Contact between the Norse and the Aboriginal occupants of the Eastern Arctic
Posted by pwl on March 14, 2009
On January 22, 2008, in Gatineau, Quebec, the fourth in a monthly series of lectures on scientific exploration and discovery entitled “Out of the Cold: The Roy Koerner Lectures” featured Archaeologist Dr. Patricia Sutherland (Canadian Museum of Civilization). These lectures have been organized in recognition of International Polar Year and the 50th Anniversary of the Polar Continental Shelf Project. Dr. Sutherland examined the nature and extent of contact between the Norse and the Aboriginal occupants of the Eastern Arctic.
Ancient Globalization in Canada’s Arctic
Dr. Patricia Sutherland, archaeologist
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Dr. Patricia Sutherland is an archaeologist who has undertaken research throughout Arctic Canada for more than 30 years and has also collaborated on a number of international projects in Greenland. Her studies have included the Inuit and pre-Inuit occupations of the High Arctic and the Mackenzie Delta; the art and culture of the Dorset people; the Norse colonies of Greenland; and the lost Franklin Expedition. She has published and lectured widely, and has curated exhibitions on the cultures and history of Arctic Canada. Her recent research is focused on the question of Norse/Aboriginal contact in the Eastern Arctic in the centuries around 1000 A.D. She is a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America. The Explorers Club of New York has honoured her with the Lowell Thomas Award for her accomplishments in field research and scientific exploration. She has received the Canadian Museums Association’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research and the Distinguished Service Award for significant contributions in museum work. She is currently Curator of Arctic Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, director of the Helluland Archaeology Project and principal researcher for the International Polar Year (IPY) project: Inuit History, Climatic Change and Historical Connections 1000-1900 A.D.
Recent archaeological discoveries in Canada’s eastern Arctic suggest the existence of an unsuspected chapter in Canadian history. Artifacts resembling those used by Europeans of the Viking and Medieval periods have recently been recognized in several archaeological collections from Baffin Island and the adjacent region of northern Labrador. These collections are from sites occupied by the Dorset culture Palaeo-Eskimos, a distinct population that inhabited Arctic Canada before the arrival of ancestral Inuit from their Alaskan homeland. The archaeological finds suggest that the Norse, who had founded colonies in southwest Greenland, may have had a significant presence in Arctic Canada, and that interaction with Aboriginal occupants may have been more frequent, more widespread and more complex in the centuries around 1000 A.D. than has previously been believed. Current investigations, undertaken as part of the Helluland Archaeology Project, at a site on the south coast of Baffin Island indicate the possibility that the Norse may have established a shore station, most likely in order to engage in trade for ivory and furs with the local Dorset culture people. The eastward expansion of the Inuit during the twelfth or thirteenth centuries A.D. introduced a new element into Norse-Native relationships. This seems to have resulted in new patterns of contact that may have continued up to and through the arrival of sixteenth-century English explorers. Far from being marginal and isolated, as has long been assumed, the people of Arctic Canada appear to have interacted with Europeans for the past millennium.