It would seem that the end of the First Millennium was not only noteworthy for the establishment of the first Viking Settlements on the west coast of Greenland, it was also around this time that the Arctic Dorset peoples mysteriously disappeared and the Thule peoples simultaneously emerged to take their place. Who were the replacements? According to the prevailing view, they were whale-hunting Inuit who originated in Alaska, but moved right through the Arctic Archipelago, on into Hudson Bay, then further east and north to Baffin Island, Devon Island, the eastern coast of Ellsmere Island and ultimately reached Thule on the northwest coast of Greenland. This is in fact how the name "Thule" culture originated, largely from the researches carried out in the early 1920's by Danish archaeologist Therkel Matthiassen at both Naujan (near Repulse Bay in the Canadian Central Arctic) and the Greenland Thule site itself. But just before this, as James D. Keyser reported in INDIAN ROCK ART OF THE COLUMBIA PLATEAU (Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver 1992:127):
Between 19I9 and 1927, a heated debate appeared in the pages of the Spokane Chronicle and Spokesman Review newspapers concerning the origin of Columbia Plateau rock art. No fewer than two dozen published articles expounded the views of Professor Oluf Opsjon, who argued vigorously that the carvings and paintings were runes documenting the exploration and colonization of the Plateau by Vikings at about A.D. 1000.
[ This is an extreme location for the vikings which is curious - arclein ]
while during the Fifth Thule Expedition (1921-1924) it was established that:
The archaeological site known as Naujan (called auyat by local people) is one of the most important of its time period. Here in 1922 Therkel Matthiassen, a member of the Danish Fifth Thule Expedition, conducted the first scientific archaeological investigations in the Canadian Arctic. He excavated twelve of the twenty house ruins and defined the culture of the people who had lived in them... The ancient occupants of these shelters are known as the Thule (pronounced Too-lee) people. Ancestors of the modern Inuit, they had migrated eastward across the Canadian Arctic from Alaska about 1000 years ago. They settled at Naujan around A.D. 1200, and were hunters of the great bowhead whales. (The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center: Naujan: Repulse Bay
Twelve out of twenty house ruins? What became of the rest, and was this sort of data and that obtained from other Thule sites (e.g., Nunguvik) sufficient justification to define a new culture in the Arctic? Apparently it was, for Mathiassen's 1920's Thule-Alaskan concept was happily embraced thereafter with the Northwest Passage effectively sealed shut by the accompanying west-to-east incursions of the "Thule" peoples. Moreover, all subsequent settlements have also been explained in terms of this same Thule culture. But even so there are a number of problems with the suggested influx of Alaskan Inuit whalers into the Eastern Arctic. Firstly, Peter Schlederman (1981:594) has pointed out that the notion of Whaling as a primary Thule activity is not necessarily supported by the available evidence, at least on Ellesmere and Skraeling Islands:
Although some of our later discoveries on Skraeling Island confirm the practice of whaling, I believe that its importance has been exaggerated. Baleen and whalebone are durable items, and they were obviously reused in Thule house construction. I estimate that all the whalebone in the Bache Peninsula represents a total of no more than 30 or 40 whales. Since the Thule culture flourished on Ellesmere Island on and off for about seven centuries, whaling hardly seems to have been a mainstay of the economy. (Peter Schlederman, "Eskimo and Viking Finds in the High Arctic," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 159, No. 5, May 1981:594)
Secondly, the notion of large scale Inuit movement over such vast distances - literally thousands of miles from Alaska to Greenland - is at odds with the knowledge and experience necessary to survive in these harsh and unforgiving regions. It is not by chance that the Inuit refer to themselves in terms of a predominant activity, or people of a specific area, i.e., Netsillingmiut - "People of the Seal" as explained by Rachel Qitsualik, who lists more than 60 such groups in her Inuit Map of Nunuvut and the Northwest Territories. These specialized and localized names reinforce the realization that it is would be a major undertaking to leave a known ecological niche with well-established seasonal rounds for an entirely new one. Yet for the Alaskan Inuit to have reached the west coast of Greenland this would have to have taken place each time they moved, and in each instance there would still be the ever-present necessity of having to prepare and provide for the long arctic winters. Nor should this be confused with traditional local movements between summer and winter camps in known environments. So perhaps a few Alaskan Whale hunters moved east from time to time, but that far and in sufficient numbers to replace the Dorset peoples in the Eastern Arctic? Hardly likely. So what did happen?
MAP 1b. THE SHORT-HAUL ROUTES TO NORTH AMERICA
This is a shallow ceramic container that has been interpreted as a plate or possibly a lamp. It was found in 1971 at site HiLp-3 on Southern Indian Lake in Northern Manitoba ... These artifacts are quite distinctive and limited in distribution to Northern Manitoba where they are part of the Kame Hills Complex, an archaeological culture dated to between 250 and 1100 years ago and believed to be ancestral to the Cree people who inhabit the region today. The shallow container is decorated with the same basic elements as are found on the more numerous globular pots (for example see Exhibit Specimens 6 and 7). The upper surface of the rim is marked with a double row of punctates which raised bosses on the opposite surface. Similarly, there is a pattern on the plate made with punctates whose meaning is open to interpretation. (emphases supplied)
This is a ceramic container of a variety known as Clearwater Lake Punctate. It was found on Whitefish Island on Amisk Lake, Saskatchewan in the 1950's by Gina Sewap, of the local Cree First Nation. Its distinctive features include an encircling ring of exterior punctates which raise interior bosses, located just below an everted lip. The body of the pot is textured with cord or textile impressions. Pots of this variety are found over a wide area including parts of Eastern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. They were being made during the late prehistoric period, dated to between 250 and 1100 years ago. These ceramics are believed to be ancestral to the Cree people of that region. (emphases suppplied)
Map 2d. Pre-Industrial Era Ceramics in Manitoba (A), Saskatchewan (B), and NW Ontario
Collecting the various indicators mentioned in previous sections, even at this early stage nagging questions begin to arise--not least of all how is it that so little real progress has been made with respect to possible Viking incursions into the northern regions of the Americas. Their presence on this continent was after all recognized as long ago as the 1960's following Helge Ingstad's discovery of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. One would have surely expected a major increase in interest and concerted efforts to determine where else the Vikings may (or may not) have landed-- at least on the eastern shores of Canada, if not further inland. But unfortunately and for whatever reason, very little in the way of positive action in this regard appears to have taken place, or perhaps better stated, what has been done since that time has either been greatly minimized or largely ignored.
But in any event, once the Vikings were established on the west coast of Greenland at the end of the first millennium it is reasonable to suppose that they would have explored the potentials of the Labrador/Ungava Peninsula region quite early on. Furthermore, given the proximity to the Treeline and the availability of game, wildfowl, marine animals, etc., hunting sites--both short and long-term-- might reasonably have become small, semi-permanent settlements with or without the assistance of the local Inuit. It would therefore seem a logical step to investigate such possibilities and look for signs of passage there, if nothing more. As it happened, excavations on the west side of Ungava Bay carried out in the 1950s and 1960s by Canadian archaeologist Thomas Lee did indeed suggest a Norse presence in the region (see Map 2a and Lee's published research in the bibliography). But although Lee's investigations preceded Helge Ingstad's1961 discovery of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland and also continued parallel with it, no great interest appears to have been developed concerning the possible presence of the Norse in either northern Labrador or the Ungava region. While it cannot be said that Lee's material was suppressed per se, it hardly seems to have been entirely welcome either, and even now it appears to be largely ignored. In fact it seems likely that it would have remained that way-- detailed inclusion in James Robert Enterline's VIKING AMERICA (1972) notwithstanding--had it not been for Farley Mowat and his recent book: The Farfarers (Seal Books, Toronto,1999) which in effect made Lee's findings and conclusions available to all.
In all my years of Eskimo archaeology I had never seen anything to compare with the ruins that lay before me. Some 90 semisubterranean dwellings, the largest aggregation of old Eskimo house ruins in the Canadian Arctic, spread over a 30-acre expanse. Jumbles of stone from walls and roofs filled the sunken interiors and entrance passages of the best preserved houses. Of others, only slight depressions in the grassy terrain remained. Skulls and bones of animals eaten by the Sadlermiuts, mostly seals, caribou, and walruses, littered the ground outside the ruins. Hundreds of stone cairns and meat caches stood near the site and ranged about it for miles around. More than 100 human burials dotted the vicinity. Usually the bodies rested in carefully constructed stone vaults, but some lay on the surface with only a surrounding enclosure of stones. To excavate the site completely would have required an army of archaeologists. We would be able only to sample it, digging just enough to obtain a rounded picture of the material culture and way of life of the Sadlermiut Eskimos. (Henry B. Collins, "Vanished Mystery Men of Hudson Bay," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. CX, No. 5, November 1956:669-686, emphases supplied).
What became of the Sadlermiut of Southampton Island? The all too often tragic story of contact, disease and ultimate disaster it would seem, as Collins explains:
Victims of pestilence after pestilence, the Sadlermiuts numbered scarcely more than 70 survivors in 1896. Then, in the summer of 1902, a ship stopped to trade at Cape Low, Southampton Island. Sadlermiuts who came in contact with the crew contracted disease. Carried home to Native Point, they infected the last remnant of the Sadlermiuts. Visitors to Native Point the following winter found a scene of death. Not an Eskimo had survived. Some lay in their houses on sleeping platforms; others on the ground outside, where their dogs still ran about. In a corner of one of the stone ruins I found the tiny skeleton of an infant and imagined its last futile wailings for a mother who could no longer tend her child.("Vanished Mystery Men of Hudson Bay," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. CX, No. 5, November 1956:674).
So passed the Sadlermiut--an unusual people who spoke an unusual dialect, and also, it would seem, people who originally came from Baffin Island to the east. As for Native Point, it cannot be said that it was completely ignored either, for Dr. William E.Taylor (a Canadian archaeologist who accompanied Collins on the 1954 trip to Southampton Island) published a paper on the site under the auspices of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in1960. As Farley Mowat recounts in the FarFarers (1999:267-273, see below) Taylor subsequently took over from Thomas Lee and also worked on some of the Ungava sites, but he seems to have done did little more to investigate the suspected Norse presence there, or indeed actively support the notion. A few years later in the 1960's the same William E. Taylor also participated in the on-going excavations of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland. It seems unlikely that the subject of other Norse locations in eastern Canada did not crop up during this time, and that Taylor--who had visited both Native Point on Southampton Island and the Ungava Bay region as an archaeologist--would not have been eagerly questioned about this. Given the subsequent lack of interest in these lower arctic regions, one can only wonder what Taylor--subsequently lauded as "Canada's first professional Arctic archaeologist"--may (or may not) have said on this particular subject. But either way it seems to have done him little harm. As Farley Mowat records: "In 1967 Dr. William Taylor became director of Canada's National Museum of Man, a post he held (as director, then as director emeritus) until 1994, when he died, full of honours and distinctions." (The FarFarers, Seal Books, Toronto, 1999:273).
Several months ago, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland discovered specimens of spun yarn, as well as artifacts showing traces of unusual woodworking techniques, from the remains of the Palaeo-Eskimo settlement of Nunguvik on northern Baffin Island. She has since found similar collections of yarn and worked wood at three other Baffin Island sites over 1,000 kilometers south of Nunguvik, and what appear to be comparable specimens have also been reported from a site in northern Labrador. All of these sites were occupied by Dorset culture Palaeo-Eskimos, who inhabited the Arctic before the arrival of the Inuit beginning about a thousand years ago.
Since neither the Palaeo-Eskimos nor their immediate Inuit successors spun yarn or worked wood by sawing, nailing and morticing, the artifacts pointed to another culture. These technologies are characteristic of medieval Europe, including the Norse farming society which developed in southwestern Greenland between approximately A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1450.
Previous evidence of Norse contact with the Aboriginal peoples of Arctic Canada has been limited to fragments of metal or other artifacts that could have been obtained through brief coastal trading contacts. The material which Sutherland has discovered suggests a more extensive association by Europeans with the people of Baffin Island and adjacent regions and possibly a degree of contact which was sufficiently intense to influence the technology of the local people. Radiocarbon dates on samples of spun yarn and other specimens also suggest that a European presence in Arctic Canada may have begun earlier than previously thought. One of the first challenges of the Helluland Archaeology Project will be to assess the date of the apparent European material in the region. ("New archaeology research project explores possible early European contact in Canadian Arctic," Canadian Museum of Civilization, April 25, 2000, Hull, Quebec)
What this release fails to mention, however, is that the pieces of spun yarn and wood from Nunguvik were discovered in the 1980's and that they had been sent to the museum years ago where they remained neglected and unprocessed. It was only Sutherland's expertise gained in Greenland on one hand and her diligence in recognizing the similarities of this material when she recently came across it on the other that brought the matter to light. The positive actions that followed are encouraging, but it is difficult to agree with the first part of the release that claims: "This project has the potential to tell a chapter of Canadian and North American history that was not previously thought to exist." The statement completely downplays the discoveries of Norse items in the High Arctic made by Peter Schlederman in the 1970s (see the latter's: "Eskimo and Viking Finds in the High Arctic," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 159, No. 5, May 1981; also below) and also makes no mention of the many sites investigated by Thomas Lee in the Ungava Region alluded to earlier--the results of which have long been available (see the Bibliography below).
Nor for that matter does it acknowledge the lines of inquiry pursued in considerable detail by James Robert Enterline in his 1972 publication:VIKING AMERICA, or the latter's second thesis, that:
Leif Eiriksson's successors in Greenland eventually vacated that land and spread throughout North America, as far as Alaska, meanwhile sending to Europe geographical information that sparked Columbus' voyage." (Robert James Enterline, VIKING AMERICA The Norse Crossings and their Legacy, DoubleDay, Garden City, 1972:xviii).
No doubt these were major points of contention almost guaranteed to be opposed by champions of the status quo when the book came out. To make matters worse Enterline also included a third--the first part of the work itself, namely a possible location for Vinland on the west side of Ungava Bay. Say what one will--agree or disagree--it was a thoroughly researched, detailed approach to the subject. As indeed was the entire book--the second part of which still likely remains one of the most detailed scholarly discourses on the question of prior knowledge of the Americas by and before Columbus.
As for the Northwest Passage, Enterline also wrote in 1972 that:
With their ships, the Norsemen could in one or two summers make the voyage between Alaska and Greenland which had taken the Eskimo people centuries to accomplish. It is not really necessary to have steel-bowed supertankers with gigantic engines to sail through the Northwest Passage so long as one does have patience, understanding of ice conditions and skill in ship handling (Robert James Enterline, VIKING AMERICA The Norse Crossings and their Legacy, DoubleDay, Garden City, 1972:91).
Naturally enough, in pursuing his thesis concerning the western side of Ungava Bay Enterline paid due attention to archaeologist Thomas Lee's findings there. Furthermore, in pursuit of the suggested westward expansion of the Norse across the Canadian arctic he also covered a further contentious issue--the possibility of inter-marriage between the Norse and the Inuit, noting the controversy such suggestions had generated in the past:
A subject that goes hand in hand with the question of mutual interaction of the Norse and Eskimo cultures after a hypothetical permanent move to the central Arctic is the question of interracial mixing. Ever since Viking times the Norsemen have left their genes behind at places they visited, and the question is not one of whether or not mixing took place. Rather, the question is whether it took place to such an extent that the ultimate disappearance of the Norsemen can be attributed to their complete absorption into the Eskimo race. When two different races occupy the same territory they tend to maintain their racial separateness so long as they maintain their cultural and economic separateness. But once the different cultures have become amalgamated, many of the taboos against intermixing disappear. In 1942 Knud Fischer-Moller reported the finding in a Greenland church graveyard of two skeletons having features that prove that mixing was not unheard of even in the settlements. The political infusion of Germanic studies during the second quarter of the twentieth century may have prevented some Teutonic scholars from considering this question rationally, but before that time there were many adherents to the theory that the Norsemen had been completely absorbed into the Eskimo race. As early as 1776, an Icelandic scholar propounded the theory of racial absorption, and around the turn of the twentieth century this came to be known as the Nansen Theory. The trouble with this theory was that it was based primarily upon inductive speculation rather than upon much explicit evidence. Then in the early 1900s a discovery by the adventurer Klengenberg and investigations by the anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson brought to light the apparent presence of European genes among a small group of Eskimos who had previously been isolated from all contact with modern white man. This tribe, known as the Haneragmiut, lived at the heart of the region I have just been discussing, in southwest Victoria Island. Entries in Stefansson's diary include descriptions such as:
' There are three men here whose beards are almost the color of mine, and who look like typical Scandinavians . . . men with abundant three-inch-long beards...The faces and proportions of the body remind of "stocky," sunburned, but naturally fair Scandinavians ...One woman, of twenty, has the delicate features one sees in some Scandinavian girls, and that I have seen in only one of the half-white girls to the westward (Mackenzie River), and in her to a less degree than here.'
That such copy would be overplayed by newspapers is completely understandable, and these people were immediately dubbed the "Blond" Eskimos. Soon Stefansson was being confronted with accusations of fraud no less vehement than those that met Stanley when he announced his finding of Livingston. Even Stefansson's professional stature as an anthropologist was brought into question when a specialist in ethnology on a later expedition, Jenness, was apparently unable to locate this tribe. Furthermore, Jenness tried to explain any such characteristics which might exist as pathological deformities, and noted the absence of any European skeletal features. The controversy then quickly escalated when Jenness' own scientific method as well as the accuracy of his observational reports were called into question.
Certainly to use Stefansson's observations as an argument for the ultimate absorption of the Norsemen into the Eskimos is, in any case, going too far, for there is not available any dependable knowledge of the relative population levels of either the Norsemen or the Eskimos at the time. Even to use the "Blond" Eskimos as an argument for the very presence of Norsemen in the central Arctic is going too far without more agreement among anthropologists. The entire subject of Eskimo anthropology is a highly factionalized and controversial one, and a not-too-out-of-date survey of the relevant literature has been given by Maksim Levin. In any case, modern studies of genetic drift make it clear that one must hesitate about jumping to conclusions when dealing with such small populations. (James Robert Enterline, VIKING AMERICA, Garden City, 1972:135-138; emphases supplied).
Enterline's ameliorating closure notwithstanding, the critics still seem to have had their way, with the subject rarely broached or even acknowledged up to the present day. Perhaps it is still a polarized issue, but even if Stefansson's original material is bought into question it remains difficult to dismiss the reports of atypical (if not European) featured Inuit encountered by many early arctic explorers. This aspect was in fact well exemplified by Major General A.W. Greely in a 1912 paper entitled: "Stefansson's Blond Eskimos" (National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XXIII, No.12 December 1912:1225-1238). The title may have been a trifle unfortunate, but the quotations themselves seem stark enough, and it is hard to imagine that the principal recorders--many of whom left their names across the Canadian Arctic--would have had any reason to be untruthful about what they saw and recorded; e.g.,
1821 Sir Edward Parry on the shores of Lyon Inlet
1821 Dr. Alexander Fisher, surgeon of Parry's expedition
1824 Capt. G. F. Lyon, near Cape Pembroke, Southampton Island.
1833 Capt. John Ross in his journey to Back River.
1821 Sir John Franklin, near the mouth of the Coppermine River.
1837 Thomas Simpson, west of the Mackenzie River.
1838 John Dease on the lower Coppermine River.
1838 Thomas Simpson near the mouth of the Coppermine River.
1848 Dr. Richardson during his "boat journey through Rupert Land."
1849 Dr. John Rae.
1825-1827 Sir John Franklin in the Cape Bathurst region.
1851-1852 Capt. R. Collinson, in Walker Bay, Prince Albert Sound.
1865 Pere Emile Petitot, Cape Bathurst.
1868 Pere Emile Petitot, Fort MacPherson (on the Peel River).
Dr. Alexander Armstrong, surgeon of McClure's ship Investigator, who found that:
"the Eskimo of Wollaston land were living under the same conditions as when visited by Stefansson."
Noteworthy here are the references to Coppermine and Prince Albert Sound, i.e., those regions originally associated with Stefansson's "Blonde Eskimos" as shown below in Map 5a-- a wide range of locations that extends from the east coast of Greenland, through the Northwest Passage and Canadian Arctic Archipelago almost as far West as the Yukon coast:
Map 5a. The Distribution of the Blond Eskimo (after Greely 1912)
In November of 1913, two Oblate priests, Jean-Baptiste Rouvière and Guillaume LeRoux, were murdered by Inuit near Coppermine. The crime, caused by misunderstanding on the part of the Inuit and insensitivity on the part of the priests, was investigated and two Inuit were taken to Edmonton in 1917 for trial. They were sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Resolution, but were released in 1919. An inevitable result of this case was the establishment of new police posts and the undertaking of regular patrols in the region.
No necessarily invited guests, it would seem, which makes one wonder about the reception of the first priest to visit the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island (the suggested location for Vinland in the present hypothesis). He too, it seems, outstayed his welcome, though not quite so forcibly in this case:
It is uncertain where or when the first Europeans set foot in the Cowichan Valley. The first recorded presence was that of Reverend Father Honoré-Timothée Lempfrit, a Roman Catholic missionary who arrived at the mouth of the Cowichan River in 1850... Although he was probably encouraged to travel to the region at the invitation of Chief Tsulchamet, by May 1852 he ran into difficulties with the Cowichan First Nation and was ultimately driven from the valley... The cause of Father Lempfrit's problem has never been fully discovered, but it was serious enough that James Douglas upon hearing from the Cowichan themselves immediately ordered a canoe sent to retrieve the priest. Douglas later felt compelled to discourage "the hasty zeal of the Roman Catholic Missionaries" in Cowichan traditional lands. (Daniel P. Marshall, THOSE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY: A History of the Cowichan Peoples, Rainshadow Press, Duncan, 1999:96-97).
Unfortunately, in the Pacific Northwest the tide of "progress" washed in more and more outsiders, and with them came the inevitable contagious diseases from which the local populations had little or no immunity. The result was the 1862-63 smallpox epidemic in British Columbia, which started after a ship from San Francisco docked at Victoria, British Columbia in March 1862 (Marshall, 1999:123). Although the fatality rate in the province was reportedly as high as 62 percent, losses among Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands were far worse, for they were to receive a double visitation. A 1999 television program on Nan Sdins Park by the Historylands series described what took place there during the last month of 1863:
Trade with the White Man may have brought greater prosperity, but it also brought diseases--measles, diphtheria, cholera and chicken pox. The true devastation was still too come--the introduction of smallpox into the community was documented by Francis Poole, a miner at SkinCuddle Inlet:
"December 1863. At New Aberdeen we had compassionately taken a European on board as a passenger via the Queen Charlottes to Victoria. As ill-luck would have it, what should he do but fall sick of smallpox some days before we arrived at the coppermine. I entered a vehement protest against his being put on shore, knowing only too well the certain consequences. Scarce had the sick man landed when the Indians again caught it, and in a very short space of time, some of our best friends of the Nan Sdins had disappeared forever."
Over ninety per cent of the population died. The prosperous village was decimated to the point that it was no longer viable as a permanent settlement. By 1884 there were only thirty former inhabitants encamped there."
Further south the Coast Salish were among those who gained a measure of protection by way of vaccines during the1862-63 outbreak, but even so it seems that there were some already willing to consign them to past history, as Daniel P. Marshall reports:
An examination of the "Committee on Public Expenditure" Report, 3 May 1864, reveals that $9700 had been budgeted in 1863 and 1864 for the express purpose of extinguishing First Nations' claims to the Cowichan, Chemainus, and Saltspring Island Districts, monies that were never spent. One suspects that with the full impact of the 1862 smallpox epidemic having taken its terrifying toll on the Cowichan Nation, the colonial government held back these funds, perhaps believing that they were witnessing the end of the people. A British Colonist article from 1866 lends credence to this commonly held Hwunitum' view of the time.
The grasping avarice of the white man and the seizure of Indian lands has been the cause of internal wars and troubles in other countries and may perchance be the same in this. Should such happen, where would be the advantage of the supposed white settlement upon this coveted land? ... The Indian lands must be kept for the Indians, and the Government should, by every means in its power, induce them to cultivate their patches... who begrudge them a few acres for his necessities? It is probably true that the race is destined to disappear, not so much from its own fault as the vices that have been brought into it by the 'chosen people;' but for heaven's sake let us not make the years they have to live those of misery, or inductive of revenge, but seek to assuage the troubles, so as to enable the last man to sit down by the placid stream of the Cowichan, and sing of his ancestors, lament the loss of the tribe, but at the same time say, God's will be done! (Source: Daniel P. Marshall. THOSE WHO FELL FROM THE SKY: A History of the Cowichan Peoples, Rainshadow Press, Duncan, 1999:116).
Home truths and fine sentiments, though patronizing, but as for the last line--God's will be done? In this appalling context? Small wonder that Alexander von Humbolt, on witnessing a South American slave market condoned by European priests in 1800 should observe: "Religion is able to comfort people for wrongs performed in its name" (Smith, 1990:230). And little wonder again, that most who have read the various journals of "Conquest" in the "New World" can feel anything but abject shame and horror at the atrocities inflicted time and time again against innocent peoples. Peoples whose only crimes were that they held different beliefs and occupied rich territories desired by those who arrived with superior weapons, self-justifying dogmas and scarcely a shred of human decency among them. At which point it seems relevant to return to the question at hand, i.e., why the Greenland Vikings departed when they did, where they might have gone and what they may have attempted to accomplish in doing so.
In view of the understanding that the Vikings often merged themselves into the various cultures they encountered, one might suspect that the move may have been motivated at least in part by an awareness of the growing instability and changes that were about to be unleashed across the World. Instability that in some instances became a form of insanity that perhaps reached its peak with the atrocities of the Spanish Inquisition, the burning alive of the likes of Giordano Bruno in Europe, and the annihilation of entire cultures in the Americas.
Returning to the Vinland issue, for the reasons stated earlier and those that follow here I do not intend to give a blow-by-blow account of the Viking Sagas or their attested variants, nor do I intend to dispute in depth other interpretations of them or the suggested locations for Helluland, Markland and Vinland. Instead I have adopted the view that if a duality existed in the case of Helluland that it may have been more than mere poetic licence and that the duality was likely far more extensive in addition. The concept of duality does not originate here, it was in fact discussed by Joseph Fischer some years ago in an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia entitled: PRE-COLUMBIAN DISCOVERY OF AMERICA :
History is silent as to later voyages to Helluland, but the role played by the Land of Stone is all the more important in legend and song, in which its situation changes at will. The Helluland of history lay to the south of western Greenland, but the poetic Helluland was located in northeast Greenland. To reconcile both views, Bjorn of Skardza devised his theory of two Hellulands, the greater in northeastern Greenland, and the smaller to the southwest of Greenland. Rafn arbitrarily located greater Helluland in Labrador, and the lesser island in Newfoundland. (Joseph Fischer: Pre-Columbian Discovery of America, transcribed by Michael Donahue; emphases added).
The last two allocations notwithstanding, the notion of duality provides a functional fit for the present hypothesis, particularly the Helluland located "to the southwest of Greenland" when it is understood that "Greenland" is North America and that it is the West Coast of North America that is under consideration. Thus it is suggested that a true duality may well have existed throughout to protect and preserve those Vikings who had left Greenland in defiance of the Church. Or alternatively, that the confusion was injected by the Church itself to mask the reality of the Vikings' deeds and the scope of their endevours. But either way, there are names that are indicative or descriptive, names that commemorate events, and some that honour groups and individuals. But now and again there are names that simply do not fit at all, such as "Greenland."
Green? This large island is more than ninety-five percent snow and ice at the best of times. In fact only Antarctica is less deserving of the description. But so what. This is the name that has come down to us, and that's all there is to say about the matter. Or is it? From a purely historical viewpoint perhaps so, but when it comes to the Norse Sagas the suitability of the names assumes critical importance.
In the Sagas, (whether singular places or "lands") it is the salient features that provide the names, and unequivocally so. Thus, for example, the traditional Viking lands: Helluland or "Flat-Rock" land after a place noteworthy for flat rocks, Markland noteworthy for forests and timber, and Vinland for grapes and/or vines. To which may also be added Bear Island(s) equally noteworthy for bears. Whither "Greenland" then? Or more pertinently, what should it have been called in keeping with the above? But then again is "Ice" really the salient feature of Iceland, or is there something else available that describes it just as well, if not better? How about Fireland ? as John Stefansson pointed out in 1907, noting that:
It is as rational to call this Iceland as it is to call an ice-sheet measuring several hundred thousand square miles Greenland...
Iceland is the centre of a sub-ocean volcanic region, and no region of Earth has an equal title to be called the "Land of Fire."
Thus based on salient features:
(John Stefansson, "The Land of Fire," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No 11, Nov 1907:741-742.)
Modern Iceland becomes "Fireland," as befits it.and green the latter it assuredly is in many locations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, with this configuration Helluland, Markland and Vinland still lie to the west of "Greenland," as do the "Bear" islands, "Wonder Beaches," "Keelness," the mild climate and all the fauna and flora referred to in the Sagas, including the salmon, halibut, whales, timber, wild wheat, and not least of all, the grapes representative of Vinland itself--to be precise, the Oregon-grape, specifically, Tall Mahonia (Mahonia aquifolium ) that still grows in the Cowichan Valley in the southwest corner of Vancouver Island--where the Cowichan Lake region is: "the Warm country," or, "land warmed by the sun." (G.P.V and Helen Akrigg, British Columbia Places Names, 3rd. Edition, UBC Press, Vancouver, 1997:54)
Modern Greenland becomes "Iceland," as befits it.
Modern North America becomes "Greenland," as befits it.
Difficult to catch even in Greenland, gyrfalcons were worth a fortune by the time they reached Europe; the Duke of Burgundy is said to have ransomed his son from the Saracens as late as 1396 for twelve Greenland falcons. In 1276, just when Archbishop Jon was fine-tuning his laments, the Norwegian king sent the English king a princely gift of three white and eight grey gyrfalcons, a large number of ermine pelts, and a complete whale's head with all the baleen still attached. In the spring if 1315, Edward II of England sent a man to Norway to buy falcons and hawks--hardly a sign that these birds were now a glut on the market.
On the contrary, by 1337 gyrfalcons had grown in such short supply that Bishop Hakon of Bergen was obliged to write to King Magnus that he had not been able to obtain for either white or grey falcons from an unnamed "Scottish page," and the situation was no better three years later. When the Bergen Bishop wrote in November of 1340 to report to King Magnus about tax collections, he noted that Raimundo de Lamena, who was supposed to receive falcons in payment for apothecary goods, had not been able to get more than two or three birds from the royal palace in Bergen. These incidents strongly suggest that both white and grey gyrfalcons, which had been a prized Greenland export since the beginning of the settlement, were valuable as ever in the second quarter of the fourteenth century. If anything, there was a shortage of supply. (Kirsten Seaver, The Frozen Echo, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1996:82.)
That "Greenland" Gyrfalcons appear to have been a high demand, low availability item seems indisputable, yet invoking the "Greenland Duality" it is a simple matter to find a likely source, one that naturally enough is located on the "green land" that is North America. Nor is it a matter of scouring maps either, the answer is clearly indicated in archaeologist Thomas Lee's neglected work concerning Norse indicators on Ungava Peninsula, namely his: "Archaeological findings, Gyrfalcon to Eider Islands, Ungava 1968." (Centre d'études nordiques, Université Laval, Travaux divers, No 27 1969).
But what of the initial long haul from modern Greenland through the Northwest Passage itself? Would there or should there be any mention in the Sagas of this lengthy and hazardous journey--one that would take all summer and at times necessitate wintering in the arctic regions with all its hardships and privations? Had any obvious references been included in the Sagas the matter would have been understood long ago, but nevertheless, with due reservations concerning the contents of the Sagas outlined in the Introduction, consider the following passage from the Sagas that concerns a voyage from "Iceland" to "Greenland" that apparently took an entire summer to complete:
I plan to fall back on the promise of my friend Eirik the Red, which he made when we parted from each other in Breidafjord, and if things go as I would have them, I mean to go to Greenland this summer.'... Thirty men decided to undertake this voyage with him ... In due course they put to sea. As they set off the weather was fine, but once they were out at sea the good wind dropped; they were caught in a great storm, and made slow progress the whole summer through. Next sickness broke out in their company, and Orm died, as did Halldis his wife, and half their ship's company. A big sea got up, and they suffered great hardship and misery of all kinds, yet with it all reached Herjolfsnes in Greenland right at the start of winter. (Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1964; emphases supplied)Place names cause difficulty here, though that is to be expected now; but in any case, what other voyages--inclement weather notwithstanding--could possibly last the whole summer through? And then again, what might be expected if an unscheduled wintering-over in the Arctic might have taken place--perhaps a function of late-arrival caused by unusual ice conditions and/or adverse weather? Even if one was familiar with the requirements for wintering-over in the northern regions late-arrival would pose great problems, not only in terms of game and seal-oil, but also the stockpiling of fish that although plentiful in mid and early summer, might still not be readily available later in the season. Nor for that matter are all regions of the arctic necessarily plentiful even in summer--a situation exacerbated by the need for ships in transit to proceed on schedule -- hence, perhaps the slow progress and the sickness that accounted for half the ship's company mentioned above.
Next, the Greenland Duality may also be applied to the initial settlement in Greenland itself, i.e., as quoted in the Introduction, the reference to "the open sea" notwithstanding :
This expedition set out in the year 986 (or possibly 985), and its leader was Eirik the Red. He had originally come to Iceland from Norway but had been declared an outlaw in his new country, whereupon he had sailed his ship westward across the open ocean in order to seek a land which other sailors had barely glimpsed. He became the actual discoverer of Greenland, and he spent three whole years exploring its south-western coasts. Following his return to Iceland he took the initiative in organizing this large expedition and assumed leadership of the pioneers who were to colonize the new land. He must indeed have been a remarkable man. The voyage was a hazardous one, through the drift-ice and the stormy seas along the coasts of Greenland. Fourteen ships arrived at last in the south-western part of the island; the rest were either shipwrecked or forced to turn back. The newcomers settled along strips of land in the shadow of the great inland glacier and prepared for a new life.(Helge Ingstad, WESTWARD TO VINLAND: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America, (translated from Norwegian by Erik J. Friis) Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1969:15; emphases supplied)Here once more the information can be understood in terms of the Greenland duality; the first three years referring to the initial exploration of the "south-western coasts" of the Pacific Northwest from a base perhaps located between Kodiak Island and Yakutat Bay. Secondly, the dangers and difficulties of the Northwest Passage itself, i.e.,
The voyage was a hazardous one, through the drift-ice and the stormy seas along the coasts of Greenland. Fourteen ships arrived at last in the south-western part of the island; the rest were either shipwrecked or forced to turn back.(Helge Ingstad 1969:15)And thirdly, an eventual "Western" settlement on the southern coast of Alaska, i.e., "in the south-western part," perhaps at Yakutat, or Icy Bay with its nearby glaciers.
THE GREENLAND DUALITY II
EASTWARD TO GREENLAND AND VINLAND
In view of the complexities associated with the Greenland Duality it may be useful to consider next the implications of a possible eastern route to "Greenland" and the Pacific Northwest. In short, instead of voyaging westwards through the Northwest Passage, consider now an alternative passage from Norway that is largely and essentially an "overland" trip to the east, i.e.,
"A brief description of the world preserved in a manuscript from about 1300 (A.M. 736 I, 41o) contains the following paragraph:
tribute to the king of Russia. From Permia there is uninhabited land stretching all the way to the north until Greenland begins. To the
south of Greenland lies Helluland and Markland; and from there it is not far to Vinland, which some people think extends from Africa . . .33
Different versions of this geographic sketch are contained in a few other manuscripts. The date of the original version is not known, but the geographic concepts it reflects can be traced back to the Commonwealth Period. The description of a circular and unbroken land mass extending from Bjarmaland (Permia) to Greenland, and south from there to Africa, is the chief characteristic of these accounts. The earliest source in which this feature may be quite clearly detected is Historia Norwegiae, and as a whole its underlying concept is based on amazingly extensive knowledge of geography, even though in places it is tinged with superstition. The idea of lands extending from Greenland to Russia may imply previously obtained information about Spitsbergen and Novaja Zemlja. The southern edge of the polar icefield is only a short distance away from these lands and, in part, may have given rise to the idea of a continuous land mass in these regions. 33 Grønlands historiske Mindesmaerker. III, pp. 216-218; Alfraeði Islenzk. I, p. 12.
(Jón Jóhannessen, Íslendinga Saga: A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth. Trans. Harald Bessason, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg 1974:104-5; emphases supplied).
B. Arthur Middleton Reeves
"Somewhat similar in character to the above notices is the brief reference written in the vellum fragment contained in AM. 764, 4to.
This fragment comprises a so-called ' totius orbis brevis descriptio,' written probably about the year 1400. Upon the second page of this ' brief description' is the passage:
South from Greenland lies Helluland, then Markland. Thence it is not far to Wineland....'
(Arthur Middleton Reeves, The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America. Burt Franklin, New York 1895: 17; emphases supplied)
MAP 1e. EASTWARDS TO GREENLAND AND VINLAND
But either way, after we reach "Greenland" we find ourselves--if not on familiar ground per se--then at least on a familiar route described by familiar phrases, for Nicholas, Abbot of Thingeyre's:
B. Arthur Middleton Reeves: "South from Greenland lies Helluland, then Markland. Thence it is not far to Wineland."
In other words, proceeding northwards from Norway, then basically eastwards via Finland and Russia, the "overland" route (shown on Map 1e adjacent to the Arctic Circle for simplicity) readily terminates at the Bering Straits. Once across the latter and on to the "Western Greenland" region (Icy Bay--Hanes Alaska, perhaps) we again reach the starting point for the voyages south to Helluland, Markland and Vinland. Thus, (theoretically at least) we have "arrived" in the Pacific Northwest en route to the same western Viking lands as before, but this time from the east.
Those who wish to reject the notion of duality applied here to Iceland, Greenland, and the traditional Viking lands mentioned in the Sagas are of course free to do so. However, they should at least be aware that the western hypothesis provides a far superior selection of locations and technical data, so much in fact that a distinct location of Vinland can be readily deduced in this context. Moreover, where eastern interpretations of the Viking sagas are at their weakest, e.g., in terms of bears, mountains and wild grapes, etc., the corresponding elements cause no difficulties whatsoever in the Pacific Northwest.
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Copyright © 1999. John N. Harris, M.A.(CMNS). Last Updated on February 7, 2004. Links updated on March 27, 2009.