Like everybody else, the Inuit people of Greenland have been making maps to navigate the rugged coastline, but unlike maps made on paper, their maps are carved on wood that could be read in the dark by feeling. Often made of driftwood, these maps represent the contours of the coastline in a continuous line up one side of the wood and down the other. The contours of the land are highly exaggerated, allowing users to navigate entirely by feel. The navigator would often carry them under his mittens and feel the contours with his fingers to discern patterns in the coastline. Being made of wood, they are buoyant, so they float if accidentally dropped and could be easily retrieved.
These three wooden maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq, on Greenland’s East Coast. The map to the right shows the islands along the coast, while the map in the middle shows the mainland and is read from one side of the block around to the other. The map to the left shows the peninsula between the Sermiligaaq and Kangertivartikajik fjords.
There is surprisingly few information about these maps online. For instance, we don’t know what the Inuit call these maps in their native language.
The maps were discovered in the 1880s by Gustav Holm who led an expedition to the Ammassalik coast of eastern Greenland, where he met several Eastern Greenland Inuit communities. One of the natives approached Gustav and sold him three wooden maps. When Gustav returned, he donated the maps to the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Today, the maps are at the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk.
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