Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hike Through History on Ellesmere Island

So, how about this as the view from your porch at exactly midnight in the 2nd week of August? (Time stamp is original) Granted, by August 15 summer will be over and the first major snow storm of the season will occur, but who cares?

In fact, this photo alone can encompass why for many years, people settled on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut Territory, Canada. Today we will follow their tracks. Many researchers believe that thousands of years ago, people started migrating from around Mongolia to North America. Some of them might have headed south and became what we know as Native Americans; but many headed straight up north to Ellesmere Island:

How do we know this? Primarily by following the flow of "technology" along that route. On Ellesmere, the most noticeable to follow are the structures those settlers left behind. We can also see how construction technology (if you allow me to slightly overstate) improved over the years.

The first structures those people--the fathers of the Inuits--built, were very simple: a shallow hole dug into the permafrost ground and covered by a well tight tent: (click on any photo to enlarge)

As you can see, the Inuits used the bones of the whales they hunted for tools, jewelry, and building material (to support the structure). They also used the whales for meat, fat and oil, and their skin.

It was cold this way. Every time someone entered they lifted the tent's door, let the freezing air (-50F at winter) in, and apologized to the others. However, as years passed, the migrants (as research shows along their long migration route) discovered physics: the fact that warm air flows up. So at one point, those settlers started building their homes this way:

They would dig a narrow entrance tunnel, and from there climb up to the main living area which was again constructed as a tent (and sometimes at winter as an igloo.) Cold air trapped low, warm air for all at the penthouse! Notice the whale bone supporting the structure. Essentially, this technique has survived the times, and when the Canadian Royal Army decided to show presence on Ellesemere Island about 100 years ago, they used the same approach with different materials:

They lasted less than ten years there by the way. Here's the story: Inuits lived on Ellesmere Island for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Sometime about 1,100 years ago, a mini ice-age forced them out and they left in a hurry (you could still find today tools they left behind, and even the occasional skeleton of an Arctic fox still in a trap!) Many moved further south, and some - over to Greenland. For years, the island was deserted but frequented by the Greenland Inuits during the winter hunting season. Then Canada decided to re-assert its jurisdiction, sent some soldiers on horses (well, figuratively speaking) - and after less than ten years they concluded it was just to cold and remote to stay.

Today, the whole large island is frequented by fewer than 50 hikers and kayakers each year, and these enjoy practicing amateur archeology and watching the midnight sun.

And views like this:

Read this additional post  for another angle on the Arctic Ocean!

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