LeMoine, Genevieve (2003) Woman of the house: gender, architecture, and ideology in Dorset prehistory, Arctic Anthropology 40(1): 121-138

Keywords:  archaeologyarchitecture and designgenderLate Dorsetprehistory

This paper examines the relationship between gender and households in Late Dorset society by making comparisons with historic Inuit culture. Two archaeological sites on Little Cornwallis Island formed the basis of a research project from 1989-1994. Both sites were large Late Dorset settlements as indicated by semi-subterranean homes used in the winter and tent rings for summer dwellings (p. 123).

LeMoine examines eastern Arctic Inuit culture as it relates to gender roles, architecture and households. She explains how traditionally there were clear, but complementary, gender divisions where men hunted outside and women kept the household inside (p. 130). She then attests to the spiritual nature of Inuit architecture where “women are strongly associated with houses, and houses are conceptualized as both wombs and whales” (p. 131) in need of tending. The author further proposes that the nuclear configuration of traditional Inuit housing may reflect how women’s roles, such as sewing and butchery, could often be conducted individually within the home (p. 130).

The author then describes how Inuit dwellings were largely a communal space used for food sharing and eating between extended families, though sleeping areas were only for the family or special guests (p. 130). In the winter when dwellings were larger, some families lived together but would have multi-lobed sleeping spaces and multiple kitchen areas with their own cooking lamp, each maintained by a ‘wife’ (p. 130).

A key difference between Dorset and Inuit housing is that Inuit tents used in the summer were single-family, while evidence of multiple hearths/lamps from the Late Dorset archaeological sites on Little Cornwallis Island suggests that they were multi-family dwellings (p. 133).