6.0 Conclusion

In conclusion, by placing Thule whalebone houses into a 3-dimensional sensory framework, the architecture of these dwellings can be visualized in ways that are not possible using conventional 2-dimensional plans and photographs. Different views of the interior and exterior components of the model reveal ideas, nested within the shape and profile of the roof frame, that correlate with important themes in Inupiat myths and legends. These themes focus on the concepts of whale-as-iglu and iglu-as-tupitkaq, in which the actions of women transformed the dwelling into a living whale. These concepts appear repeatedly in stories such as the Raven and the Whale, and in knowledge of tupitkaq creatures. Given their wide geographical distribution, these concepts may have developed from a common Thule base. Consequently, their expression in Thule architecture is entirely plausible, and suggests that they were not intended to be overtly displayed. This is consistent with the belief that domestic dwellings would have only taken on ritual significance during the time of the whale hunt. Making these symbols "visible" may have required the quiet periods of contemplation associated with the whale hunt, in which the attention of individuals would have been drawn towards specific architectural features. Furthermore, our simulations of how the interior of the dwelling would have appeared under iridescent light suggest that the sensory experiences of others could have been manipulated through the simple tricks of light and shadow. For example, the notion that women reanimated their dead whale-iglus could have been powerfully re-enforced by the simple flickering of light from a stone lamp.

We acknowledge that there are many caveats associated with this study. First, while the computer model we have created is based on detailed archaeological data, it is still an approximation of how the original dwelling would have appeared. Second, while there are good reasons to believe that many aspects of historic Inuit/Eskimo ideology were also apparent in Thule culture, this is by no means a certainty. Finally, the approach we have taken constitutes a qualitative rather than quantitative assessment (e.g. Patton, 1996) of the symbolic aspects of Thule architecture. As a result, some may question the epistemological basis for our interpretations. Nevertheless, we would argue that the observations and interpretations that have emerged from this study would not have been possible without the use of computer modeling and virtual reality, which provides a new approach for contextualizing archaeological data. Thus, in much the same way that archaeologists such as Tilley (1994, 1996) have used the experience of walking around the stone structures of megalithic monuments to guide their interpretations of these sites, the experience of exploring a Thule whalebone house within a 3-dimensional virtual world has allowed us to develop new perspectives on the relationship between architecture and symbolism in the circumpolar world. This has led us to conclude that these houses were as much instruments of thought as they were instruments of shelter.

We plan to further develop these and other ideas using a Cave Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE) at the University of Calgary. The immersive environment of the CAVE will provide a means of understanding how 3-dimensional factors such as wall sloping, roof height and the distribution of light and shadow may have influenced the distribution of domestic activities within Thule winter houses. It is our hope that such research will continue to demonstrate that computer modeling and virtual reality constitute powerful tools for contextualizing and interpreting complex archaeological data in new and exciting ways.


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