Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





McGovern, Thomas

Committee Members

Tache, Karine

Woollett, James

Jensen, Anne

Subject Categories

Archaeological Anthropology | Geographic Information Sciences


Neoeskimo, spatial analysis, cut mark analysis, Greenland, Alaska, Inuit


This thesis examines the use of iron by the Thule people, a Neoeskimo culture that lived in the North American Arctic between approximately 1000 AD and 1400 ̶ 1500 AD. The study takes a pan-Arctic perspective to bring together research that has usually been done on a more-limited geographical scale. This viewpoint shows the Thule culture from a view that corresponds to their world.

The study focuses on: (1) revisions in the accepted chronology of the Thule and how these have affected the explanations for the Thule Migration from Alaska to Greenland; (2) new understandings about the iron that was available to the Thule; (3) new insights into the quantity of iron that would have been available to the Thule; and (4) new evidence for how trade was conducted and how iron was traded by the Thule.

The methodology includes extensive references to published literature, an experiment using cut mark analysis to find a new proxy for iron, and spatial analysis using GIS based on data from government-maintained archaeological databases. The literature review includes research since McCartney’s last work on iron in 1991. The methodology for the cut mark analysis enabled stone and metal manufacturing marks to be distinguished but it faced unanticipated problems in application to museum artifacts: many had no incised lines to examine; others had been conserved using material that obscured the lines. The GIS visualizations were more useful in raising new research questions than in definitively answering old ones; nonetheless, the visualizations were an effective way to grasp overall patterns in the data.

The conclusions of the study are: (1) the Thule Migration was not sparked by knowledge of, or rumors of, iron or commercial opportunities to the east (as Robert McGhee proposed); the Thule would not have known about the Greenlandic iron prior to their arrival in the Central or even Eastern Arctic; (2) the Cape York meteorite fall zone was the site of extensive iron working by both the Late Dorset and the Thule; (3) copper and rodent teeth were easily available alternatives to iron for cutting antler and ivory and are common in Thule assemblages; (4) the Thule trade network enabled and was maintained by an extensive communication network, evidence for which can be seen in widespread stylistic similarities of tools shown in illustrations in the thesis itself and in Appendix 2.