Eskimo , a general term used to refer to a number of groups inhabiting the coastline from the Bering Sea to Greenland and the Chukchi Peninsula in NE Siberia. A number of distinct groups, based on differences in patterns of resource exploitation, are commonly identified, including Siberian, St. Lawrence Island, Nunivak, Chugach, Nunamiut, North Alaskan, Mackenzie, Copper, Caribou, Netsilik, Iglulik, Baffinland, Labrador, Coastal Labrador, Polar, and East and West Greenland. Since the 1970s Eskimo groups in Canada and Greenland rejected Eskimo as offensive and used the name Inuit, although the term has not taken hold in Alaska or Siberia.
In spite of regional differences, Eskimo groups are relatively uniform in language, physical type, and culture, and, as a group, are distinct in these traits from all neighbors. They speak dialects of the same language, Eskimo, which is a major branch of the Eskimo-Aleut family of languages. Their antiquity is unknown, but genetic testing of ancient human remains in North America that they are relatively recent migrants to the Americas from NE Asia, spreading from west to east beginning about 1,000 years. By about 1300 a.d. their ancestors, known as the Thule culture, had displaced the earlier inhabitants of North American Arctic. The earlier inhabitants, known as Paleo-Eskimos but genetically unrelated to to modern Eskimos, had first migrated into North America 6,000 years ago.
Sections in this article:
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Peoples (except New World)