Case study 01


The search for the origins of the Inuit and Ultima Thule 

Ultima Thule

The northlands were constructed as Ultima Thule from the earliest European thinkers, such as Pytheas of Massilia. Being beyond the known lands, this inspired generations of Europeans to seek and explore. Within Norse Mythology, sagas about the medieval northern colonies in Greenland encouraged the explorations by the Danish/Norwegian Crown and consequent later attempts at Missionary conversion across West Greenland.

Colonial powers and the Inuit

Through such processes, the Inuit became enrolled within stories about origins of cultures and the adaptability of Arctic livelihoods. Many colonial powers gave these questions a national slant. But the arguments about the ’Origins of the Inuit’ also became a central, intellectual issue in late nineteenth-century ethnology and geography. In debates about the goals and purposes of the social sciences in the late nineteenth-century, the Inuit were used as key ‘exemplars’ in debates about culture-environment relations. Through this, the anthropological, archaeological and literary search for the origins of the Inuit became the governing trope for the disciplinary study of Arctic cultures during the middle decades of the twentieth century, such as in the Copenhagen School of “Eskimology”.