Growing Up North: Exploring the Archaeology of Childhood in the Thule and Dorset Cultures of Arctic Canada



In late prehistoric times the Canadian Arctic was occupied sequentially by the peoples known to archaeologists as the Dorset and the Thule cultures, the latter being the direct cultural and biological ancestors of the Inuit who live there today. For archaeologists interested in exploring aspects of childhood, the Thule culture has three very desirable characteristics: potentially magnificent preservation due to the effects of permafrost; a complex and varied material culture; and, from their Inuit descendants, a rich and detailed body of ethnographic information that can be drawn upon for analogy. With these advantages it is possible to identify a wide range of Thule items, especially miniature versions of implements, specifically associated with children. These can be studied to explore the roles of children in Thule society. Intriguingly, it is far more difficult to identify items associated with children of the Dorset culture, despite their material culture's being equally complex and their sites being often almost as well preserved. This chapter summarizes the results of research into childhood among the Thule and shows how the experience of childhood for Dorset children may have been somewhat different from that experienced by their Thule successors.