Ice floes, choppy waves, walrus attacks – these are all hazards an umiak might face in the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador. To deal with these threats, umiaks were designed to be as light, buoyant, and flexible as possible. Their light driftwood frame is covered with split walrus hide, which was stitched together and tied to the frame with rope. The model also shows a range of propulsion and steering methods including a pole, sail, rudder, and set of oars. Hop aboard to learn about how an umiak’s construction makes it so light...and why our model was covered with arsenic.
The umiak played a critical role in the survival of many native populations in the circumpolar territory of North America. The construction of the northern skin boat took on its own variances as each community adapted it to their needs of their own hunting, shelter, ceremonial, and even climate. Close analysis of this vessel’s construction reveals its strong resemblance to that of an umiak of St. Lawrence Island, located in the southern inlet of the Bering Strait. The smooth skin of the model resembles the female walrus hide used in actual vessels. The sewn fastening models show the same technique used in actual umiak construction, as does the bent wooden frames of the interior boat skeleton. Identifying this model as an umiak of St. Lawrence demonstrates the universality of umiak construction. The historical breadth of the umiak shows its superiority in construction. Click to learn more.
The umiak is constructed from wooden frames over which an animal skin would be stretched. The vessel is symmetric and uses oars and sails as its methods of propulsion. Its flat bottom allows the umiak to serve as a shelter, and its lack of exterior planking allows it to be easily repaired, to be flexible enough to not take much damage during ice collisions, and of course, it remained light enough to be carried on land. The umiak, an Inuit skin-boat, was perfectly adapted to its maker’s needs, and its construction evolved over thousands of years to be the most efficient and well-suited for a nomadic lifestyle that it could be. Click to read more.
Content of this page provided by students of Anthro 1218: Shipwrecks and Seafarers, Piracy and Plundering: An Introduction to Maritime Archaeology.