inukshuk

Inuksuk

An inuksuk, also called an inukhuk or inukshuk, is a stone cairn or landmark used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other indigenous people of North America (predominantly Northern Canada and the US state of Alaska).

Usage and structure

The most recognizable inuksuk are those that are “human shaped”, typically consisting of 2 base stones (legs), a pile of stones on top of the base with a large stone spanning across the pile and jutting out like arms or—as some have suggested—a Christian cross, and another small pile of stones on top. There is debate over whether or not this design developed before or after the arrival of European missionaries and colonists. However, there are also simpler inuksuk that can be a single upright stone, or a small pile of stones very similar to a cairn. In any case, it’s thought that, given the size of some of these constructions, that the building of an inuksuk was a communal effort.

Inuksuk vary widely in usage, and this is likely because the peoples lived (and still live) close to the Arctic Circle, which lacks natural landmarks, so it would only make sense that they would have to develop landmarks of their own in order to navigate, assign travel routes, signify safe camp sites, hunting grounds, fishing grounds, or demark a food cache. The Inupiat, for example, even used them as drift fences for hunting, and to assist in herding caribou.

Name

The word inuksuk derives from two words, inuk meaning “person” and –suk which roughly means “substitute,” some combined it can be taken to literally mean “in human likeness.”  That said, it’s a word with many contexts, and in the context of seeing a literal inuksuk it takes on the addition meaning of “someone was here” or, perhaps more accurately given their usage “you are on the right path.”

Modern Incarnations and Historical Sites

The Inuksuk has become something of an official symbol of Canada in more modern times. Markers have been built throughout the country and used as logos for various events ranging from World Youth Day to The 1986 World Transportation Expo to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver. And several historical and modern inuksuk have been donated to other countries by Canada as a gesture of peace and friendship. And of course it is the main image on the provincial flag of Nunavut.

There is at least one major site of national historic value and importance in Canada where a collection of over 100 inuksuk located at Enukso Point on Baffin Island is federally protected as a Historic Site.

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450 photos merged into one image using the lighten layer-blending mode in photoshop. While waiting for my timelapse of the sunset to finish I wanted to build something with the pieces of ice that had piled up, but I didn’t want to wander in frame, so I came back the next day. It was really windy again, so I brought some water to use as glue to make sure the ice stack didn’t fall over. It seemed to work fairly well. I had to put two pieces of ice on either side of the vertical piece of ice (on top) so the wind wouldn’t knock it over. I could have turned it 90 degrees so the wind was hitting the thin side, but I wanted it to act like a window to show off the clarity with the sun behind it. Here’s a single shot from the timelapse… http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_molloy/12019598864/