Polar region

Shelter

The Inuit did not consider their dwellings their personal property. They would build and live in a house for as long as they needed. When they moved on, it could be taken over by anyone who wanted it.

In Alaska, Greenland and Labrador, houses were made from durable materials such as stone and sod or skins over a whalebone or wooden frame. Snowhouses, commonly called igloos, were used mainly as a temporary shelter during winter travels, except in Alaska, where they were unknown. An Inuit man and his wife would often put one up in less than an hour and stay in it for a day or two.

It was only in the Central Arctic that the Inuit spent the entire winter in houses made of snow. These dwellings were entered through a long tunnel built just under the surface of the snow and at right angles to the prevailing winds. A block of freshwater ice in the wall of the igloo served as a window. The temperature inside was kept cold enough to prevent the walls from dripping.

At the back of the igloo was a raised platform where everyone slept under big fur blankets. The soapstone lamp, used for heating and lighting the igloo and cooking meat, was set on an ice base near the entrance. During the summer, they lived in sealskin tents instead.

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#07000
Building a Shelter
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Thule Inuit building a house with rafters made of whale bones.
1995
Canada
Book illustration, dry pastel and pen, on Letraset paper and frosted cell
Credit: Frédéric Back and Libre Expression
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