This lost tribe of early Arctic residents made simple flaked stone tools, lived in micro-villages of two or three families, followed migrations of seals and caribou. They avoided bigger, stronger, more populated groups, such as the Thule culture that swept from Alaska to Greenland. With so few in number, they were also probably inbred.
"Dorsets were the hobbits of the eastern Arctic, a strange people that we are just getting to know," said William Fitzhugh, director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The Dorset people arrived some six thousand years ago from Northeast Asia, probably Siberia. They followed their own wave of migration, separate from the three other waves that archaeologists have until now documented.
Fitzhugh said these small tribes survived for four millennia in the harsh environment of the Arctic tundra. But eventually they became easy prey for the more powerful Thule, who are ancestors of modern-day Inuit.