Prehistoric Thule Whaling Societies in the Canadian Arctic; Ritual, Symbolism, and Ideology

Author(s): James Savelle

Year: 2017


Prehistoric Thule Inuit in the Canadian Arctic were pre-eminent whalers, focussing on the bowhead whale, the largest prey species hunted by any prehistoric or historic hunter-gatherer society. The ethnographic literature provides a rich source of information dealing not only with the importance of bowheads in the diet of early historic bowhead-hunting Inuit societies, but also how social structure, ritual, symbolism and ideology were all centered on complex Thule-bowhead relationships. This rich data source has for the most part been virtually ignored by Canadian Arctic archaeologists, who often cite the ‘active hunting vs. stranding’ problem and/or the related problem of dealing with bowhead remains (bones) as primarily architectural as opposed to diet-related (as will be discussed, these are both non-issues). In this paper, the distribution of archaeological bowhead whale remains associated with dwellings, ceremonial features, burials, flensing beaches, etc., when considered through the lens of not just only diet, but also ritual, symbolism and ideology, offers a much richer understanding and appreciation of Thule-bowhead relationships.

Cite this Record

Prehistoric Thule Whaling Societies in the Canadian Arctic; Ritual, Symbolism, and Ideology. James Savelle. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429572)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -178.41; min lat: 62.104 ; max long: 178.77; max lat: 83.52 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15836