Dorset dwellings popping up in the Arctic

by Vi Donche on Sep 14

With the arrival of the Dorset people, the type of winter dwelling in [Arctic Canada] is changing again.

Dorset people are known for their rectangular homes, sunken into the ground and with walls built of sod - and perhaps blocks of snow for added insulation,

Dorset homes traditionally have two sleeping platforms that flank the cooking area and can accommodate several families. 

Legend has it the narrow platforms force the Dorset to sleep with their feet propped up against the wall, though it is more likely they sleep next to a source of heat in the home.

Before 1700 BC, homes of arctic people were designed exclusively for hand-based activities. No evidence exists of domed snowhouses, so common to later arrivals. These earlier nomadic people moved from site to site in tents all year around.

The tents, capable of housing one or two families, were covered with heavy musk-ox skin supported by driftwood poles. Inside these small oval or rectangular dwellings, an open hearth made of stone slabs held the very small fire used to cook food,

Basically, the insides of these homes were unheated and the inhabitants huddled under skin blankets for long periods during the winter to keep warm.

Between 1700 BC and 800 BC - just before the Dorset arrived - a number of changes occurred in the type of dwellings seen in the Arctic. They become more circular and were surrounded by a ring of large rocks and held down the edge of the tent.

The use of soapstone blubber-burning lamps meant that some form of heating now existed.