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Prehistoric Eskimo Whaling in the Arctic: Slaughter of Calves or Fortuitous Ecology?

Igor I. Krupnik and Sergei Kan
Arctic Anthropology
Vol. 30, No. 1 (1993), pp. 1-12
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40316325
Page Count: 12
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Prehistoric Eskimo Whaling in the Arctic: Slaughter of Calves or Fortuitous Ecology?
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Abstract

Two series of bowhead whale skulls were measured independently in 1977-1978 at historical Eskimo whaling sites in the Siberian and Canadian Arctic. Both show a predominance of juveniles and/or sucklings in the prehistoric harvest, which is supported by postcontact ethnographic data and local oral traditions. The same was true for the prehistoric and contact era indigenous gray whale hunting off the Chukchi Peninsula, Siberia. Whether such a selective extraction of calves was an ecologically disruptive activity or an efficient form of game management remains a matter of considerable controversy. This paper offers a new interpretation of this phenomenon as an outcome of a highly pragmatic strategy used by the indigenous arctic whalers in order to minimize the risk, time, and laborinvestment of pursuing, killing, and processing their game. Some aspects of Eskimo whaling and bone utilization resemble the strategies used by Upper Paleolithic mammoth hunters of the Central Russian Plain.

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