Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life

polar dayPolar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life is one of the largest exhibitions on the Canadian Inuit (formerly known as Eskimo) in North America. From their colonization of the Canadian north 4,500 years ago to the present day, this exhibit presents the story of Inuit adaptation to the challenging environment of the Arctic. Polar World does not portray the Inuit at any one point in their history; instead, through displays, dioramas, and videos, it presents the entire history of the settlement of the Arctic by these intrepid hunters.

Spread throughout the hall are Inuit sculptures and prints that reflect the continuity with their past and the changes that have transformed their society into the remarkable culture of today. Polar World is the story of thousands of years of ever-changing environmental and cultural conditions and responses to these forces. Traversing 4,500 years of Inuit history, Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life offers a glimpse of life at the top of the world.

Exhibit Highlights

Highlighting Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s research in the Arctic from 1901–2004, the Needle to the North exhibit serves as the entry hall to Polar World. The four main sections of this exciting exhibit incorporate field equipment used by early expeditions, flora and fauna specimens, photographs from the 1938 J. Kenneth Doutt and the 2004 Dale S. Mudge expeditions to the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay, Inuit sculpture and prints, and much more as a means to explore the changes and continuity among Inuit culture over the past 67 years.

A full-sized polar bear greets visitors as they enter the Archaeology section of the hall. Here, visitors are amazed to learn that the modern day Inuit have only been in Canada for the last 1,000 years, having spread from Alaska at the same time that the Vikings entered Greenland. These Thule hunters also brought with them the dog, which was and still is critical to the pulling of sleds.

Drawings and maps show some of the early explorers and traders and their routes. Original artifacts illustrate the impact of the whaling industry, which brought wage employment and prolonged contact with outsiders. A whaling exhibit, with its walk-on ship's deck, introduces visitors, through photos and artifacts, to how the Inuit adapted to foreign contacts.

In contrast to the displays of the artifacts of Inuit culture at the turn of the 19th century, such as actual kayaks, and the full-sized dioramas of sea mammal hunting, fishing, and the snowhouse, the modern Inuit section reflects the dramatic changes that have taken place over the last 100 years.

Exhibit Interactives

The In Their Own Words: Needle to the North kiosk illuminates Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s research in the Arctic 1901–2004. Elsewhere in the hall, a seal hunting video recreates the major hunting pursuit of the Inuit, and a snowhouse video demonstrates how these snow block dwellings were constructed. An actual-size walk-in snowhouse (igloo), the ingenious invention of the Inuit, allows visitors to experience a single-family home on the tundra.

Did You Know?

In addition to two waves of migrations from Alaska (one after 4,500 years ago and the other 1,000 years ago), the increasing contact with Europeans drastically changed Inuit way of life. Not only did explorers search for the Northwest passage to Asia, but American whalers began to winter over in the Arctic to take advantage of the short whaling seasons. These early European contacts with the Inuit had a profound impact on their culture, technology, settlement, and subsistence patterns.

The establishment of Royal Canadian Mounted Police posts, mission and fur trading stations, the effects of World War II and increasing Canadian governmental control, radically changed Inuit society. Not only do the Inuit, today, control most of their original homeland, but they live in small cities spread throughout the Canadian Arctic as an independent people.

For More Info

Visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Anthropology section website to learn more about our research.

Educators: Two publications are available to supplement your curriculum. Let’s Go to the Arctic and Arctic Life: Challenge to Survive are available from the museum's office of Scientific Publications.