What is an inukshuk?

You might come across sizable rock formations that tower over the surrounding scenery if you travel through northern Canada, Alaska, or even Greenland. But what are these enormous piles of rock, and what do they signify? 

An inukshuk is a stone structure that the Inuit traditionally erected. The word inukshuk, which was originally spelled inuksuk, means “to act in the capacity of a human.” Inuksuit were thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon by historians, but evidence suggests otherwise. On Canada’s Baffin Island, there are formations that date as far back as 2400–1800 BCE.

To learn more about inukshuk, read on. 

Symbolic Meanings behind Inukshuk 

Inuksuit were essential for navigating the area because it is a vast, desolate area where much of the landscape is similar. If an area was icy or unsafe, the presence of an inukshuk could serve as a warning sign, serve as a food source (such as a food cache or a good fishing spot), or act as a coordinate for travelers. Additionally, Inuksuit were used to herd and hunt caribou or reindeers. While male hunters waited behind them with bows and arrows, women and children would chase the animals in the direction of the rock piles. Additionally, Inuksuit served more symbolic functions.

An inukshuk may be built to mark a special location or to remember a loved one who has passed away. Inuksuit were constructed in a variety of sizes and shapes and had a variety of meanings. For instance, inuksummarik formations were used as navigational landmarks because they were typically much larger than most inuksuit. A style known as tikkuuti, in contrast, was constructed as a directional marker and frequently included triangular-shaped rocks lined up all along the ground. The inunnguaq, or large human-shaped inukshuk formations, are the most well-known and have a tendency to be more symbolic.

Inukshuk in mountains 

inukshuk on mountain

Inuksuit are fundamental to Inuit culture 

Inuit culture is permeated with Inuksuit, which are frequently depicted alongside images of Canada and the North. A person-shaped inuksuk is known as an inunnguat or inunnguaq, which means to act in the role of a human in inuktitut, an indigenous language spoken in the Canadian Arctic.

Inukshuk vs. Inunnguaq 

Let’s get this settled right away. Frequently, what we call an “inukshuk” is actually referred to as an “inunnguaq.” An inunnguaq, which means “imitation of a person,” is a stone sculpture with spiritual significance and practices associated with it. It is shaped to resemble a body or a person. An inukshuk, which is defined as “that which acts in the capacity of a human,” is more of a general vertical rock mound that serves as a landmark or compass on a hillside.

Inuksuit are modes of communication

Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada are the primary places where you can find inuksuit. These locations are all located north of the Arctic Circle in an area with few natural landmarks that is dominated by the tundra biome. In the past, the Inuit built inuksuit to communicate with people all over the Arctic. Since everything can appear the same in the snow, they are used for navigation. Inuksuit are also used as signposts to indicate good hunting and fishing spots as well as to mark sacred locations.

Inukshuk balance on each other

Inuksuit is made by stacking stones that fit together well, without the use of glue or cement. Each stone supports the one above and below it as they balance on top of one another to remain upright. There are both large and small inuksuit, and since any stone can be used, each one is distinctive, just like a snowflake.

One cannot destroy an inukshuk 

Inuit culture forbids the destruction of inukshuks because many Inuit believe that their ancestors built them. For instance, Inuksullarik, an ancient inukshuk fused with black lichen, is located on southwest Baffin Island. The Inuit think the Tuniit built it. A legendary race from Inuit mythology is the Tuniit.

Inukshuk’s Nickname 

Arctic Stonehenge is a popular nickname for the Inukshuk Point. At Inuksuk Point on Baffin Island in Nunavut, northern Canada, there are 100 inuksuit. Since 1969, Inuksuk Point has been a recognized National Historic Site of Canada. It is known as the Arctic Stonehenge because of all the stone buildings there. One of the most amazing ancient sites in the eastern Arctic, it is also one of the most enigmatic.

Emblem of cultural pride

The inukshuk continues to be a prominent symbol of Inuit heritage and Canadian pride even though the Inuit today embrace modern lifestyles. One is depicted on the flag of Nunavut, a territory of Canada. A sizable inukshuk statue can be found at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, as well as Pearson International Airport in Toronto. An inunnguaq served as the source of inspiration for the Vancouver Winter Olympics’ official logo in 2010. Inuksuit had numerous uses. They once served as a reminder to travelers that they weren’t alone and that someone had once stood where they were. It is understandable that people would continue to be in awe of these ancient creations given their potent impact.

Inuksuit in Pop Culture 

Inuksuit are still used as a cultural symbol by the Inuit today, and you can see them everywhere. For instance, a red inuksuk can be seen on Nunavut’s flag and coat of arms. The 1996 album Test for Echo’s cover art featured an inuksuk by the Canadian rock group Rush, and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics’ logo features an inukshuk.


Inukshuks were used to mark important locations and historical sites and served as a means of communication, navigation, and survival. They are most frequently found in Alaska, Greenland, and Canada, and are the Inuit people’s national symbol in those countries. It is forbidden or bad luck in Inuit culture to destroy one. Next time you see these stone structures, you know its background and cultural significance.