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First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes

About the Tribe


Importance of Animal Products

Meat Hunting: The Nunamiut, an inland Iñupiat people in northern Alaska, are renowned for their subsistence hunting, particularly of caribou. Their survival in the harsh Arctic environment is heavily dependent on the skills and knowledge passed down through generations ("Exploring meat processing in the past: Insights from the Nunamiut people").

Improving our knowledge of subsistence strategies and food processing techniques of past societies is of prime interest for better understanding human cultures as well as multiple aspects of human evolution. Beyond the simple matter of food itself, a substantial portion of socio-economic behavior is expressed in what, how, when, and with whom we eat. Over the last few decades, diverse methodologies for the analysis and interpretation of cut marks have progressively provided new insights for past butchery practices. For example, a recent study of the production of antelope biltong in South Africa concluded that the drying of meat generates high frequencies of longitudinal cut marks. This paper presents a cut mark analysis of faunal remains recovered by Lewis Binford from 8 campsites occupied by Nunamiut groups from the end of 19th to middle of the 20th century in the area around Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska. The preparation of meat—primarily from caribou (Rangifer tarandus)–varied at these sites according to the season of occupation and was, depending on the site, either immediately consumed, processed after being stored in ice-cellars, or dried and stored. These faunal assemblages therefore provide a unique opportunity to explore the material traces of different meat preparation and preservation techniques in order to identify whether specific patterns can be identified and subsequently used to explore subsistence practices in the past. Binford’s Nunamiut faunal assemblages, which were produced by individuals using traditional techniques and methods, were analyzed in order to 1) further test the hypothesis that meat drying produces high frequencies of longitudinal cut marks, 2) explore the common assumption that skilled butchers leave smaller numbers of cut marks on bones compared to less experienced individuals, and 3) test whether cut mark patterns vary as a function of the processing techniques employed. The introduction of a %cutL index represents a quicker alternative to geo-referencing cut marks on bones when exploring meat processing techniques and methods and can easily be integrated in zooarchaeological analyses. While the results obtained support processing techniques linked to meat drying to leave high numbers of longitudinal cut marks, they are inconsistent with cut mark frequencies varying as a function of the butcher’s skill and experience. Analyzing cut mark patterns is therefore a reliable means for exploring food processing by past human societies and, by extension, their methods for safeguarding against unfavorable seasonal variations in both the abundance and condition of prey species. Identifying food storage in the archaeological record equally provides a unique window on to the social dynamics and potential inequalities of past societies.

Importance of Plants

Plant Gathering: While less prominent than hunting, plant gathering, including berries and roots, plays a role in Nunamiut dietary practices. These activities are adapted to the Arctic environment, with a focus on seasonal availability (source: "Ethnobotany of Tl'azt'en Nation: Plant Use and Gathering Site Characteristics").

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Transition to Industrialized Food Products

Jan 1, 1945

Preliminary Survey of Dietary Intakes and Blood Levels
of Cholesterol and the Occurrence of Cardiovascular
Disease in the Eskimo


Showing the Results of Analyses of Eskimo Foods - Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal, Walrus, Polar Bear, Mountain Sheep, Reindeer, Caribou, in terms of Blubber, Liver, Skin, Meat, Oil, Boiled Head and more.

The results of analyses of Eskimo foods are presented in Table 1. On the basis of nutritional surveys with individual food weighings in different families from four Eskimo settlements in Alaska and the above-mentioned results of cholesterol determinations in Eskimo foods, supplemented by figures available for the cholesterol content of nonEskimo foods (Okey, 1945; Pihl, 1952), the cholesterol intake of Eskimos has been estimated (Tables 2, 3). From these calculations it is observed that the mean caloric consumption of the 45 adult male and female Eskimos was about 2,700 calories, the fat consumption was 105 g and the mean cholesterol intake was roughly 340 mg daily, varying from 150 mg to 700 mg per day. It should be noted that these cholesterol figures may be considered as minimum values because several of the food items ingested could not be included in the calculation since the cholesterol content was unknown. It may also be noted that the cholesterol intake varies greatly from one Eskimo group to another, depending on the different dietary habits. Thus, it was observed that among the inland Eskimos, the Nunamiuts at Anaktuvuk Pass, some of the men consumed as much as 70 grams or more of boiled brain from mountain sheep in a single evening meal yielding almost 600 mg cholesterol from this food item alone. 

It is thus evident that some Eskimos have fairly high cholesterol intakes compared with healthy American white men, although the mean intake for the 45 Eskimos studied is in the order of 2.5 g per week (varying from 1 to 5 g) . This corresponds to the group of moderate habitual cholesterol intakes reported for normal American men (Keys, 1949) while in the Inland Eskimos the mean figure is in the order of 4 g cholesterol per week, which corresponds to the group of highest habitual cholesterol intakes for normal American men, reported by Keys (1949). 

Keys (1950) has estimated that the American diet varies with regard to cholesterol content from a low of 200-300 mg daily to 700-800 mg, depending on the food consumed. Gubner and Ungerleider ( 1949) have given the figure 200--360 mg for daily cholesterol intake on a mixed diet. 

It thus appears that the estimated mean figures for cholesterol intakes in Eskimos may be comparable to those of Whites on a mixed diet. 

The average figure for the daily fat consumption in the 45 Eskimo subjects reported here was only about 105 g (377 of the calories), while in a larger survey the average daily fat consumption in Alaskan Eskimos was 139 g (40 % of the calories). In normal white men living in Alaska the fat consumed represented 37.5 %( of the calories ingested. 

In the Eskimo subjects the mean serum cholesterol concentration was 203 mg per 100 ml (Table 4) which is about the same as is found in normal Whites. Thus L. J. Milch (personal communications) found an average level of 207 mg cholesterol per 100 ml serum in Whites 30-35 years old. 

On the other hand, the Eskimo serum concentration of Sf 12-20 lipoproteins was 20 mgl100 ml as against 28 mgl100 ml in Whites of similar age, observed by Milch (personal communications). For Whites under 25 years of age Milch found 24 mg/lOO ml, and for Whites 40-45 years of age 38 mg/l 00 m!.

Sep 1, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


Helge Ingstad lands in the remote Alaskan wilderness and meets the Nunamiut Eskimo - a carnivorous hunter-gatherer tribe dependent upon the caribou. He asks to stay the winter and is granted his wish.

Suddenly we were over another lake. "Raven Lake (Tulugaq)," Andy said laconically and laid the plane over. We were going down.

As we steered in toward the bank, I caught a glimpse of a cluster of tents up on the slope. People came running at full speed out of the mist. Before we reached land they were all by the water, a small party of skin-clad Eskimos on a beach. 

I landed, and met smiles and curious loks from hunters, women, and a pack of children of all ages. I greeted each of them separately. They were tall, strong people with the wiry agility characteristic of mountain dwellers. Open, friendly faces; gleaming white teeth. The children croweded round me without shyness and chattered away in Eskimo with a boldness I rarely saw in the half-civilized Eskimo children on the coast. They were all dressed in caribou-skin anoraks, splendidly edged with the skin of wolf and wolverine.


We were met by a vast number of dogs straining at their chains, barking and yelping full-throatedly. Here were the tents, a dozen in all, queer dome-shaped habitations shaped like snow huts. Smoke rose into the air from crooked chimneys. In the neighbourhood of each tent were stagings of willow sticks, where hides and large slabs of caribou meat were hanging out to dry. Several heavy sledges stood about in the heather. 

We stopped at one of the tents, and Paniaq held open the door--a large hanging bearskin. I sat on the floor, and the tent was soon crammed full. 

There was plenty of room in the tent, and it was very pleasant there, with sweet-smelling willow boughs, and caribou skins on the floor and everything in good order. Apart from these things, there were so many new impressions that I could not take in all the details. I noticed the curious construction of the tent, the many curved stakes on which the caribou skins rested, the pale eyes in a caribou head flung down by the stove, a face or two which stood out from the rest, a girl's smile. And I wondered what the Eskimos were thinking.

A man appeared in the doorway with one fist full of caribou tongues. I was told that he had just come back from hunting and that the tongues were a present for me by way of welcome.

It was clear that nothing was to be said about my affairs for the present. First we must eat. The tent was filled with a strong odour issuing from the cooking-pot on the stove. The meat was laid on a plate, and we attacked it. I felt myself at home; there was much to remind me of the years in which I lived among Indian caribou hunters in northern Canada. 

A dirty rag was passed round, and we wiped the fat from our hands. One or two of the hunters began to clean their teeth by drawing sinews through them. 

Now, I thought, it's time, and I said that I had come into the mountains to live with them through the winter, perhaps till next summer; I wanted to get an idea of the Nunamiuts' life now and in former times. 

After my words had been translated, there was silence for a few moments. Then Paniaq said genially: "This is the first time a white man has wanted to spend the winter with us. But it's all right. We Eskimos are not the sort of people to turn anyone away. You can pitch your tent here, and when the winter comes I'll lend you dogs and a sledge." 

It gave me a pleasant feeling that I was welcome.

Soon we were talking of hunting and of caribou, the beast that is always in their thoughts. 

Sep 10, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamiut, Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


Caribou hunting is vital to them now as before; from it they obtain food, clothes, tents, sewing thread, rope, etc. Caribou meat is, generally speaking, served at all meals. The Nunamiut Eskimos live a nomad life in the caribou's tracks.

The Brooks Mountains are a world of their own, almost untouched. One may wander far and wide through valleys and gorges, along rivers and lakes, and enjoy the fine flavour of the land's virginity. One can meet mountain sheep or bears which stand rooted to the ground at the sight of a man, because they have never seen such a thing before. Giant trout swim in the lakes, multiply, and die of old age. And in the heart of the mountains is a little band of men. 

The Nunamiuts in the Brooks Mountains are divided into two groups, the Raven people (Tulugarmiut) and the Killik people (Killermiut). The people have little knowledge of the world outside. 

Between the Nunamiuts and the outer world there is such a wide, tangled wilderness that communication has to be by plane. The main prop of their existence is, as I have said, the airman Sig Wien. Sevele times a year he or one of his men flies in with a quantity of simple things such as ammunition, tobacco, coffee, a little cotton material for the women, knives, sauce-pans, etc., and takes their wolfskins in exchange. What the Eskimos thus obtain from outside is very modest in quantity, for they are poor and transport is expensive.

There is thus a dash of civilization in the Eskimos' material culture, but in essentials their life takes the same shape as that of their ancestors. Caribou hunting is vital to them now as before; from it they obtain food, clothes, tents, sewing thread, rope, etc. Caribou meat is, generally speaking, served at all meals. They live a nomad life in the caribou's tracks. If luck is with them, and thousands of beasts stream over the country-side in the neighbourhood of the settlement, there are rejoicings and festivities among the mountain people. But it may happen that the barren country is empty, with not a living creature in sight. The last time the caribou failed, many Nunamiuts died of starvation. 

Of civilized food there is barely a trace. The Killik people, who were unlucky with their wolf hunting the year before, have practically nothing. One or two of the Raven people have some coffee, a scrap of sugar, and a little tobacco. The small quantity of bought food is just a dash of luxury to vary the caribou meat which is the universal food. 

Sep 11, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


Helge describes some of the Nunamiut Eskimos, such as their superb physiques and their ages. "It is something of a marvel to find an Eskimo community in Alaska so sound and vital as this one. This is due in the first place to the people having had so little contact with civilization."

Paniaq is the kind of man one cannot help noticing. His eyes are brown, with a humorous gleam; his mouth is wide and sensitive. The forehead is well arched, the nose high-bridged and straight. The black-browed temples project a little; the chin bone too is clearly marked, but not strikingly so. His complexion is rather dark. He is about fifty, but his hair has no tinge of grey. He is a tall, splendidly built man, broad-chested, narrow at the hips, with sinewy limbs. His height is 5 feet 9 inches. He weighs about 175 pounds. His hands are small and well shaped. He seems as well trained as a long-distance runner and has the easy walk of the mountain dwellers.

We start talking about all kinds of things, mostly of animals, nature, and the Eskimos' life is days gone by. From time to time there is a touch of humour, and he bursts into a roar of laughter. He also a very good memory. "My good memory comes from my mother," he says. "She remembered everything, and when I was little she told me no end of things about the old times."

He has an admirable mental balance, a capacity for taking reverses calmly. 


At last Paniaq's wife, Umialaq, sets before us some cooked and some raw meat, and we eat it. 

Umialaq is about twenty-nine--twenty years younger than her husband. She is pretty, small, and slight, but as tought as a willow. 

The youngest boy, Wiraq, crawls about the floor of willow boughs, almost naked. He is only a year old, but has already begun to suck meat. 

Paniaq's father in law Kakinnaq, aged fifty, lives nearby. Kakinnaq is an individual type, a thick-set little fellow with a black mustache, as quick as a weasel and bubbling over with life. 

Kakinnaq is the umialik (rich man) of the tribe. According to our ideas he does not own much, but the Eskimos tell one with profound respect that Kakinnaq has more dried fat than he can use himself and both wolf and wolverine skins from previous years. 

Aguk is about seventy. A more vigorous old fellow I have never seen, active from the early morning til late in the evening. He runs over the hills like a wolf. It is a sight to see him out hunting, getting over the ground in a very pronounced forward crouch of his own. And when he fires he never misses; ten of fifteen caribou in one hunt is nothing out of the ordinary for him. He has a bright face covered with laugh wrinkles. He is a thoroughly good fellow, of the type which is always eager to help others. And he helps himself where most get stuck.

Then there is Agmalik, a capable hunter of about fifty. He is tall and thin, with a rather curved nose and protruding lips, and seems generally rather different from the others. 

The most distinguised among the Killik people is Maptiraq, about seventy-five years old, a tall, upright gentleman of the old school, with a quiet manner and a warm gleam in his eye. His whole personality bears the stamp of the culture which has been created in the course of the years by a distinguised hunting people. When he was young, there were still people who hunted the caribou with bow and arrows. He has experienced a good deal that to other Eskimos is history. In spite of his age he still hunts the caribou and wolf and cuts a good figure. 

Inualujaq is another veteran; he may well be about sixty-five. He is reputed to have been one of the best runners in the mountains in his younger days. He is a quiet, pleasant man and an energetic hunter. 

The many children are like a fresh breeze blowing through this little community among the mountains. And these children are something out of the common. They are mountain children, these--with deep, wide chests and powerful limbs and aglow with vitality. At three years old they dash up the hillsides like goats, at seven they can run for a long time without getting tired. They are like animals in their sensitive alertness and swift reactions. And they are sharp. 

It is something of a marvel to find an Eskimo community in Alaska so sound and vital as this one. This is due in the first place to the people having had so little contact with civilization. While the coast Eskimos have felt the full blast of modern culture--brandy, civilized food, disease, and a view of life based on dollars--the Nunamiuts have, on the whole, escaped it. They have their mountain world to themselves. 

Venereal diseases do not exist, and I know of only one case of tuberculosis. It is also worth mentioning that there is no alcohol. Their greatest danger is the aircraft, which can introduce sicknesses which the Eskimos have little power to resist. Last year, after a plane had landed at the camp for a short time, the whole population was struck down by severe influenza. Three children and one adult died, and others only just pulled through.

There is something so good-humoured and cordial about these people that one cannot help liking them. They have an infectious humour which makes life brighter, a broad humanity with few reservations. Yet it is easy enough to put one's finger on things that jar. And there are dark spaces in their souls. Suddenly, and at times when one least expects it, some utterly primitive feeling will flash out, savage and incomprehensible. Sometimes the situation becomes such that it is better for a white man to exercise patience than to prove himself right. 

But one can say unreservedly that they are easy to live with. It is a solace to be with people who are absolutely themselves, who make no effort to assert themselves, who make it their object in life not to elbow forward, but to get some brightness out of the days as they pass. 

Transcribed by Travis Statham - from the physical book. Some passages/sentences are ommitted for sake of space and importance. 

Oct 5, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


The Nunamiuts thrive on this almost exclusively meat diet; scurvy or other diseases due to shortages of vitamins do not exist. They are, in fact, thoroughly healthy and full of vitality. They live to be quite old. I lived only on meat for nearly five years.

I am writing at the beginning of October. Now the women are going for trips up the hillsides in small parties and enjoying themselves picking berries and gossiping. They find a fair number of cranberries and whortleberries, but no great quantities. Cloudberries are scarce in the Anaktuvak Pass; there are said to be more farther north, on the tundra.

The berries are stored raw, sometimes in a washed-out caribou's stomach, and mixed with melted fat or lard. This dish is called asiun and is considered a special delicacy.

They also dig up some roots. The most sought after are maso, qunguliq (mountain sorrel), and airaq. What is collected is consumed before winter sets in. No new green food is to be had till May; then roots and the fresh shoots and inner bark of the willow are eaten. Thus, for about seven months the Nunamiuts live on an exclusively meat diet, and for the rest of the year their vegetable nourishment is very scanty.

The caribou is dealt with traditionally. Every single part of the animal is eaten except the bones and hooves. The coarse meat, which in civilization is used for joints and steaks, is the least popular. In autumn and spring it is used to a certain extent for dried meat; otherwise it is given to the dogs. The heart, liver, kidneys, stomach and its contents, small intestines with contents (if they are fat), the fat round the bowels, marrow fat from the back, the meat which is near the legs, etc., are eatn. Both adults and children are very fond of the large white tendons on the caribou's legbones; they maintain that food of this kind gives one good digestion. The head is regarded as a special delicacy; the meat, the fat behind the eyes, nerves, muzzle, palate, etc., are eaten. Finally, there are the spring delicacies--the soft, newly grown horns and the large yellowish-white grubs on the inside of the hide(those of the gadfly) and in the nostrils. The grubs are eaten alive.

The meat is often cooked, but to a large extent it is also eaten raw. The children often sit on a freshly killed caribou, cut off pieces of meat, and make a good meal. It is also common practice to serve a dish of large bones to which the innermost raw meat adheres. Dried meat and fat are always eaten raw. 

The Nunamiuts' cuisine also offers several choice delicacies. First and foremost is akutaq. To prepare this dish, fat and marrow are melted in a cooking-pot, which must not get t oo warm, meat cut fine is dropped in on the top, and then the woman uses her fist and arm as a ladle to stir it about. The result is strong and tastes very good. Akutuq has since ancient times been used on journeys as an easily made and nourishing food and is fairly often mentioned in the old legends. 

Then there is qaqisalik, caribou's brains stirred up with melted fat. A favourite dish is nirupkaq, a caribou's stomach with its contents which is left in the animal for a night and then has melted fat added to it. It has a sweetish taste which reminds one of apples. Finally, there is knuckle fat. The knuckles are crushed with a stone hammer to which a willow handle has been lashed. Then the mass is boiled til the fat flies up. The Eskimos attach great importance to the boiling's not being too hard; delicate taste. Sometimes it is mixed with blood, and then becomes a special dish called urjutilik. 

The Nunamiuts like chewing boiled resin and a kind of white clay which is found in certain rivers. Salt is hardly used at all. If an Eskimo family has acquired a little, it is used very occasionally, with roast meat. The small amount of sugar, flour, etc., which is flown in in autumn is of little significance and has, generally speaking, disappeared before the winter comes. Some Eskimos do not like sugar.

For a while coffee or tea is drunk, but these are quickly finished. Then the Eskimos fall back on their old drink, the gravy of the cooked meat.

The Nunamiuts thrive on this almost exclusively meat diet; scurvy or other diseases due to shortages of vitamins do not exist. They are, in fact, thoroughly healthy and full of vitality, so long as sicknesses are not imported by aircraft. They live to be quite old, and it is remarkable how young and active men and women remain at a considerable age. Hunters of fifty have hardly a trace of grey hair, and no one is bald. All have shining white teeth with not a single cavity. The mothers nurse their children for two or three years.

It is an interesting question whether cancer occurs among the Nunamiuts or among primitive peoples at all. On this point I dare not as a layman express an opinion, but I heard little of stomach troubles. During my stay among the Apache Indians in Arizona (1936) a doctor in the reservation told me that cancer had not been observed among the people. According to a Danish doctor, Dr. Aage Gilberg (Eskimo Doctor, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1948), cancer is never sene among the Thule Eskimos in northwestern Greenland. The matter deserves more detailed investigation; it may possibbly give certain results of assistance to cancer research.

The Indian caribou hunters I once lived with in Arctic Canada had a similar meat diet and good health. As for myself, my fare was the same as the Indians' and the Eskimos'--practically speaking, I lived only on meat for nearly five years. I felt well and in good spirits, provided I got enough fat. My digestion was good and my teeth in an excellent state. After my stay with the Nunamiuts I had not a single hole in my teeth and no tartar.

No doubt the hunters of the Ice Age, in Norway and elsewhere, lived in a similar way many thousand years ago. We are probably in the presence of what is most ancient among the traditions of primitive peoples. Taught by experience, they have arrived at a manner of living which, despite its onesideness, fully satisifies the body's requirements. The principle is to transfer almost everything that is found in the caribou to the human organism. 

It is interesting to note that the stomach and liver of animals are regular features in the diet of primitive peoples, whereas modern science has only quite recently established that these contain elements of special value to human beings. The remedy for the previously deadly pernicious anemia is obtained from them. The contents of the caribou's stomach and the newly grown horns merit a closer examination by modern methods. It is a question, for example, whether the cellulose of the moss decomposed in the caribou's stomach and thereby becomes available to the human organism. With regard to the horns, it is of interest that certain deer's horns from northeastern Manchuria have from time immemorial been a regular article of commerce in China, where they have been used as a cure for impaired virility.

Typed up by Travis Statham from physical book. This is the best quote in the entire book. 

Note: Helge Ingstad lived to be 101 (1899-2001).

Nov 1, 1949

Helge Ingstad

Nunamuit: Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


Against this background what the Nunamiuts have to tell is of interest. Paniaq says that in the past the people lived mainly on musk oxen.

The musk ox, that queer shaggy creature of prehistoric appearance, is not found in Alaska.

Some musk-ox horns have been found on the tundra north of the Brooks Mountains, and the Nunamiuts, among other things, have come upon several. A very old Eskimo at Point Barrow told me that there were no musk ox in his time nor in his father's, but that there were in his grandfather's. 

Against this background what the Nunamiuts have to tell is of interest. Paniaq says that in the past the people lived mainly on musk oxen. He also tells an old story which confirms this. He adds: "The musk oxen disappeared eastward because they were hunted so much. Old people say that when this animal has been hunted one way it continues to go in that direction."

Thus it seems that the musk ox was exterminated in Alaska about a hundred years ago. When the Eskimos came upon a herd, it was doomed. The musk ox is helpless against men; it often stands still and lets itself be slaughtered. Thus it is quite reasonable to suppose that in northern Alaska the species was wiped out in quite early times. 

Feb 15, 1950

Helge Ingstad

Nunamiut, Among Alaska's Inland Eskimos


Trapping in enclosures and hunting from the kayak were of special value to the Eskimos; they could thus obtain large quantities of meat at one stroke and provide for the future. Hunting with bows and arrows was also important, but to a lesser degree.

At another place I found the remains of a kangiraq, i.e. a large enclosure into which caribou are driven. These were usually set up on a height near a river and might be a hundred yards or more in diameter, consisting of a number of tall willow rods driven into the earth or snow. Along the inside of this enclosure snares are made of animals' skins were placed at suitable intervals and fastened to a stone or stick. There were usually several enclosures, one inside another; the maximum number was four, and then the contrivance was called a sisamailik. There were snares along each line totalling several hundreds.

The caribou found their way to the gate by following two lines of cairns which began several miles out in the open country, and which led across the river up the slope to the enclosure. Close to it there might be two snow walls. Thus a "street" was formed outside which the animals did not venture; far from the enclosure it was broad, and then gradually became narrower. 

A herd of caribou had to be driven into this "street" often from a long way off; there are stories of drives which took several days. The drivers worked together, running continually. This was child's play to them, thoroughly trained as they were.

When the caribou had at last been driven up the slope towards the enclosure, people ran up from both sides, clapping their hands, hooting, and yelling. The beasts rushed in panic throught he opening and into the inner enclosure. A number went straight into the snares; others broke through the willows into the other enclosures and were snared there. Some of the hunters sent a rain of arrows at the beasts trying to escape, while others were busy with their flint spears. There was sometimes a large bag, which was divided equally among the families participating.

The Nunamiuts used this method for capture especially in the months of February and March, for that was usually the most difficult time with caribou and it was light enough for a long drive.

Trapping in enclosures and hunting from the kayak were of special value to the Eskimos; they could thus obtain large quantities of meat at one stroke and provide for the future. Hunting with bows and arrows was also important, but to a lesser degree. 

Jan 1, 1954

Preliminary Survey of Dietary Intakes and Blood Levels of Cholesterol and the Occurrence of Cardiovascular Disease in the Eskimo.


Very little exact information is available regarding the occurrence of arteriosclerosis in Eskimos. None of the 16 Eskimos analyzed here showed any evidence of arteriosclerosis by clinical or roentgenological examination, and cardiovascular disease was extremely rare among the large number of Eskimo patients examined by the author during a two-year period in Alaska.

4. Discussion. 

Since hypertension in man has been stated to be typically associated with increased incidence and severity of atherosclerosis (Katz and Stamler, 1953), it would be of interest to compare the incidence of hypertension in Eskimos with that of Whites although the interrelationship between hypertension and atherosclerosis is by no means clear. In a survey of 104 Alaskan Eskimos the author found that both the systolic and diastolic blood pressures were lower in Eskimos than in Whites of corresponding age. Eighty per cent of the recorded systolic blood pressures were below 116 mm Hg. and no systolic blood pressure higher than 162 mm was ever recorded in our "normal" Eskimo subjects. In a series of 117 Eskimo patients, only one of the patients had systolic blood pressure above 145 mm (a 60-year old woman having a blood pressure of 200/80 mm) (Rodahl, 1954). It may be noted in this connection that Alexander (1949) found hypertension to be practically non-existent among Aleuts, and his electrocardiographic and clinical examination of 296 Aleuts, including 23 above the age of 60, revealed almost no cardiovascular disease. 

Gotman et al. (1950) have found that some hypertensives show elevated plasma concentrations of Sf 10-20 lipoproteins even if the blood cholesterol concentration is normal, although these changes in the "giant molecule" levels are not correlated with the degree of hypertension. 

Very little is known regarding the plasma lipids in Eskimos, and the plasma lipid studies in Eskimos so far reported have yielded inconsistent data. This may not be surprising when considering the wide range of conditions, dietary and otherwise, encountered in the different groups of Eskimos. Corcoran and Rabinowitch (1937) who studied two groups of Canadian Eskimos, one group subsisting on a meat diet and one group subsisting on a mixed diet, found in both groups lower concentrations of plasma lipids and of cholesterol than the normal values for Whites, and the meat group had slightly higher plasma lipid levels than the group on a mixed diet. In this connection it may be noted that serum cholesterol in Whites is decreased in severe caloric undernutrition (Keys, 1953-b). Periods of semi-starvation may occur among the Eskimos, which thus may affect the blood lipid levels. Sinclair et al. ( 1949) have reported plasma lipid findings in the Canadian Eskimos that are similar to the figures considered normal in Americans. Wilber and Levine (1950) found moderately elevated plasma lipid levels of Alaskan Eskimos. It may also be noted that Alexander (1949) found mean plasma cholesterol levels of 176-197 mg/l 00 ml in two groups of Aleuts. 

In view of the small number of Eskimos examined in the present study no definite conclusion can be drawn from this limited material. These preliminary investigations indicate, however, that while some Eskimos, such as the Nunamiuts, may have very high cholesterol intakes, the average figures for dietary cholesterol and fat for the four Eskimo groups examined are comparable to those of the average American man; their blood cholesterol levels are the same, while the Sf 12-20 lipoproteins (Gofman fraction) were lower in concentration than Whites of corresponding age. If it were convincingly demonstrated that the Eskimos in reality have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than Whites, it would appear that these findings support Gofman's postulates that the high concentration of the cholesterol-bearing protein molecules are associated with atheroclerosis. 

It should be noted, however, that very little exact information is available regarding the occurrence of arteriosclerosis in Eskimos. None of the 16 Eskimos analyzed here showed any evidence of arteriosclerosis by clinical or roentgenological examination, and cardiovascular disease was extremely rare among the large number of Eskimo patients examined by the author during a two-year period in Alaska. Similarly, Dr. Paul Haggland, who has operated on a large number of Eskimos in Alaska during the last 15 years, has never seen arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis in Eskimos (personal communications). He had the occasion to perform autopsy on one female and two male Eskimos, aged 60-65 years, and found no arteriosclerosis. Dr. Earl Albrecht, Territory Commissioner of Health, states that arteriosclerosis is rare in Eskimos, based on clinical evidence (personal communications). 

Bertelsen (1940) is, on the other hand, of the opinion that arteriosclerosis is fairly common in Greenland, particularly if one considers the average span of life for the Greenland Eskimos. Hoygaard (1941) writes with regard to the Angmagssalik Eskimos, Southeast Greenland, that "arteriosclerosis was frequently found even in persons below 40". 

Brown (1951) states with regard to the Southampton Island Eskimos and the Igloolik Eskimos: "We have found well-marked general arteriosclerosis and also coronary heart disease proved by electrocardiogram and, in one case, by post mortem. Some of the cases of coronary heart disease were in congestive failure." 

During our study of the patho-physiology of the Alaskan Eskimos from 1950 to 1952, x-rays were taken of the chest and extremities of 84 Eskimos, using a portable x-ray apparatus. All chest x-rays were taken at a distance of 180 cm; all x-rays of the limbs (left arm and left leg) were taken at a distance of 90 cm. Professor Johan Torgersen, Institute of Anatomy, Oslo University, has very kindly examined all these roentgenograms, with a particular reference to possible roentgenological evidence of arteriosclerosis and other cardiovascular abnormalities. He finds, as a typical feature of all roentgenograms examined, that the bone structure in the Eskimo is unusually massive with sharply defined, well-calcified bone lamellae. The muscle attachments are as a rule very large. The occurrence of arthritis deformans is no less frequent in these Eskimos than in Whites of similar age (:5 cases in 84 Eskimos, 51 males and 33 females, with an average age of 28 years). Four Eskimo subjects at Barter Island had cartilaginous exostoses on the tibia (fig. 2). 

From this material (see Table 5) it appears that the occurrence of roentgenological evidence of arteriosclerosis in these Eskimos is neither more nor less than what one would expect to find in Whites of similar age groups. Out of 9 Eskimos over 47 years of age, roentgenological evidence of atherosclerosis of the arch of the aorta was detected in 3 cases, 2 males and 1 female. Of the entire material one Eskimo showed calcium deposits in the arteries (see fig. 1). In one 60-year old Eskimo woman with a blood pressurc of 200/80, thcre was slight enlargemcnt of the left ventricle of the heart. It is thus evident that further studies are necessary in order to settle the question of arteriosclerosis in the Eskimo and the relation between dietary cholesterol, serum cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease ill these people.

5. Summary and Conclusions. 

The cholesterol content of some common Eskimo foods has been determined and the serum cholesterol level as well as the serum concentration of Sf 12-20 lipoproteins in 16 healthy Alaskan Eskimos are reported. On the basis of these preliminary data it appears that some Eskimos have high cholesterol intakes compared with healthy American men, but that their blood cholesterol levels are the same. On the other hand, the Sf 12-20 lipoproteins in Eskimos are lower in concentration than in Whites of corresponding age. From the available evidence it appears that the incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Alaskan Eskimos may be lower than in whites. A more complete analysis of this problem is in progress.

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