Chapter 1 -following the caribou

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“To move, to know and to describe are not separate operations that follow one another in series, but parallel facets of the same process, that is life its self. It is by moving we know, though movement we describe and through movement we shape the cultural landscapes.” -Strauss 2003

It is these parallel facets we try to follow. By moving we learn, by movement we can describe and through movement we can understand the cultural landscapes unfolding in front of us. By moving we traced our own lines on a map, shaped our own cultural landscape through our movement, that maybe someone will follow in the future.

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We have to study the past; place names, environments, stories and knowledge from local hunters, field diaries from past explorers, archaeologists and geologists to understand these parallel facets. It is always with butterflies in ones stomach when one is put out in to the incredible scenery of landscapes, these landscapes not being wilderness, even though at times harsh.

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-These landscapes tracing stories of lives of animals, plants and humans. These stories relating the occurrences of the past, retracing a path through the world that others have lived, recursively picking up threads of past lives. These helping us reconstruct environments in change.

One of our aims was to find the paths, the travels, the structures in relation to hunting of caribou, using these to understand the human nature interaction.

We simply had to follow the caribou.

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Standing there in the bottom of the valley, the place where we have knowledge of people would have begun their journeys, is our first chapter of understanding. Hiking up the valley is  filled with anticipation of if we have interpreted, if we have understood and if we have the right picture of how past environments have been -these environments shaping their routes and travels. Is this the right way they had moved through the cultural landscapes?

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When meeting a cairn it always a happy sight, this marking routes, up valleys or crossing over rivers,

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-And if these have hunting beds just next to, where one would have taken a break to sleep through the night it is a clear signal of human movement.

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To follow the path we have to follow these routes, we have to cross rivers where they would have crossed.

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We have to hike the valleys they would have traveled. We pass meat depots showing us that we maybe are half way to an area that they might have used for hunting and that we are on the right track.

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We follow paths, paths of animals and humans, that have carved their history into the fragile arctic nature.

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These paths are not only hints of travel but also the foundations of the structures we pass and use related to hunting. We follow the caribou as our ancestors.

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Caribou was of great importance because they both supplied with meat and furs. Meat to survive the winter, furs and skins for clothes and keeping warm.

“Without the caribou, we would have never survived. This is why we would travel far, from the sea to the edge of the inland ice”

-Old hunter from Qassinnguit

Following the caribou,  we found a spiderweb of hunting beds and structures.

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Hunting beds lay above mazes of paths,

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-overviewing the caribou moving through the valleys. One could reach each other or travel between within half a day, widening the area of hunt.

Hunting structures lay hidden around corners ready to kill the prey.

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Caribou would be surprised turning a corner, ambushed and killed.

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These paths and structures in relation to caribou paths, can both show us how they traveled, perceived and used their land but also how the environments shaped this travel. They would not go on land where the ice was unstable to start their travel, even though other valleys today would be more accessible and for us would be our first choice. This indicating environmental variations through time.

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They could not travel on land where there was ice, ice which today wasn’t there. Some of the paths were next to old glacier edges, now retreated, -these indicating environments in change.

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They would choose valleys that were narrow and not wide, they would choose narrow crossings between lakes. They would choose the easy way,given by the environmental settings.

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Caribou still walked the same paths, even though structures we found were up to 755 years old, implying that the vegetation has been the same even though going through a millennium of changing environments. But at the same time retreated glacier landscapes fought to cover the nakedness by the vegetation, not altering the travel of caribou.

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“By moving we learned, by movement we could describe and through movement we could understand the cultural landscapes unfolding in front of us and how these remolded the environments in change'”

                                                                     

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