PanInuitTrails.org
A screenshot of the Pan Inuit Trails Atlas.

Snow Where You're Going: Trace Ancient Inuit Trails With Interactive Atlas

ICTMN Staff
6/13/14

Ever wonder how the Inuit got around the Arctic centuries ago? Researchers from the University of Cambridge, Dalhousie University and Carleton University in Canada have created an interactive online atlas to show the trails used by the Inuit, and it is available for everyone to check out at PanInuitTrails.org.

The atlas took 15 years to create and includes interviews with elders and explorer and trader accounts—researchers say it redefines understanding of Inuit culture.

This is the first time these trails have been seen in one place, before they had been passed down from generation to generation by way of oral stories, but never mapped out. The trails stretch from Greenland to Alaska, with routes over the ice in winter and open water in summer.

“For the untutored eye, these trails may seem indistinguishable from the surrounding landscapes, but for Inuit, the subtle features and contours are etched into their narratives and storytelling traditions with extraordinary precision,” said Michael Bravo, a co-director on the project and head of Circumpolar History and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute, in a Dalhousie University press release.

A land trail going to the sea ice on Melville Peninsula, taken in 2006. (Claudio Aporta)

The green circles seen on the atlas are each titled what the Inuit called them.

“Place names and trails are integral parts of Inuit culture and heritage. Inuit have used place names to describe different features of the land, water, and ice since time immemorial,” explains the About page of PanInuitTrails.org. “Place names are often (but not always) descriptive of the features they are associated with, including lakes, hills, rocks, caribou passes, ice ridges, bays, islands, etc. The names are linked to places of significance, often denoting important fishing and hunting areas and camps. They are also used to describe routes of travel, and in that sense many of them are connected to well-established trails and routes.”

For example, there is one called ijukkarvik, and it is described as “the place of the fall: cliff from which an Eskimo, named Avingak, fell while searching for eggs.”

Fraser Taylor, of Carleton University, another co-director of the project, also told Metro News that each place represents a story.

“The journey is a story of what happened, who you met, who you saw, what kinds of things happened to you on that route. And every story is different, even though they’re moving along the same route,” Taylor said. “These geo-narratives are vitally important in understanding the richness of that journey.”

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