Bones and artefacts excavated from archaeological sites within the range of Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) provide a wide variety of information about hares and the relationships between hares and people in the distant past.

An ivory carving of an Arctic hare was excavated from a Dorset longhouse site on Knud Peninsula, on Ellesmere Island. The tiny carving is typical of the replicas of animals that the Dorset people may have offered to animal spirits to preserve the good relations between hunters and their prey. These precise sculptures, found in archaeological sites about 1000 years old, often have markings carved on them that may represent the animal's skeleton.

Animal bones excavated from a 2500 year-old archaeological site near Cow Head, Newfoundland, show that Arctic hares were the third-most common animals used for food, after seal and caribou. The people who occupied this site are known as the Groswater Palaeoeskimo group. The older Dorset Palaeoeskimo archaeological sites in Newfoundland also contain bones of Arctic hares.

An archaeological site on Bylot Island, Nunavut, was used by the well-known Inuit hunter Idlout to illustrate a story o Read More
Bones and artefacts excavated from archaeological sites within the range of Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) provide a wide variety of information about hares and the relationships between hares and people in the distant past.

An ivory carving of an Arctic hare was excavated from a Dorset longhouse site on Knud Peninsula, on Ellesmere Island. The tiny carving is typical of the replicas of animals that the Dorset people may have offered to animal spirits to preserve the good relations between hunters and their prey. These precise sculptures, found in archaeological sites about 1000 years old, often have markings carved on them that may represent the animal's skeleton.

Animal bones excavated from a 2500 year-old archaeological site near Cow Head, Newfoundland, show that Arctic hares were the third-most common animals used for food, after seal and caribou. The people who occupied this site are known as the Groswater Palaeoeskimo group. The older Dorset Palaeoeskimo archaeological sites in Newfoundland also contain bones of Arctic hares.

An archaeological site on Bylot Island, Nunavut, was used by the well-known Inuit hunter Idlout to illustrate a story of people who ate only 'rabbits'. Idlout told the story in 1954 of a group of 'little people', smaller than children, who used to live on Bylot Island. He described the site at Canada Point, where there was a whole camp of little tent rings with only 'rabbit' bones in them.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Sculpture

This carving in walrus ivory of an Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) was made by a person of the Dorset culture, about 800 AD. It was found in 1979 on Knud Peninsula on Ellesmere Island (now in Nunavut).

Image credits: Paul Bloskie, Alex Tirabasso
The sculpture is object SgFm-5:21 in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

© Canadian Museum of Civilization


A three-metre length of cordage spun from the fur of Arctic hare was found in a Dorset Palaeo-Eskimo site on Baffin Island (in Nunavut) from about 1200 AD (some 800 years ago). It may indicate a Norse presence in this region because it is comparable to the yarns found in two textile fragments from a medieval Norse settlement in Greenland. Yarn is typical of Viking/Norse culture, unlike Inuit, who used skins rather than yarn for clothing.
A three-metre length of cordage spun from the fur of Arctic hare was found in a Dorset Palaeo-Eskimo site on Baffin Island (in Nunavut) from about 1200 AD (some 800 years ago). It may indicate a Norse presence in this region because it is comparable to the yarns found in two textile fragments from a medieval Norse settlement in Greenland. Yarn is typical of Viking/Norse culture, unlike Inuit, who used skins rather than yarn for clothing.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Arcitc Hare

Ancient cordage spun from Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) fur.

Image credits: Harry Foster, Canadian Museum of Civilization

© Canadian Museum of Civilization, PgHb-1:14765.


Archaeological sites wherein stones and boulders have been placed to form drives for catching Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) have been found on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, and in Greenland.

Archaeologists have found many hare-snare arrangements in the broad grassy valleys at the eastern end of Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island. They were constructed by the Thule people about 800 years ago. Large numbers of hare bones found in the Thule house-foundations suggest that the snare systems were effective.

The stories of this ancient technology remain alive with Elders in Greenland and Canada, so we know how it was used. The people strung lines between the tops of the taller rocks and suspended nooses or snares from the lines. The hares would jump over the smaller rocks lined up between the large rocks and be caught in the snares.

Near the site of David Gray's research camp in Sverdrup Pass are two hare drive sites. The one on the top of Snare Hill is the most extensive one yet found. The other lies along the edge of a hill above Balanced Rock Canyon. The sites consist of curved lines of large rocks about 3 m apart, with a line of small stones on the grou Read More
Archaeological sites wherein stones and boulders have been placed to form drives for catching Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) have been found on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, and in Greenland.

Archaeologists have found many hare-snare arrangements in the broad grassy valleys at the eastern end of Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island. They were constructed by the Thule people about 800 years ago. Large numbers of hare bones found in the Thule house-foundations suggest that the snare systems were effective.

The stories of this ancient technology remain alive with Elders in Greenland and Canada, so we know how it was used. The people strung lines between the tops of the taller rocks and suspended nooses or snares from the lines. The hares would jump over the smaller rocks lined up between the large rocks and be caught in the snares.

Near the site of David Gray's research camp in Sverdrup Pass are two hare drive sites. The one on the top of Snare Hill is the most extensive one yet found. The other lies along the edge of a hill above Balanced Rock Canyon. The sites consist of curved lines of large rocks about 3 m apart, with a line of small stones on the ground between the rocks.

When trying to capture Arctic hares for marking and tagging during his research studies, David Gray used similar technology, driving a group of hares towards nets and live-traps instead of snares.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Artistic rendering

This tapestry, "Two Traps", brings to life the ancient technology of the traditional hare snare, which is called niggaq in Inuktitut. The artist is Atungauyak Eeseemailee and the weaver is Olassie Akulukjuk. Both are from Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

Artist: Atungauyak Eeseemailee, Weaver: Olassie Akulukjuk
National Gallery of Canada

© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Gift of the Department of Indian and Northern Development 1989


Snare Hill

A winter view of an ancient Thule Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) drive of stone on Snare Hill, at Sverdrup Pass, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


arctic hare

A summer view of an ancient Thule Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) drive at Balanced Rock Canyon, at Sverdrup Pass, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

Researchers used fish nets to direct Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) into live-traps at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will be able to:
  • explain how to obtain information about the use of the arctic hare in history;
  • recognize the importance of the arctic hare in history;
  • identify examples of what has been discovered by archeologists about arctic hares.

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