live in one.