The Inglefield Land Archaeology Project (2004-2009)

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center

The Inglefield Land Archaeology Project (2004-2009)

Beginning in 2004 Curator Genevieve LeMoine began a long-term collaboration with University of California, Davis archaeologists Christyann and John Darwent, and Greenland National Museum and Archives Curator Hans Lange. Together they established the Inglefield Land Archaeology Project (ILAP). It was designed to investigate the history of human occupation of Inglefield Land in northwestern Greenland.

Inglefield Land is an area of unglaciated land in Northwest Greenland, on Smith Sound and Kane Basin. It has been described as “the Gateway to Greenland” as it was the first place in Greenland to be occupied by waves of migrant hunters from Alaska over the last 4500 years. More recently, this area was a focus of Euro-American exploration expeditions and, in the 1860s, the destination for a group of Inuit from Baffin Island. The project’s goal was to study sites occupied by prehistoric and historic Inughuit and earlier peoples who used Inglefield Land. In particular, we sought to understand how these people accommodated and adapted to contact with the variety of outsiders who visited or migrated to the region.

In the first years of the project we conducted extensive surveys to locate and map sites along much of the coast. We identified a wide variety of sites from all time periods of Arctic prehistory, from early Paleoeskimo (ca. 4500-900 B.P.) to Thule (prehistoric Inuit, ca. 900-200 B.P.) to historic (ca. mid-nineteenth century-present). The sites included semi-subterranean winter houses, snare lines, caches, and kayak stands.

Beginning in 2006 we conducted excavations at key sites. In 2006 we studied two historic Inughuit houses at Iita (Etah), an important site for both Inughuit and Euro-American explorers. In 2008 and 2009 we excavated eight Thule winter houses and four Paleoeskimo features at four different sites, including Cape Grinnell and Qaqaitsut.

Our primary research focus was on the last 1000 years, so Paleoeskimo occupations were not a priority. For the most part we recovered no datable material and few artifacts from the four early features we excavated. Those from the last Paleoeskimo people, the Late Dorset, were the most productive, and generally fit well with what we know of such sites elsewhere in the region, including their link to widespread trade networks for meteoric iron from nearby Cape York.

The people who constructed the Thule features we excavated were likewise linked to wide trade networks. At both Cape Grinnell and Qaqaitsut we found meteoric iron, but also Norse iron, including a link of chain mail. Norse items arrived with European settlers to southwest Greenland, then moved north through trade with intermediary Inuit groups. More far-flung connections can be seen in pottery from one of the houses at Cape Grinnell. Thule people first arrived in this area from Alaska bringing pottery with them, but they soon found that making new clay pots in this extreme northern location was not practical and switched to making pots and lamps from soapstone. The pottery is very fragile, and houses with pottery in them were probably occupied by the first or second generation of migrants from Alaska. Artifacts of more local origin include various tools and ornaments of walrus ivory, bowhead whale baleen, and even amber.

Analysis of animal bones led to some interesting results. In one case, bones of a single butchered dog were found in both a meat cache and a house at Qaqaitsut, directly linking the two. The numerous dog bones in the house and cache suggest that the inhabitants faced some hardship and may have sacrificed some or all of their dog team to survive. We are also able to document changes in hunting patterns associated with a cooling and then warming climate, as well as the introduction of firearms. Examination of the type and distribution of insect remains in the houses (mostly species of lice) revealed patterns of personal hygiene and the efforts of these people to keep their clothing and bodies free of these pests. Ongoing studies include ancient DNA studies of dog, bird, and isolated human bones and teeth.

Our studies have shown that historic Inughuit families were cautious as they adopted new technologies introduced by visitors from the south, accepting those that they felt improved their lives, such as firearms and steel needles, while rejecting others. They also displayed amazing resilience in trying circumstances, such as those they encountered while working on Robert E. Peary’s expeditions in the early twentieth century.

Students Eli Bossin and Alison Weidburger, both Class of 2010, with us in the field in 2008 and 2009 respectively, posted audio blogs about our fieldwork. LeMoine described some of the research in a lecture available here.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs grants 0328773 and 0732620 (LeMoine), and 0330981 and 0732850 (Darwent). LeMoine also received a National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration Grant.


Scholarly publications

Darwent, Christyann M., and Jeremy C. Foin. 2010. "Zooarchaeological analysis of a Late Dorset and an Early Thule dwelling at Cape Grinnell, Northwest Greenland."  Geografisk Tidsskrift–Danish Journal of Geography110 (2):315-336. doi: 

Darwent, John, Christyann M. Darwent, Genevieve M. LeMoine, and Hans Lange. 2007. "Archaeological survey of eastern Inglefield Land, Northwest Greenland." Arctic Anthropology44 (2):51-86. doi:

Darwent, John, and Trine Bjørneboe Johansen. 2010. "Archaeological survey in the Foulke Fjord region, Inglefield Land, Northwest Greenland."  Geografisk Tidsskrift–Danish Journal of Geography110 (2):297-314. doi:

Darwent, John, Hans Lange, Genevieve M. LeMoine, and Christyann M. Darwent. 2008. "The longest longhouse in Greenland." Antiquity Project Gallery Issue 315, vol. 82.

Darwent, John, James M. Savelle, Christyann M. Darwent, Arthur S. Dyke, Hans Lange, Genevieve M. LeMoine, and Claude Pinard. 2018. "Late Dorset triangular midpassages in the Canadian Arctic and Northwest Greenland: Origins and dispersal."  American Antiquity:1-11. doi:

Dussault, Frédéric, Allison Bain, and Genevieve LeMoine. 2014. "Early Thule Winter Houses: An Archaeoentomological Analysis."  Arctic Anthropology51 (1):101-117.

Johansen, Trine Bjørneboe. 2013. Foraging efficiency and small game: the importance of dovekie (Alle alle) in Inughuit subsistence. Anthropozooloogica48(1):75-88. doi:

LeMoine, Genevieve, Susan A Kaplan, and Christyann M. Darwent. 2016. "Living on the Edge: Inughuit Women and Geography of Contact."  Arctic69 (5):1-12. doi:

LeMoine, Genevieve M. 2009. "Figuring out culture contact: prehistoric and historic miniature ivory carvings from Northwest Greenland." In On the track of the Thule Culture from Bering Strait to east Greenland: proceedings of the SILA conference "The Thule Culture - new perspectives in Inuit prehistory", Copenhagen, Oct 26th-28th, 2006: papers in honour of Hans Christian Gulløv, edited by Bjarne Grønnow, 144-184. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark.

LeMoine, Genevieve M., and Christyann M. Darwent. 2010. "The Inglefield Land Archaeology Project: introduction and overview."  Geografisk Tidsskrift–Danish Journal of Geography110 (2):279-296. doi:

LeMoine, Genevieve M., and Christyann M. Darwent. 2013. "Furs and Satin: understanding Inughuit women's role in culture contact through clothing." In North By Degree: new perspectives on Arctic exploration, edited by Susan A. Kaplan and Robert Peck, 211-236. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

LeMoine, Genevieve M., and Christyann M. Darwent. 2016. "Development of Polar Inughuit culture in the Smith Sound region." In The Oxford Handbook of The Prehistoric Arctic, edited by T. Max Friesen and Owen K. Mason, 873-896. Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Raghavan, Maanasa, Michael DeGiorgio, Anders Albrechtsen, Ida Moltke, Pontus Skoglund, Thorfinn S. Korneliussen, Bjarne Grønnow, Martin Appelt, Hans Christian Gulløv, T. Max Friesen, William Fitzhugh, Helena Malmström, Simon Rasmussen, Jesper Olsen, Linea Melchior, Benjamin T. Fuller, Simon M. Fahrni, Thomas Stafford, Vaughan Grimes, M. A. Priscilla Renouf, Jerome Cybulski, Niels Lynnerup, Marta Mirazon Lahr, Kate Britton, Rick Knecht, Jette Arneborg, Mait Metspalu, Omar E. Cornejo, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, Yong Wang, Morten Rasmussen, Vibha Raghavan, Thomas V. O. Hansen, Elza Khusnutdinova, Tracey Pierre, Kirill Dneprovsky, Claus Andreasen, Hans Lange, M. Geoffrey Hayes, Joan Coltrain, Victor A. Spitsyn, Anders Götherström, Ludovic Orlando, Toomas Kivisild, Richard Villems, Michael H. Crawford, Finn C. Nielsen, Jørgen Dissing, Jan Heinemeier, Morten Meldgaard, Carlos Bustamante, Dennis H. O’Rourke, Mattias Jakobsson, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Rasmus Nielsen, and Eske Willerslev. 2014. "The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic."  Science345 (6200).