Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Donation reveals Danish influence in Greenland

Carved Kalaallit items from the British Museum collection Carved Kalaallit items from the British Museum collection
25 Nov
2014
A donation to the British Museum has revealed Danish influence on Greenland’s indigenous Kalaallit people 

David Haig-Thomas was returning from rowing in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932 when he met an old friend, Wilfred Thesiger. Thesiger, an avid desert explorer, recruited Haig-Thomas for a trip to Africa where the Olympian fell ill.

Determined to escape Africa’s heat, Haig-Thomas headed to the far north with Ernest Shackleton’s Ellesmere Land Expedition. On this expedition he spent time in west Greenland with the indigenous Kalaallit people learning their language and hunting for a fabled large dinosaur skeleton in the region.

After service in World War II, Haig-Thomas donated a few artifacts to the British Museum, including 900-year-old bone snow glasses. Now his descendants have donated 70 more artifacts to the museum.

‘It was fantastic to see these objects that could speak to both parts of the collection. It fills a hole in our Arctic collection,’ said Jago Cooper, curator for the Americas at the museum. ‘We are starting to get a sequence of life in the region represented through time,’ he added.

‘I live in a small Inuit community. Many of these objects, such as the harpoon and fishing spear are still used today,’ said Shari Gearheard, a research scientist based in the Arctic region. ‘These are historical objects that provide the design idea. The engineering hasn’t changed, but the materials have.’

The new objects not only include harpoons and toys, but also souvenirs produced for Danish travellers in the region. Items that a Danish missionary or trader could have bought when dealing with the Kalaallit range from a walrus tusk cribbage board to an ivory letter opener. Such objects have previously been excluded from museum collections for lacking scientific value, but are now seen as a useful record of Kalaallit life.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Development

Inspired by nature and motivated by a green conscience, a…

I’m a Geographer

Ana is the director and founder of the Eko-Svest Center…

Development

World Population Day focuses on the urgency and importance of…

People

World Refugee Day is a day to reflect and act…

Development

The five winners include schemes to eliminate plastic waste and…

Explorers

Nearly two decades after the mystery 1947 disappearance of a…

I’m a Geographer

Mikael Frödin is a Swedish-born professional fly fisherman turned environmental…

Development

Biochar was once heralded as a miracle product, one that…

Development

Why is China so keen on courting Islamic countries for…

I’m a Geographer

Dr Evan Killick is a senior lecturer in Anthropology and…

Cultures

Peruvian community gains official language recognition

Cultures

White people’s eating habits in the US have a higher…

Development

Rolex has announced the ten finalists for its 2019 Rolex…

I’m a Geographer

Andre Laperrière is executive director at the Global Open Data…

Development

Despite cigarette consumption dropping globally, their manufacture is still one…

Explorers

Comprising 22 dives in just over two weeks, the Blue…

Cultures

Two researchers have identified a deep-rooted sense of disorientation and…

I’m a Geographer

Sean Sutton is a photojournalist and international communications manager for…

Development

As China’s demand for the notoriously smelly durian fruit soars…

Development

Event at the Science Museum aims to highlight the unaddressed disability…