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The invention of the snow house by the Eskimo was one of the greatest triumphs over environment that man has ever accomplished.
In the Arctic Circle, it is not that people lack ability or industry, but the surroundings restrict constructive effort to the barest necessities of existence.
Agriculture is impossible all along the thousands miles of the north shore. The only wood is such as drifts in. Other than this driftwood, the only available building materials are snow, ice, stone and bones of animals. All of these have been used for dwellings and storage paces, differing in various tribes according to the requirements and skill of the workers.
The lack of necessary timbers to build walls and span wide spaces is probably one reason why these tribes construct their houses at least partly beneath the surface of the ground. This device also makes the houses more impervious to the cold. Most of us are inclined to think that the Eskimo lives always in an igloo or snow house. This is not entirely true. After the long cold winter, the family is very apt to move, when the weather permits, into a tent of sealskin. The actual construction of such tents is similar to that used by other, more southerly tribes.
The snow house, however, is an interesting and unique habitation. Out summer campers will not build with snow, but the ingeniousness of the art is worth recoding, and some of our winter camps in the mountains might try to make snow houses.
It is essential that the snow itself be of the right kind. It must be taken from a bank formed by a single storm, or the blocks will break when cut. The snow must be very fine-grained but not too hard to be cut with a snow knife.
As Point Barrow, Alaska, houses of snow are used only temporarily; for example, at the hunting grounds on the rivers. And occasionally by visitors at the village who prefer having their own quarters. These houses as not built in the dome or beehive shape. The wall are made of blocks of snow, high enough so that a person can stand up inside the rooms.