As we see Eskimo carvings in museums and galleries today, sometimes we often wonder how long the inhabitants of the Arctic regions have been doing their exquisite art. The Canadian high Arctic was first inhabited 4,000 years ago by Paleo-Eskimo people who crossed over the Bering Strait from Siberia. They migrated across Canada's Arctic as far east as Greenland and as far south as where the Canadian province of Newfoundland is today. Although these people made small tools and weapons, there's no real evidence of any major prehistoric Eskimo carvings or artwork produced except for some preserved artifacts which were carved from ivory.
A new culture emerged at around 800 B.C. from the descendents of these original Arctic inhabitants. This culture, referred to as the Dorsets, produced a significant amount of artwork from about 600 B.C. to 1,000 A.D. Ivory, bone, antler and sometimes stone were used as raw materials to carve small figurative items including birds, bears, seals and walruses. Even human figures and masks were produced. It is believed that the Dorsets used these early Eskimo carvings for religious purposes or shamanic rituals. Some pieces may have been worn as amulets to ward off evil spirits.
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At around 1,000 A.D., another culture called the Thule, migrated across the Canadian Arctic from northern Alaska and replaced the Dorset people. It is not clear whether the Thules slaughtered the Dorsets to extinction or they just displaced them. The Thule culture is considered to be the ancestors of today's Eskimo or Inuit people. The art of the Thules differed from the art produced by the Dorsets. Where the Dorsets made artwork for spiritual or religious purposes, the Thules used art to decorate everyday items such as spears, harpoons, cooking pots, needle cases, buttons and even combs. Although there were some animal and human figures, the vast majority of early Eskimo carvings by the Thules were mainly utilitarian objects with decorative graphics incised on them.
Inuit artists are producing some stunning Inuit art these days. Imagine displaying such a carving in your home. See Inuit carvings or Inuit prints at very affordable online prices at Free Spirit Gallery.
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