Zooarchaeology of a Focal Resource : Dietary Importance of Beluga Whales to the Precontact Mackenzie Inuit


  • T. Max Friesen
  • Charles D. Arnold




Animals, Beluga whales, Food, Inuit archaeology, Mackenzie Eskimos, Predation, Subsistence, Kugmallit Bay region, N.W.T., Mackenzie Delta


Ethnohistoric records indicate that the economy of early historic Mackenzie Inuit was centred on the summer hunt for beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). However, no systematic attempt has been made to quantify the dietary importance of beluga whales to earlier, precontact-period Mackenzie Inuit societies. This issue is addressed herein through analysis of over 2000 beluga bones recovered from a semisubterranean house at Gupuk, a Mackenzie Inuit archaeological site on the East Channel of the Mackenzie River. The amount of meat and fat available from beluga whales is compared to that from all other prey species at the site to assess the relative dietary contribution of each taxon. The results indicate that beluga whales were a truly focal resource in the local economy, probably providing over half of the food available to residents of Gupuk and other communities in the Mackenzie Delta for at least half of each year.

Key words: beluga whale, white whale, Delphinapterus leucas, Gupuk, Kittigazuit, Mackenzie Inuit, Inuvialuit, Mackenzie Delta, zooarchaeology, archaeology