During the early contact period each society had a distinctive settlement pattern, but the several forms can be grouped into two broad categories, a whaling pattern and a nonwhaling pattern. In the former, relatively large villages were located at Point Hope, Icy Cape, Ukpiarvik, and Point Barrow, places where spring ice conditions favored hunting the bowhead whale. Smaller satellite villages were distributed along the coast and on the lower reaches of rivers elsewhere within the societal territory. In both types of settlement, the semisubterranean sod house was the sole type of dwelling. After the conclusion of whaling, in June, the inhabitants of these villages dispersed to spring seal-hunting camps scattered along the coast. After the sea ice left in late June or early July, they dispersed even more widely to hunt caribou and fish along the rivers or to trade at one of the annual trade fairs. These travels usually concluded in late August or early September, at which time people returned to their winter villages.
The nonwhaling settlement pattern was characterized by the autumn dispersal of the population in small villages, Primarily along rivers, but in a few cases along the coast or around lakes. These villages were usually located in areas likely to be visited by caribou, but at specific sites that were particularly well suited for fishing; in a few instances, they were at good fall seal-hunting locations. Houses in these settlements were constructed of wooden frames covered by one of a variety of materials: sod, moss, or a tarpaulin made of skins. As the winter progressed, people stayed in their fall settlements if food supplies lasted, but they usually had to move around eventually in search of game. In the spring, there was a fair amount of variation. In some societies, people moved to the coast to hunt seals; in others, they moved to lakes and sloughs to hunt muskrats and migratory waterfowl and/or to fish. After the river ice broke up, the members of several societies moved to the coast to trade, hunt sea mammals, and fish, but the members of several others remained inland to fish and to hunt caribou. In all areas summer was a time of movement during which people lived in tents. The two patterns persisted into the twentieth century, but the native Population gradually became more sedentary, especially after the end of the reindeer herding and trapping era.