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Inuit Odyssey


On the path of the Thule, conquerors of the ancient Arctic.

A circumpolar expedition with anthropologist Niobe Thompson

“Best Science and Nature Documentary” – Banff World Media Awards

One thousands years ago, the Arctic was changing.  The climate warmed, the seas melted and whales and walrus streamed north.  A gentler time for Canada’s indigenous northern peoples, perhaps, but with the warming came a deadly threat – an Inuit invasion.

The Dorset – gentle giants of the Canadian Arctic – were violently overwhelmed by an invading force of sea-faring whalers, whose ocean vessels, weapons, and hunting technology far surpassed theirs.  But these invaders were not Europeans – they were compact and warlike Thule Inuit from the Bering Sea far to the west.  Within two centuries, the Dorset had died out, and the Thule had reached the farthest extent of their expansion, bringing them into contact with a thriving population of Medieval Norse settlers in southwest Greenland.  This was an extraordinary meeting – a New World encounter of two cultures, one East Asian and one European.  But it was not a happy one; the Thule engaged the Norse in a battle for survival – a battle the Europeans lost.

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CBC / APTN | (2009) | 43 mins. & 48 mins.
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Winner
Best Science & Nature Documentary
Banff World Media Awards 2009
Nominated
Most Innovative Documentary
History Makers 2010
Winner
Best Cinematography
AMPIA 2009
Winner
Best Editor
AMPIA 2009

One thousands years ago, the Arctic was changing.  The climate warmed, the seas melted and whales and walrus streamed north.  A gentler time for Canada’s indigenous northern peoples, perhaps, but with the warming came a deadly threat – an Inuit invasion.


The Dorset – gentle giants of the Canadian Arctic – were violently overwhelmed by an invading force of sea-faring whalers, whose ocean vessels, weapons, and hunting technology far surpassed theirs.  But these invaders were not Europeans – they were compact and warlike Thule Inuit from the Bering Sea far to the west.  Within two centuries, the Dorset had died out, and the Thule had reached the farthest extent of their expansion, bringing them into contact with a thriving population of Medieval Norse settlers in southwest Greenland.  This was an extraordinary meeting – a New World encounter of two cultures, one East Asian and one European.  But it was not a happy one; the Thule engaged the Norse in a battle for survival – a battle the Europeans lost.

In a circumpolar journey of discovery, stretching from the ancient hearth of Thule culture in Russian Chukotka to the final battleground of the Thule and the Norse in Greenland, Inuit Odyssey explores the mysteries of the Thule triumph.  On a modern-day Arctic expedition, Niobe Thompson, a Cambridge-trained Canadian anthropologist who speaks all the modern languages in use along this route, is our window on this time.

What set the Thule in motion, abandoning the rich whaling grounds of the Bering Strait for the remote expanses of the Canadian and Greenlandic Arctic?  How did they conquer subsistence hunters and European colonists alike?  And what secrets of technology did they bring with them from the Asian continent?

Recent archaeological evidence is turning up surprising answers to these questions, standing stereotypes of the “primitive Inuit” on their head.  As he follows the route of the ancient Thule and visits their modern-day descendents, Thompson puts his knowledge and endurance to the test.  In a new era of Arctic meltdown, he discovers some unsettling parallels between the ancient end-days of the Dorset and Norse, and the present.