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Artifact Analysis: Baffin Island Inuit Doll

Museum Report: Inuit
Doll from Baffin Island
ARCH 258
SEPTEMBER 28, 2018
The artifact chosen for this report is a handmade doll from early twentieth century
Southern Baffin Island, Canada. This artifact, labeled “Female Doll”, is a cultural example of a
kind of dolls known as “Inuit Dolls”. Young Inuit girls learn to make these dolls and practice
tactile learning of skills such as pattern making and cutting, sewing, beadwork (Strickler &
Alookee, 1988).
“Female Doll” is part of The Robert J. Flaherty Collection, gifted by Sir William
Mackenzie to the Royal Ontario Museum. It is currently on view in the Daphne Cockwell Gallery
of Canada: First Peoples. The doll was collected by Flaherty during his travels through the Arctic
around 1914 CE. This doll specifically, comes from Southern Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada
and was made by the Nunatsiarmiut. The artifact itself has dimensions of 38 x 20 x 9
centimetres. The doll is made from fur covered caribou skin and depilated skin. It is clothed
with miniature versions of the garments made and worn by actual Inuit peoples during the
early 20th century. These garments include a fur parka and pants, and a pair of boots and
mittens made from hide. “Female Doll” also includes a basket and a small hand tool made of
depilated skin: tools that were part of common chores and duties for Inuit women. (Female
Doll, n.d.).
Inuit doll making has been a part of Inuit culture for centuries, however they have
become a somewhat forgotten practice. Traditionally, they had been used by mothers, older
sisters and sisters-in-law as a teaching tool for young girls. They were used to practice clothing
making skills on a smaller scale to prepare the girls for the duties expected of them as they
grew older (Strickler & Alookee, 1988). Inuit dolls can vary wildly from region to region; the
mediums used range from bone to wood to soapstone and the clothing articles are even more
so varied from fabric to design. The techniques used to make these dolls also varies from simple
to complex, some decorated with intrinsic beadwork and others unclothed with few details
besides basic anatomy. (Strickler & Alookee, 1988). Although the practice of doll making has
moved to become more about the preservation of a culture through fine art, it remained to be
a relevant tool in child development for centuries (Park, 1998). Roleplaying and “miniature
material culture” are apart of how Inuit children learn to interact with one another and their
world (Park, 1998). Upon studying of the dolls, one can discern the wealth of the family. A girl
with many materials to choose from may have multiple dolls representing the entire family
versus a girl of a lower socioeconomic standing who may only have one doll to represent
herself (Strickler & Alookee, 1988). These dolls can tell us, relatively, how resources were
distributed among group members. However, they do not provide a holistic representation of
socio-economic dynamics within Inuit culture.
The artifact, “Female Doll”, although not directly linked to the Ancient Near East, can
stand as one example of the practices that a culture uses to teach the next generation and what
happens when those practices become obsolete.
Park, R. W. (1998). Size counts: the miniature archaeology of childhood in Inuit societies.
Antiquity, 72(276), pp. 269-281.
Strickler, E. & Alookee, A. (1988). Inuit Dolls Reminders of a Heritage. Toronto, Ontario,
Canada: Canadian Stage & Arts Publications Ltd.
Female Doll. (n.d). Retrieved September 24, 2018, from Royal Ontario Museum website:
Royal Ontario Museum. (Photographer). (Accessed 2018, September 24). Female Doll
[digital image]. Retrieved from https://collections.rom.on.ca/objects/241252/femaledoll?ctx=ad71c8af-7966-47b0-846a-37ab03c16cf3&idx=2