Lands of Ice and Mice: An Alternate History of the Thule

The Lands of Ice and Mice

A Scientific Romance by Guy Deschamps and DValdron


With thanks to the good folks of AH.com for their always lovely ideas and especially to Jared for his wonderful timeline, Lands of Red and Gold

Part One: In Which An Emperor Is Crowned

Issorartuyok, Hey Nuna(1)

The Year of Our Lord 1717

The imperial capital of Issorartuyok, bounded on three sides by the pleasantly undulating water of Awaliarutak Lake(2), glimmered darkly in the summer sun. The city’s buildings, all new-hewn of northwood, were low, long buildings adorned with intricate carvings of hunts, wars, and old ancient days. Rising above the city on the furthest part of its small peninsula was a man-made mound, studded with sharp, slick greatstone to discourage besiegers. Surmounting this mound were a series of much larger—though still low—long, ancient houses built of greatstone and with shining jewels glittering in their own, more primitive carvings. This unimposing, though admittedly quite beautiful compound was the beating heart of Hey Nuna(3). Centuries before, this same court had been the seat of the legendary Ataneq Sinnektomanerk Hey Nuna(4), who had, for a brief few decades, united all of Hey Nuna under his personal control. With this dawn, the Lands of Ice were once again under the rule of a single, strong leader—today, this leader was to be crowned.

Now, the sun shines upon this leader as he mounts the single path of greatstone steps to the Palace-On-The-Mound, followed by a solemn procession of retainers and allies. He is a slight (like most of his people), thin man with surprisingly mellow black-brown eyes and luxuriant long black hair bound into a ponytail by a cord of woven tanapok(5) stem. Mounted upon his head is the skin of a wolf, its eyes staring blindly towards the palace, signifying his title as an Ataneq(6). He wears the traditional, intricately-carved and jewel-encrusted whalebone-and-sealskin armor of the wandering caribou riders, denoting his connection to the soldiers of the land. Finally, in his left hand is a primitive, old, wood-and-copper hoe held together by tanapok stem, while in his right hand is a jagged-ended whaling harpoon, demonstrating his authority as the highest shaman and his deep connection to the old ways of life. He is the Great Devil of the Winter Lands to the Dene, Cree, Ugakhpa, and Ofo to the south, the Lion of the North to the faraway Europeans who watch his regime with increasing concern, and King-Father Wolf to his people.

Behind this man stretched a solemn procession, representing all walks of Thule life; shaman-farmers walked in the front, dressed in naturalistic, mystical clothes with carven wooden masks that hid their faces from mortal eyes; the wandering caribou riders came next, their ornate whalebone dress armor hiding the steel below, and their wild manes of hair bound in tight bonds; behind them came an assortment of merchants, poor urban workers, smiths, and every other walk of life possible. Behind the riders were even a group of white men from Europe, marching two by two as was the way of the Thule. Each of the four were matched with those who the Ataneq saw as their opposite; the tall, blond, sunburned ambassador of the Kongelig Dansk-Norske Vestindien Firma strode next to the short, sullen, dark-haired and tan representative from the Real Português Companhia da Gronelândia. Behind them came the red-haired, cheerful, thin British Nektoralik(7) Bay Company envoy, supporting the fat, bald, puffing emissary from the Royale Française Société Columbien(8). On pain of death, all four men were silent; indeed, the whole procession was so. Caribou riders wielding sharp taggariks(9) rode up and down the long column, enforcing the silence with their blades. This was a day of utmost ceremony, after all, and Aama Tugartaq and her alter-ego, Aama Pokittok, must both be honored with either the quiet of soft snow or the blood of punishment on such days(10).

Finally, the Ataneq mounted the final step and stepped solemnly into the unassuming main building, followed by his retainers. The caribou riders to the sides dismounted and melded seamlessly into the procession as it continued into the long, low building. The meat and bread of Thule society poured into the building until it could hold no more; the overflow then diverted itself into the other three buildings, filling them. Finally, the last of the walkers were forced to wait silently, standing outside the compound as the chill Mound wind whipped the heat from the air.

Within the central structure, the air was humid with the breaths of more than a hundred Thule. Crowded around a small stone platform in the center of the room, the crowd watched in stony silence—broken only by the chanting of a single shaman—as Ataneq Amaguq Adlartok(11) placed the hoe and the harpoon on the ancient stone chair on the platform. Taking off his headdress, he placed that on the chair as well. Finally, he slowly took off his whalebone armor in a several-minute-long ritual. The chanting shaman now came forward, bearing the gold-painted brown bear pelt which denoted an Ataneq of Hey Nuna(12).

Placing it upon the Ataneq’s head while chanting words passed down for centuries, the shaman shook his head at his lord, a traditional sign of respect, and helped him reclothe himself. Bearing his harpoon and hoe, Ataneq Amaguq Hey Nuna turned towards the chair and, in a booming voice, shouted, “Aama Tugartaq! Aama Pokkitok! Kaibjayok nuna, adgiarpok onartok kollangorpok hey!(13)” The Request of the Ataneq done, the people burst into cheering. But the ceremony was not yet done. With a stare cold as ice and a growl like some wild beast, Amaguq silenced his subjects. He raised his harpoon and two caribou-riders, bearing between them a wooden effigy, hurried to the platform. They placed the wooden effigy on the throne. It was a stylistic, beautifully and yet insultingly carved representation of a curly-haired white man dressed in elaborate clothing. The shaman placed the wolf pelt on the effigy’s head, and the Ataneq spoke once more. (14) “I, Emperor-Father Wolf of the Winter Lands, hereby declare the people of the land known as Britain to be the opposite of the people of the Winter Lands, and their king to be my own opposite, and eternal enemy!” Taking aim, he flung the harpoon violently at the effigy’s head. With a loud crack, it split the head in half and clattered to the floor, causing great cheers to rise up among the people. In the back of the room, the red-headed Englishman had paled. The Frenchman, having caught his breath, grinned at his counterpart and whispered to him;

“Now the dogs of war gnash and growl at your heels instead of ours—may it be so eternally!”

Notes

(1) Literally, “Leader Dog, Winter Lands”. Leader Dog is actually the name of the city, representing its status as traditional capital of the Winter Lands.

(2) Literally, “Areola Lake”. IOTL, Great Slave Lake in northwest Canada. Issorartuyok is on that little peninsula in the west.

(3) The Winter Lands are the traditional Thule and Plains Indian name for Thule lands—ITTL, at least.

(4) Literally, “Emperor-Father Dream of the Winter Lands”.

(5) Also known as alpine sweetvetch. Just a note; ITTL, Thule words only have any meaning when paired with other words, and can in fact change meanings when paired with another word, to represent the dualistic nature of Thule cosmology and agriculture. So that word would be basically gibberish, except that it has entered ITTL’s English as the term for alpine sweetvetch.

(6) Literally, “King-Father”. ITTL, ataneq can mean king-father, emperor-father, lead rider, and mountain.

(7) Literally, “Eagle Bay”. ITTL’s Thule name for Hudson Bay.

(8) Columbia is the ITTL European name for North America. South America has a whole different name.

(9) Taggarik literally means ‘pitch dark’, but in this context, it refers to the long, thick, machete-like short-swords Thule caribou-riders use along with spears (both long stabbing spears and short throwing ones).

(10) Aama Tugartuq meaning Mother Snow (representing the comforting embrace of the land), and Aama Pokittok meaning Low Mother (representing death, pain, and the chill of winter); Inuit mythology ITTL is unique in its dualistic nature. Every god or goddess has his or her opposite number who represents the dark part of the original’s nature.

(11) “King-Father Wolf of Adlartok”

(12) “Emperor-Father of the Winter Lands”

(13) “Mother Snow! Low Mother! Bless the coming winter and breathe warm over these lands!” A traditional request to the gods made by a newly-crowned Thule king or emperor. If the winter is not too harsh, the king or emperor is worthy. If it is harsh, the leader must prove himself to be worthy in mortal combat with his chosen counterpart (will explain in the next note).

(14) Translated into English for your convenience. Every newly-crowned Thule king or emperor must select another king or emperor to represent the dark parts of his nature and act as his mortal enemy and counterpart. Amaguq is making quite a powerful statement by designating George I such.



DValdron should be posting the actual POD soon enough. Comments? :)
 
The Point of Divergence - 717 Common Era

If this was a Disney movie, the girl would have been a Princess. If it works for you, you may consider her one.

In our terms, she was a native Princess. The Girl was the daughter of a headman of the Alaskan people who would be known as the Dene-Ina.
The Dene-Ina were part of a larger Indian community known as the Dene, who occupied a sub-arctic range of scrub forest, stretching from inland alaska to the shore of hudson bay, between the tundra dwellers of the north, and the deep forests and plains of the south. Their language family was known as Athabasakan, which they shared with the coastal indians of British Colombia, and the far flung Navajo and Apache of the south.

But the girl was a Princess, which meant that she was not only the daughter of a headman, but his favourite as well. It was a favour that was well earned, she was not only young and beautiful, but immensely clever, she remembered everything she was taught, her hands were nimble, her eyes sharp, by any measure, she was gifted, even brilliant. She learned everything that her mother and the rest of the tribal women could teach her, and excelled. Inspired, her father taught her everything he knew, holding back only the deepest secrets of men.

In the fullness of time, she would grow into beauty and wisdom, her father would have arranged a suitable marriage with a proper young man from another clan, she would have watched her children and grandchildren grow up and ended her days as a wise woman of the Dene-Ina. And this is how she lived her life in our time line.

In this time line, a crow called. Crows are noisy birds, they call out constantly. This crow called before, would call after, there was nothing unusual about the raucous caw.

Except that it came at a moment when the headman was leading his clan across a shallow but wide stream in the spring.

He turned his head to look.

His foot slipped on a wet rock.

The headman fell into the water, twisting, feeling faintly ridiculous. His head struck a rock at precisely the wrong angle, and he heard the crack of his neck breaking, the sudden pain of impact, the rush of numbness as his spinal cord severed, cold water filling his lungs. .... and then nothing.

The clan dragged him from the water, it took ten minutes for the horror of the event to dawn to them. It took hours for them to grasp the enormity of the loss. His family wept helplessly for a day and a night. But eventually, his body was buried beneath a mound of stones, and they moved on.

There is no future in being a widow. Entering middle age, with children to care for and her man gone, the Headman’s wife status would fade fast. She used her declining authority to find another man for her bed, elevating him to Headman and securing her position once again.

The daughter resented her mother’s choice, her father seemed barely cold and there was a new man in his place. Her anger was furious and lasting. The new Headman had no patience for a girl he’d always seen as a spoiled child, a girl not his own, and who was now so willful and bad behaved. The girl was approaching marriage age, the Headman shed his obligations to her, and consolidated his new position by giving her to a supporter.

That night, the Girl learned one of the secrets of men that her father had never taught her. The night was filled with the soft slap of bodies on bodies, of fist on flesh, of a child’s weeping and the smell of blood.

In the morning, she was gone. They searched, but never found her. Her father had taught her well. They never saw her again. The tribe moved on, and in a very short time, she was forgotten.

The girl lived though. Her bushcraft was almost as good as her fathers. She knew to make fires, knew the plants to eat and how to thank the spirits with gifts to travel safely, to trap small animals. Her summer was idyllic but lonely.
It’s easy enough to survive on your own in the bountiful season. But it gets harder as the weather turns. He heart had hardened, she would never return to her people. Inevitably, she would starve to death over the winter.

Except that in her solitary wanderings, she’d moved steadily north, away from the places of her people. One day, she came across other people. She found their traces first, and out of curiousity and loneliness she followed. They were people unlike her own, their features were different, their language unintelligible. She watched them, careful not to come too close.

Over time, they became aware of her, this strange beautiful silent girl, watching from a distance. They debated her at night. A stranger? A wanderer? A spirit. They left small gifts, and after a while, she accepted them. A young man became fascinated. He pursued, she fled. But somehow, he kept spotting her. He left gifts of his own, and was startled to find small things left behind, as if for him. She showed more frequently, came closer and closer. One night, she joined them at the campfire, not quite looking at them. They acted as if she had always been there, but careful not to look directly at her.

And in time, she travelled with them, learned their ways and language, took a husband. She could offer nothing of hunting and trapping. She was wise in those ways, but so were they. But in other things, she contributed skills, she was clever, she was hard working. Her company and efforts were valued.

She had the ways of her people. When digging up roots or raiding a mouse den, she would leave behind a gift for the mouse, would re-bury a part of the root, whatever plant she harvested, she was always careful and patient to leave a part of the plant behind, even to re-bury it. It was the spirits, she explained. To take from the spirits and give them nothing in return would anger them. It was always best to leave the spirits a gift when they provided nourishment. It encouraged the spirits to be generous in the future.

She took a husband, she watched her children grow up, she watched her grandchildren grow, she lived a long life, was respected for her wisdom, what she taught was learned and kept, and when she was gone, she was well missed. So perhaps, in the larger sense, her life had turned out the way it was supposed to, that the ripples from the untimely death of her father faded away.

But things were slightly different. The ritual of gift giving, the magic that was used to please the spirits, found their way from the Dene-Ina culture to her new tribe, to her children and others children, to grandparents and in time spread to all of the Thule people, becoming an embedded part of their culture.

And even then, it was such a slight thing. A little bit extra labour at certain occasions. Perhaps a little bit more edible root harvested in subsequent years. Nothing really. It would take a subtle eye to notice the difference in one generation or four, or in a hundred years.

But in two hundred?

In a thousand?
 
 
 
Wonderful! Excellent intro! Im really enthused to see this TL underway! Looking forward to the next update & further developments. :)
 
Our Time LIne

The people that we know in our own time line as the Eskimo or Inuit were the last of the waves of Asian migration, probably coming over from Asia a few thousand years ago. Evidence suggests that they were Island hoppers, crossing the aleutian chain of islands from Siberia to Alaska. What happened to their forbears in Asia is long lost to history.

Linguistic evidence shows that the Eskimo or Inuit languages are related to the tongue spoken by the Aleutian Islanders, but that the two languages diverged about three thousand years ago. In their new homeland, on the outer shores of Alaska, the proto-inuit dwelled for about two thousand years.

Then, inexplicably, about a thousand years ago, they began to move.
One group seems to have gone west, moving into Siberia. The Yupik family of languages appears to have diverged from Inuit about this time.

The other, more prominent group, called the ‘Thule’ culture by archeologists, moved east displacing the prior Dorset culture and rendering those people to extinction. The Inuit remembered the Dorset as timid giants, easily driven away.

The Thule/Inuit expanded through the Canadian northwest territories, down along Hudson Bay. They crossed the waters to the Canadian arctic archipelago, moving up into Victoria Island, Banks Island, Southampton and as far north as Ellesmere. From Southampton or Baffin they crossed over into the northern reaches of Quebec and Labrador. From Ellesmere they crossed to Greenland, moving from the north down both shores until they met the Vikings.

It is not clear why this happened or what triggered the dramatic expansion of the Inuit people. After two thousand years in Alaska, suddenly, they’d burst out to occupy territories roughly equivalent to Europe, sweeping across an immense landscape in barely three centuries. We do know that the expansion comes in the middle of the medieval warm period, running from about 800 to 1250. Perhaps the warm period drove a population explosion which forced the Inuit from their traditional homes.

Or perhaps their technology had slowly evolved to some critical tipping point. The Thule/Inuit were able to displace their rivals because they were a literally more technologically sophisticated culture with a greater range of technology.

In particular, they had domesticated dogs, which allowed them significant overland and winter mobility, they had toggle harpoons, drills, bows and arrows, and a range of items, that enabled them to take down everything from whales and walrus to caribou and hare.

It seems strange to describe a hunter/gatherer subsistence culture as sophisticated. But this is what they were. They were a people who endured in the most hostile landscape on Earth, and did it so successfully, that they were able to produce enough surplus meat and fish to maintain a domesticated population of carnivores as draft animals. The Vikings who colonized Greenland were not so successful.

In OTL, the Inuit were an intellectually and technologically adaptive and sophisticated culture which was extremely successful, and even in modern times, coped fairly well with European influence, readily adapting and incorporating techniques and technology.

There were limits of course. The Inuit were, strange to say, a warlike people who fought each other and warred with Dene, Cree and Innu, who formed nations and confederations for defense and aggression. But their arctic tool kit, which allowed them to displace the Dorset was not sufficient to allow them to expand south.

Plants, for the most part, were absent from their diet. Indeed, Europeans found that the Inuit did not fully exploit the plants found in their environment. Many edible plants went unharvested in their proximity. Different Inuit communities, would harvest certain plants, and ignore others. They did not touch cranberries or lingonberries for instance, preferring crowberries. A few plants were consumed, mostly as supplements. More plants were identified for medicinal purposes. But vegetation was at best, five per cent or less, of the Inuit diet.

This is understandable, the season of greenery is short. The flora of the arctic is sparse, and most of it is genuinely inedible. Edible plants often had close relatives who were difficult to distinguish and which were inedible or toxic. Even for the edible plants, the season of edible leaves or stems or berries could often be very narrow, a matter of a few days or a couple of weeks, and the Inuit were not necessarily in the area. There was far more payoff in hunting than in gathering.

Nevertheless, other arctic cultures, such as the Chuckchi made far more use of plant and vegetable harvest in their environments. Fundamentally, the lack of vegetation in the Inuit diet was a cultural choice.

The Inuit expansion had been incredibly rapid. Between 1000 and 1300, they Inuit were constantly moving into new areas. In doing so, they encountered unfamiliar landscapes and unfamiliar plants. Only the prey, fish and seal and whales, caribou, musk ox, hare, bear and fox, were uniform. And so as the Inuit moved east, plants became even less significant in their diet, plant lore was lost, forgotten, abandoned.

In our timeline, the Inuit culture refined itself as superb hunters, they didn't need anything else.

*******************
 
Alternate Time Line

The point of departure is 717 CE. At this point, because of the adoption of an influential person from one community to another, a small number of Dene-Ina customs and cultural traits are introduced into the Inuit population. An even smaller number spread within the Inuit culture, coming to be generally adopted.

The most important of these was a spiritual practice relating to harvesting. Spirituality was very important to the lives of hunter gatherers. They existed in a demon haunted world of uncertainty, each step, each moment was at the whim of the spirits. A hare jumping this way, rather than that, a breeze deflecting the path of a speer or arrow, a track in the mud, a bit of rain, merest chance could make the difference between eating or not eating, living or dying. The world was full of spirits, spirits inhabited every facet of the world, and it was only through the good will of spirits that chance and fortune favoured the brave and the desperate.

It was a wise hunter who prayed to the spirits for a good hunt, a judicious hunter who gave thanks to the animal spirit on a successful kill. Prayer came as natural as breathing, sacrifices, spells, the intersession of shamans, magic and medicine were all fundamental parts of life.

The Dene-Ina hunted, but they also harvested. The dug up edible roots, excavated mouse dens, they picked berries and chewed edible leaves and stems, much as the Inuit did. And for both cultures, this was a spiritual practice. But there was a difference between the Dene-Ina and the Inuit spiritual practices of harvesting.

The Dene-Ina would make gifts to the spirits in exchange for the food. This was intended to please the spirits, to make them more inclined to be generous in the future. When robbing a mouse den, they would leave a gift of food edible to the mouse behind. When digging up a root, they would rebury a part of the root as a gift to the spirit.

The Inuit simply harvested. Their environment was just a little more stringent than the Dene-Ina, their heritage more conservative. To the early Inuit in their two thousand years of history in Alaska, to re-bury a part of a root was simply to waste food, to leave a gift for a mouse was a pointless effort.

But this was the beginning of the medieval warm period. It was getting warmer, in the warmth, plants grew earlier, the winter came later, animals ate better, the waters were more accessible, food was slightly more abundant, and easier to catch. The land was becoming more generous.

And so the gift giving of the Dene-Ina was adopted, and spread naturally as the climate grew warmer, as the land grew more generous. Partly it may have been as simple as the luxury of better eating making the Inuit slightly more willing to give up a few bites of food by reburying a root. Partly it was the spreading feeling that perhaps this little bit of magic might have contributed to the world being a little bit more bountiful.

And here's a secret, obvious to the Inuit, obscure to western minds. The magic worked.

The truth was that if you dug up an edible root, Claytonia Tuberosa, the Eskimo Potato, or Hedysarum Alpinum, and took it all, every last bit of it, well, that was that. Perhaps the root plants would grow back from seeds left behind, or perhaps other inedible invasive species would colonize the patch squeezing out the root plants and leaving an inedible pasture. Odds were 50/50. But even if you got lucky, and the root plants grew back, the long maturation would mean a wait of four to seven years for the next harvest.

On the other hand, these plants reproduced vegetatively as well as through seeds. So if you reburied a portion of the root, it would generally sprout, and the plant would regenerate. Your chances went from 50/50 to 100% that the pasture would produce an edible harvest. And the regrowth would be much more rapid, a wait of two to four years for the next harvest. It made a difference.

Now, with our modern sensibility and our broader knowledge, we see this all in terms of biology and reproductive economics. Subsistence era peoples knew none of this. They knew the world as a world of magic and spirits, and things we take for granted were neither obvious nor intuitive.

Inuit culture had occupied lands, as I've said, a little fiercer, a little harsher than the Dene-Ina. The Inuit were a little hungrier, had a little less luxury to throw away food in replanting. They hadn't evolved the same tradition as the Dene-Ina.

And so their harvest was more total, at least in the first generation. Which meant that in succeeding plant generations, there was less and less to harvest. Claytonia Tuberosa, the Eskimo Potato, disappeared completely from Inuit lands, while Hedysarum Alpinum, Sweetvetch, diminished year after year, generation after generation, until it was a trivial part of the diet. That triviality saved it, having barely escaped extinction in the area, it now meant so little to the Inuit that they seldom sought it out. Sweetvetch stocks regenerated.

Until 717, when the Inuit borrowed a piece of 'magic' from the Dene-Ina, which allowed them to harvest Sweetvetch sustainably. Instead of Sweetvetch pastures becoming lost to inedibles or taking so long to regenerate that their value diminished, now Sweetvetch regenerated with certainty and rapidly enough that pastures were noted, remembered, and returned to again and again.

The simple change that meant Sweetvetch was no longer being slowly eradicated but preserved meant inevitably that the plant proliferated, improving in range and numbers through its own natural expansion, finding new growing pastures, new habitat. Indeed, even Eskimo Potato started to return, the seed borne specimens harvested, replanted, preserved and producing more seeds.

For over two centuries, the effects were subtle. The Inuit themselves did not notice. But they were taking place. There were more and more roots being harvested, Sweetvetch and Eskimo Potato provided additional food to the the Inuit diet. With more food came more population.

Subsistence populations are limited not by the total food available year round, but rather by the amount of food available in the leanest times, the bottleneck. But Sweetvetch and Eskimo Potato were easily stored, and could be recovered in the scarcest times. Experience brought certainty and confidence as to where harvests could be obtained and how much they might yield. The bottleneck opened up, the population grew even faster.

The Inuit explosion, the movement of peoples west into Siberia to diverge into the Yupik, and east across Canada to the Islands and to Greenland and Quebec began a century earlier.

But at this point, approximately 900 CE, these are still the Thule people that archeologists know, they are still the ancestors of the Inuit that we know. The difference is still subtle... All it is, still, is just a little bit of magic or medicine, that was picked up from the Dene-Ina, and incorporated into the Thule culture. A tiny thing...

For now.
 
This is awesome; and, you should feel awesome.

The POD is highly plausible, and well worked, synchronising a plausible subjective phenomena with a known objective phenomena, and integrating economics and culture. Your argument about the success of the magic is obvious, and clear. This means that the culture itself is producing a "post-scarcity" cultural apparatus to make sense of the world, that the external world is socially controllable through community structured magic. This seems like a precursor to a more intensive cultural apparatus.

I have, of course, subscribed.

yours,
Sam R.
 
If I understood even a little bit of that, I would say 'yes, certainly.' ;)

Obviously, what we're leading up to is the evolution of an Arctic agricultural package, and its concommitent effects on Inuit society and eventually OTL history.

Now, obviously, we need the biological requirements, and in upcoming posts, that will be explored.

But the cultural foundations are even more critical. In this context mysticism and spiritual practices will play a vital role to the evolution of Thule culture and economics.
 
An interesting take on how one person can change the world. Usually it involves a single momentous moment, not a minor process done over several years.
Nice.
 
Subscribed of course!
Y'all might want to include links to the thread when you mention it's up.

Were the Inuit really known as dangerous warrior people OTL?
 
I was actually surprised to learn how badass they were.
Did you hear about their armour.
They'd make a type of armour from wood and hides that stretched from neck to foot and had a big neck band to protect the neck and back of the head. When they needed to run they could lift the hem of armour and it would telescope up to the waist. Then they could tie it so it stayed in place or hold it up as they ran.
It looked ridiculous, but they could run pretty effectively, and when they stopped to shoot arrows, they were pretty well protected all over against arrows.
 
Did you hear about their armour.
They'd make a type of armour from wood and hides that stretched from neck to foot and had a big neck band to protect the neck and back of the head. When they needed to run they could lift the hem of armour and it would telescope up to the waist. Then they could tie it so it stayed in place or hold it up as they ran.
It looked ridiculous, but they could run pretty effectively, and when they stopped to shoot arrows, they were pretty well protected all over against arrows.

I seriously did not know that.
 
Tanapok aka Alpine Sweetvetch (Hedysarum Alpinum)

Our Time Line

The arctic does not have much in the way of edible plants. But it does have a few. In particular, it possesses a trio of root crops that will become the foundation of the Thule Agricultural Complex as this time line diverges.

The first and most important is known as Tanapok in this timeline, Alpine Sweetvetch in ours, and is technically known as Hedysarum Alpinum. A flowering plant, it grows throughout the arctic and subarctic in Canada and Alaska. It’s utmost northern range these days growing wild is Baffin Island and Victoria Island. But it is likely that it’s natural range extended much further north during the medieval warm period. It is found through much of Canada and its southern range extends to the Dakotas.

Sweetvetch is what is known as a pioneer species. It does very well on disturbed grounds, its known for colonizing roadsides, gravel pads, borrow pits and logged sites, it can be seen taking hold on ice scoured floodplain it seems to like moist to dry calcareous soils, is tolerant to flooding, and often takes hold on scoured floodplain. Its ability to rush in and take hold, means that is is often used to rehabilitate or restore disturbed sites, such as places stripped down by mining, or by engineering works and projects.

It grows in sand, silt, till, gravel, lake shores, tundra, cliffs, and crevices in imperfectly drained moist areas and well drained areas and very poor soils, although obviously the kind of ground it ends up in affects the growth rate. Specimens planted in subsoils can mature in two years, specimens planted in gravel may take three.

Sweetvetch reproduces vegetatively, which basically means it can regrow from parts of its root. And in fact, it’s the practice of the Dene-Ina, although not of the Inuit in OTL to re-bury the thickest part of the root to encourage the plant to grow. Information suggests that the plant regenerates fairly rapidly.

An arctic adapted plant, the seeds require frigid temperature stratification or scarification to germinate, which is why its range is limited to the northern part of the continent. Sweetvetch has a high rate of seed production and development, as much as several hundred per plant. The seeds are small, about 200 to a gram, and are contained in aggregate very tough seed pods.

Approximately 94 to 97% of seeds set in fields develop fully, other studies suggest germination rates of 91 to 95%. The seeds are tiny, but not really small enough for windblown propagation. There’s some suggestion that they may be washed along by rains or streams, or perhaps animals eat the seed pods and some survive. However seed mobility is likely low, and the vast majority of seeds do not travel far from the original plants, and likely most seeds do not reproduce.

The stems range from eight to thirty inches tall. It produces an edible taproot or tuber which, when mature, can be up to two inches thick and several feet long, best harvested in early spring or late fall, when it tastes like carrot. During the summer, during the growth period, the tubers tend to become hard and woody and protein declines. The root takes three to seven years to mature fully.

The arctic and subarctic is a harsh environment and it is difficult for plants to survive and propagate, which helps to explain many of Sweetvetch’s friendly properties, the energy that goes into large tubers, the hardiness and tolerance for difficult soils, the high rate of seed production and readiness, as well as the ready capacity for vegetative regrowth. Collectively, this means that even a casual planting or replanting effort would pay off big time. Sweetvetch seems tailor made for domestication. Basically, Sweetvetch appears to be a rugged plant well suited to the sort of rough handling which comes with heavy agriculture and tilled fields.

The difficulty of propagation, together with the hardy adaptability of the plant suggests that Sweetvetch occupies only a fraction of its potential habitat. With better seed distribution, it might grow far more frequently in far more locations.

In OTL, Sweetvetch was intensively harvested by the Dena’ina, who engaged in a pre-agricultural practice of replanting, in south and central Alaska, and it was an important food in their culture. Roots could be eaten in a number of ways, raw, boiled, roasted and fried, used to make a beverage by frying in grease or soaking in water, it could be stored and used as a trade item. Roots could be harvested in the winter if food ran out. Sweetvetch also appeared in the diet of Alaskan inuit, apparently through cultural diffusion, but the Inuit did not engage in replanting as the Dene-Ina did. Sweetvetch use drops off quickly in Inuit societies moving east, to the point where it is not a significant item.

Like certain other arctic plants, Sweetvetch has an ‘evil twin’, Bear-root or Hedysarum MacKenzii, a relative with extremely similar leaves and flowers, but whose root, if consumed is highly toxic to humans. Unfortunately, Bear-root has much the same habitat and habits as Sweetvetch, so care and knowledge is required to distinguish one from the other.

Among the OTL, there are probably a number of reasons why Sweetvetch declined and disappeared from their diet. The Dene-Ina practice of replanting preserved and encouraged rapid Sweetvetch regrowth, and even the simple act of sustaining existing patches would contribute to a slow spread and increasing population density of the plant. In the wild, without active human harvesting and replanting, you’d get a much lower plant density.

Active harvesting without replanting would result Sweetvetch patches re-grow much more slowly if at all. Instead of two years, it might take seven. Or it might not recover at all, a sweetvetch patch would be replaced with non-edible plants. Over time, the proportion of Sweetvetch in the local ecology, and particularly local diets, would drop quickly.

Even worse, edible Sweetvetch patches might be replaced with toxic Bear-root. The difficulty of distinguishing between the two probably contributed to the decline of Sweetvetch. This would be intensified as sweetvetch declined in inuit diet and fewer and fewer people were able to distinguish between the edible and toxic plants.

Finally, the Dene-Ina’s other edible root, Tuberosa didn’t occur through most of the Inuit range, so there was overall less edible protein to be dug up, and therefore less incentive. So basically, a more limited resource, a diminishing resource and a greater degree of risk.

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Alternate Time Line

There's a subtle truth that is generally overlooked, and that is that the balance of life forms in any environment is a shifting thing. Proportions of trees, bushes and grasses is never stable. Nature is a constantly shifting battleground as different species of plants constantly attempt to spread their range, competing against each other.

In the fullness of time, all else being equal, trees tend to win out. Open meadows are colonized first by bush, then by saplings and eventually swallowed by forest. But not everything is equal, soil and water conditions vary from place to place, and indeed from time to time. Species may find themselves giving ground when there's too much water, or too little, when the water is too brackish. Temperatures may push the treeline back or advance it forward.

Animals contribute to the ongoing struggle. The ecology of the great plains was maintained by the Bison, whose pounding hooves and appetites destroyed saplings and checked the expansion of trees. In Africa elephants pushed down trees for fodder, opening up grassland. The activities of different herbivores can change the species mix in an environment.

In this context, the human impact should not be ignored. We tend to focus on things like agriculture and aggressive management. But in fact, the human presence has tended to affect the species mixture in the world around us, sometimes in deliberate ways, sometimes in unpleasant ways. There are, for instance, a lot more rats, pigeons and dandelions in the world today because of us.

My own experience included fisheries management and I learned something quite significant. Some species of fish were valuable, some were junk. Fishermen tended to select the valuable species and ignore the junk species - simple enough sometimes its as simple as the size of your net mesh.

Now, the interesting thing was that if you fished out the desirable species, basically took so many fish that their population collapsed, then the thing to do was close the fishery and allow the stock to recover. But the really interesting thing was that the stock never recovered fully. The biological space occupied in rivers and lakes was usurped by other species, and once they took it, it was no longer available.

Now, its possible, even likely, that the original species would, through gradual competition, generation after generation, in a century or two, would recover to its original population. But for the short and even medium term, the species mixture of fish had been shifted and that shift remained very stable. The desirable species weren't getting their 'territory' back any time soon.

The theory of the American or Australian megafauna extinctions amounted to a dramatic shift from a mix which included larger, slow growing, longer lived animals, to a mixture of almost entirely smaller, faster, shorter lived and more rapidly reproducing animals. Human activity can often result in the decline and even eradication of useful or desirable species, both plant and animal.

But human habits can also encourage species. As I've said, rats, pigeons and dandelions have done well by us, whether we had that in mind or not. In our timeline, a particular cultural approach by the Inuit resulted in the decline of Sweetvetch in both environment and diet. In this timeline, the practice of ceremonial gifting, replanting sweetvetch, in the Alaskan inuit territory preserved and slowly increased it in both environment and diet.

In 900 CE, however, the Thule began to expand dramatically beyond their original territories, ousting the Dorset culture. Now, there were a lot of consequences to this. But we'll focus on one issue in particular.

As the Thule expanded, everywhere they went, they found Sweetvetch. The plant grew naturally throughout and well beyond the range that they would conquer.

But they didn't find that much of it. In Alaska, the activities of the Dene-Ina and the Thule Inuit had contributed to the slow expansion of Sweetvetch plants through their range. This had been a gradual and largely inadvertent process. Reburying roots, and creating more opportunities for the re-growing plants to reseed, occasionally accidentally carrying seeds around, sometimes deliberately carrying seeds or replanting roots. Simply preserving and encouraging local populations meant that human activity caused those populations to expand on their own. Those factors were not in place outside Alaska. So the result was that throughout the new Thule range, the population densities of Sweetvetch were considerably lower than they were in Alaska.

None of this is known to the Thule/Inuit. They merely know that there is less Sweetvetch to be had. And they've become sophisticated enough over the last few hundred years to know where Sweetvetch grows, the sorts of places that the plant likes and thrives in... but that somehow, in these new lands, it does not exist in many of those places.

Obviously, the spirits of the earth that give of Sweetvetch roots in these new lands are much less friendly. Perhaps they're annoyed by these new residents, perhaps they're upset by something else, perhaps they're simply crankier or stingy.

Sometimes the spirits are cranky and demanding, that's just the way spirits are. Every subsistence people living at the vagaries of nature is well aware of how capricious spirits are, and the need to placate them.

The earth spirits that give sweetvetch in the old lands were pretty stable as spirits go. These new earth spirits are clearly more tempermental. But dealing with tempermental spirits is a way of life.

The result is a small evolution of the cultural practice of ceremonial giving, of re-burying roots. The innovation was to initiate the gift, to plant sweetvetch root in places where it seemed that it ought to grow, but did not. An offering to a recalcitrant earth spirit in hopes of promoting later generosity.

Now, this wasn't a cultural adaptation that was really needed in Alaska. But here in the new lands, there are clearly empty spaces on the local maps, earth spirits who need jollying up.

And it works... sort of. Not every instance of replanting works. Some of these roots bits are pretty dead when they get replanted. But Sweetvetch is an aggressively fecund, pioneer, species, it really does like to dig in, given a chance. So the replanting works often enough that the Thule can see the success. The plants take years to mature, but even later in the year, or in the next year, the Thule can identify the immature plants and acknowledge that the spirits there, if not yet generous, are definitely getting friendlier.

Along with replanting of root bits, sometimes seeds are accidentally carried along. Magic is an inexact science. What do the spirits like? What makes them happy? They don't like to say, you have to observe the result. Once you are beyond the tried and true, a certain amount of guessing and experiment, of trial and error is necessary.

Planting more root bits in an area seems to produce more plants. The spirits are happier, and will be more generous eventually.

But sometimes root bits aren't available, so perhaps they'll like stems and seed pods. Perhaps there's a sort of sympathetic magical idea at work, giving spirits the upper part of the plant, in order to call forth the lower part.

This doesn't work as well initially. The stems and leaves are irrelevant of course, they're only significant as the upper part of the plant. The key are the seeds and seed pods. But seeds take time to mature, and if the upper part of the sweetvetch is planted before they mature, then nothing happens. But its an incremental process. Sooner rather than later, some start to notice that planting the upper part of the Sweetvetch works best later in the season. This spreads as groups talk to each other and becomes part of the cultural lore.

It is not truly an agricultural or horticultural practice, it does not rise to that level. At best, it is a component of proto-agricultural practices that might turn into something. But it's not even close to that yet.

What it really is, is a bit of ceremonial magic that comes to be associated with the new lands, with making the new lands friendlier. It doesn't consume a lot of time, doesn't involve a lot of effort. It's just a casual bit of medicine practiced on an occasional basis as the Thule travel through their new territory.

But in practical terms, what is happening is that humans are becoming a part of Sweetvetch propagation. They are making it easier for the plant to colonize new areas, to expand its range and population. Which means that the proportion of Sweetvetch in local ecologies, the share of sweetvetch in local species population mixes begins to increase steadily, even geometrically.

Over the next two to three hundred years, between 900 and 1200 CE, the proportion of Sweetvetch in the environment, and in Thule diets, and the overall food available to the Thule increases dramatically, even well beyond the levels found in Alaska.

Now, why didn't the Thule/Inuit do this in their Alaskan homeland? Why didn't the Dene-Ina do this? Why didn't the Dene-Ina, as the founders of the original proto-agricultural practice not come up with these and other innovations, and why isn't it the Dene who develop an agricultural package instead.

The reason is that the Dene-Ina are, and the Thule/Inuit in Alaska were a stable society. Stable societies evolve slowly if at all, they are essentially conservative.

Look at it this way - trial and error is a lousy way to do things. Trial and error at best gives a low success rate, one in three, one in five, one in ten. This means that two out of three times, four out of five, nine out of ten trial and error doesn't work, and you end up with nothing. In a subsistence society, that's a good way to starve to death.

In a stable society which knows its environment and where the package of techniques and foods are well established, there's a strong tendency to stick with what you know. Innovation is often a bad bet, failing more than it succeeds.

It's only in unstable societies that trial and error works. Move into a new area, you don't know what plants are edible, you don't know where the harvestables are found, you don't know the timing of the caribou or where the fish like to congregate. Trial and error is the only way to go. Innovation based on observation and experiment proliferates. Cultural practices are extended incrementally and extended again.

The Thule who expand out of Alaska inherit a land the size of western europe, a new and unexplored land, a land of diversity and local unknowns.

In a sense, they inherit a sweetvetch lab the size of western europe. The cultural legacy of ceremonial giving, borrowed from the Dene-Ina, adapts, evolves, expands....
 
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Spring Beauty/Eskimo Potato (Claytonia Tuberosa)

Our Time Line

There is much less literature available on Claytonia than there is on Sweetvetch. This might be due to the plant's comparatively narrower range. While Sweetvetch is found throughout the north, Claytonia in North America seems to be confined to areas of Alaska and the Yukon, as you may see in this map.

Interestingly, Claytonia's range seems to overlap somewhat with those of Dene peoples. Which may lead us to speculate that perhaps the ceremonial gifting/replanting practices of the Dene may have something to do with the plants survival and propagation in its areas.

Alternately, it may be that aggressive harvesting which leaves nothing behind, as per OTL inuit practice may have resulted in the extinction or reduction of the plant from most of the northern range. But of course, this is simply guessing.

Claytonia is a flowering plant with small leaves, its stem is three to seven inches tall, and its often found buried in tundra. It's preferred habitat appears to be tundra or rocky crevices, which seems to imply that its more cold sensitive and prefers micro-areas which give it a little bit of extra warmth and protection. It seems to prefer moisture, but is by no means a swampy or marsh plant. It is not a robust pioneer like Sweetvetch, or an aggressive colonist. But where it grows, it seems to grow well, and seems to prefer different habitat than sweetvetch, the two species do not seem to compete.

As with most arctic plants it is a perrenial, and takes at least two to three years to mature, with an overall life span of perhaps seven years.

The seedlings are particularly sensitive to frost. Information suggests that it reproduces easily in appropriate environments. Given its low height for seed distribution, its likely that it tends to grow in patches, since there's little opportunity for wind or weather to carry the seeds any great distance. In addition to seeding, it propagates vegetatively (ie, pieces of root will regrow the whole plant). The likely propensity to grow in patches implies its tolerant to high population densities in a given growing area.

Claytonia produces an edible tap root, approximately an inch thick and up to three feet long. The tap root seems to run closer to the surface than Sweetvetch and is easily harvested. The tap root is off white, in comparison to Sweetvetch's light brown. Harvesting is during the plant's dormant phase, in early spring, or in late fall after the first frost.

The root can be eaten raw, but the preference is to boil or roast, and it is found in soups. It can be stored easily, and for long periods is dried or kept in oil. The leaves are also edible and sometimes eaten as greens.

The plant is also found in Siberia, where it is eaten readily and is almost a staple for the Chukchi people. Even in early spring, the Chukchi are likely to have a barrel of Claytonia roots left, implying a substantial harvest lasting through the winter. It's presence in Siberia may imply that it is a relatively recent visitor to North America, biologically speaking.

A particular advantage that Claytonia has over Sweetvetch, is that it has no 'evil twin.' There is no claytonia relative of near identical appearance and toxic nature in its environment.

The big disadvantage of Claytonia, as we see from the enclosed map, is that it's distribution is far far less than Sweetvetch. We don't know what the distribution of Claytonia was a thousand years ago, but I would be willing to suppose that it might not be dramatically different.

Claytonia's significance as a diet item in both Dene and Chukchi cultures, its relative ease of harvesting, and its tendency to grow in batches with reasonable density, and the proto-agricultural practices of the Dene suggest that Claytonia was a reasonable prospect for a viable arctic domesticate.

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Alternate Time Line

The expansion of the Thule into new territories becomes the inspiration for small cultural innovations. New and unknown lands bring new challenges, existing ways of doing things are adapted incrementally.

Trial and error produces occasional successful results, these successful results are incorporated and passed along, and for a time, inspires further trial and error, further innovation. This is a process that continues until a kind of stability is reached, where most knew trials end up as mainly errors, and where the established body of cultural lore produces a sufficiently satisfactory result.

The new inuit territories, ranging as far as Labrador and Greenland was an area the size of western europe. This was an immense range, occupied within only a few centuries, and therefore tended to encourage cultural innovations.

Another small cultural innovation was the exchange of root bits and later of the upper parts of the plant, including pods and stems.

Ceremonial and formal exchanges have always occurred between groups. Friends are people you share food with, exchange of gifts, of tools, or bits of clothing, sharing of bed partners binds people together. Good relations with your neighbors mean marriageable partners, it means possible succor in times of hardship or disaster, it means allies in times of war. So exchange is a fact of life.

In a cultural framework which includes attempting to spread sweetvetch to new areas, which may include perceptions of limited sweetvetch, less tasty sweetvetch, of empty spots on the local map. So exchange of root bits is a natural progression.

The exchange of stems and seed pods is a natural innovation. The Thule culture has already adapted its cultural practice of replanting twice. First, replanting bits of roots to new areas, and then shortcutting by trying to replant the top parts of the plan, particularly the stems and seed pods as an extension of the magic.

Now we come to ceremonial exchanges between groups. The stems and pods aren't edible, no temptation to eat them, they're more resilient, easier to carry and last longer. They're more ceremonially portable.

The seed pods themselves are even more ceremonially portable than the stems and leaves - they're small, weigh almost nothing, can be carried easily, and extremely durable and can survive immersion and rough handling.
 
The incorporation of sweetvetch seed pods and root bits as part of the cultural exchange between groups is extremely important for a couple of reasons.

One, of course, is that it continues and contributes to the ongoing explosive expansion of sweetvetch into untapped potential habitats and its continuing increasing proportion in the overall mix of arctic biomass.

But there's another, more subtle effect. Now, Sweetvetch originating from different areas, sometimes widely different areas, are growing up in proximity to each other, cross fertilizing each other through bees, and continually expressing new diversities. The inherent genetic diversity of the Sweetvetch population is increasing dramatically, even geometrically, during the period following 900 CE, with an increasing variety of traits being expressed. With that increasing diversity of traits, we begin to see increasing selection, mostly it is environmental selection, but human selection starts to become a factor.

And finally, the custom of exchange opens the way to expansion of Claytonia from its original habitat. Now Inuit beyond Alaska are exchanging bits of sweetvetch root and seed pods with their neighbors. The practice spreads in all directions and slowly works its way back to Alaska. When it does, then Claytonia root bits and seed pods and stems begin to enter the exchange. Claytonia starts to be planted and to grow outside its normal range, it begins to spread across the north.

Over the course of two or three centuries, Claytonia's range expands steadily eastward. It is less cold tolerant than Sweetvetch, and grows more poorly the farther north it is brought. It may not make it to Ellesmere and Greenland. It may or may not make it across Hudson Bay to Labrador and Quebec. But for the most part, it grows differently from Sweetvetch and the two do not complete. So even where it grows poorly it is still a net benefit.

The expansion of Claytonia brings a new round of incremental cultural innovations, of new lore and knowledge. Sweetvetch is a hardy pioneer species, it pretty much grows anywhere that it gets a toehold. This is good, going with trial and error, you want something like that. That sort of catholic fecundity is really the best way for trial and error to succeed, to establish your baselines. Claytonia is more delicate, and that delicacy encourages refinement.

It becomes clear that Claytonia grows best in quiet areas, out of direct wind, that it grows well with tundra cover, that it grows well among stones which break the wind and retain heat, that it grows better on southern facing slopes which receive more sunlight. It's trial and error of course. Claytonia is placed where they think it will take. Some places it doesn't take. Some places it struggles. Some places it does well. Observations are made, patterns emerge.

Claytonia, like Sweetvetch, is a laboratory that is very nearly the size of Western Europe. Tens of thousands of Thule observe hundreds of thousands of Claytonia specimens.

The result is not agriculture. The result is not even horticulture. But the result is a gradual but steady accumulation of proto-agricultural lore and practices.

Claytonia emerges as a new item in the local biological species/biomass mix, and it emerges as an item whose proportion is increasing in that mixture. As we've noted, it is not competing with Sweetvetch. More Claytonia doesn't necessarily mean less Sweetvetch.

The result of the proliferation of Sweetvetch is more food available to the Thule. The proliferation of Claytonia means even more food available. And it is food reliably available, less subject to the vagaries of migration patterns, and food that has a long shelf life which makes it available through what would otherwise be periods of scarcity.

All of which allow the Thule population to increase beyond the levels of our own history during this period.
 
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