So, there’s a lovely exhibition about the Eskimos going on. Or, OK, the Inuit, which isn’t quite the same thing. Eskimo being an old and therefore bad word meaning anyone who lives north of, about, Rejkyavik and Inuit meaning a specific culture (as opposed to Dorset, Thule, Yupik and so on) among those who do.
A whaling suit towers up, as if some muscular occupant is still inside, looming over you. The suit, one of the highlights of this mind-expanding dive into Arctic cultures, is the Moby-Dick of clothes. Created by the Kalaallit people of south-west Greenland some time before 1834, it is like a modern survival suit: it could even be inflated by blowing into a tube. Except – it’s made of sealskin. Wearing this watertight armour, a hunter would leap from a small boat on to a whale’s back and spear it with a harpoon. But it’s not just a buoyancy aid. It is also a magical garment, thought to give its occupant the power of a seal, allowing them to stay afloat and endure the iciest water.
The artefacts in Arctic: Climate and Culture have a presence that goes way beyond their ingenious practicality. You feel and picture the lives of the peoples who have chosen, for millennia, to inhabit one of the harshest regions on the planet, using tools crafted from the flora and – mostly – fauna around them.
Super etc and so on.
However, this is The Guardian so there’s got to be some howling ignorance somewhere:
Once we all lived like the peoples revealed here: 30,000 years ago, ice covered Europe. As it retreated, agriculture and towns developed. But the people captured in this show chose to carry on living in the ice age.
And there it is. The Inuit date from perhaps 1,000 AD. About and around the same time the Saxons were fending off Willy the Bastard. Yes, there were earlier cultures that they
wiped out displaced. But inhabitation of the Arctic goes back a couple or three millennia.
It really doesn’t go back 30,000 years. That’s about three times longer than any inhabitation, by hom sap, of the Americas.