Inuit Cartography


In Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), the Inuit people are known for carving portable maps out of driftwood to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which are small enough to be carried in a mitten, represent coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps are compact, buoyant, and can be read in the dark.

These three wooden maps show the journey from Sermiligaaq to Kangertittivatsiaq, on Greenland’s East Coast. The map to the right shows the islands along the coast, while the map in the middle shows the mainland and is read from one side of the block around to the other. The map to the left shows the peninsula between the Sermiligaaq and Kangertivartikajik fjords.

Source: Topografisk Atlas Grønland



  1. Seems a hole at one end with a thong through it would have made it easier to orient and harder to lose to a rogue wave. It sounds like a great mnemonic device, but only useful on dark moonless nights as long as a paddler can risk paddling very near the coast.


    • Modern charts too would be useless without being part of an integral system of navigation. I’m sure there was more to Inuit navigation techniques and dismissing them as a mere “mnemonic aid” sounds a bit overly simplistic in light of the evidence of successful sea voyages these people undertook..


  2. Very beautiful little maps that float 🙂 In “Arctic Dreams” Barry Lopez wrote about an Inuk from what is now the Kivalliq region of Nunavut who, with no prior exposure to maps, could draw an accurate topographical map of land and coastline from memory. And as one of my Arviammiut friends said – “Inuksuit are better than a GPS – never need batteries”.

    Liked by 2 people

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