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The Medieval Norse on Baffin Island

Christian Krohg, Leiv Eriksson oppdager Amerika (Leif Eriksson Discovers America), 1893

Christian Krohg, Leiv Eriksson oppdager Amerika (Leif Eriksson Discovers America), 1893

2,106 words

Thanks to the sagas, it has long been known that Vikings reached the North American continent about 1000 AD. But not until the 1960s did archaeological evidence emerge in Newfoundland, Canada to corroborate the written accounts. Until recently, that site provided the only archeological substantiation of the Viking presence, apart from a few Norse artifacts obtained from scattered Eskimo and Indian excavations.

But in October 2012, after 13 years of field research, Canadian archaeologist Patricia Sutherland, 63, presented findings at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John’s, Canada suggesting the presence of a second Viking outpost, on Baffin Island, part of a former Norse region known as Helluland.

Scandinavian Expansions

Prior to 1945, Scandinavia experienced three large population expansions resulting in major out-migrations.

The first caused the Goth migration from Sweden to Germany in the last century BC and the first two centuries AD. The subsequent fall of Rome relieved population pressures throughout the Teutonic world.

A second baby boom led to the spectacular Viking expansions of 800-1100 AD, almost unimaginable in terms of their geographic scope. Exploration, piracy, plunder, warfare, trade, conquest, and settlement were all integral to this vast out-migration.

Swedes, known as East Vikings, Varangians, and Rus, sailed east across the Baltic and the great continental network of Russian rivers to the Caspian and Black Seas, which they also crossed. They established the first Russian states, Novgorod and Kiev, and commanded and staffed the Eastern Roman Empire’s Varangian Guard, described by William Pierce as “an elite military unit composed entirely of Vikings, the Schutzstaffel [SS] of its day.”

Danes swept across England and south over the European continent, including France, the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and Asia Minor. As in Russia, the shallow draft of their ships, the most sophisticated seagoing vessels of the day, enabled them to penetrate far inland—in France, as far as Paris.

To the north and west, Norwegians traveled to the limits of the known world, high above the Arctic Circle from the White Sea in Russia to the edge of the great ice, to Iceland and, on a different continent, Greenland and Canada.

Such was the general directional thrust, though in reality it was more complex.

For example, King Harald’s Saga, part of Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (1230), narrated a legendary Norwegian, not Swedish, leader’s expedition to the East, his marriage to a Rus princess, command of the Varangian Guard, brilliant exploits in Constantinople, Syria, and Sicily, his skaldic achievements as a poet, and his battles in England against Harold Godwinson. The saga king fell at Stamford Bridge in 1066, just a few days before Godwinson himself died at the Battle of Hastings in an attempt to fend off another warrior of Viking descent, William the Conqueror.

Finally, between 1815 and 1939 Scandinavian overpopulation created a net outflow of 2.75 million Norse to the New World—1.25 million Swedes, 850,000 Norwegians, 350,000 Danes, and 250,000 Finns. Relative to size, Norway’s contribution was the largest.

Iceland and Greenland

Iceland, a small island just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic, was settled by the Norse c. 850-875 AD. It lies 570 miles west of Norway, but only 155 miles southeast of Greenland, which in turn is adjacent to Canada.

Until recently the population of Iceland was extremely homogeneous, being almost entirely of Scandinavian and Celtic descent. The Icelandic language remains nearer to the Old Norse of Iceland’s original Viking settlers than it does to other Scandinavian languages. Old Norse literature attained its greatest flowering in Iceland between 1000 and 1350 AD.

The medieval Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) describes in considerable detail the settlement of Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Greenland, the largest island in the world, lies mostly north of the Arctic Circle and is separated from Canada on the west by Davis Strait and Baffin Bay and Iceland on the east by the Denmark Strait. There are numerous islands along its coast, which is deeply indented by fjords. Eighty-five percent of its total area is ice cap.

The island was discovered and settled about 982 AD by outlaw Norwegian chieftain Eric the Red, father of famed Icelandic-born explorer Leif Ericsson. Greenland was uninhabited at the time of the Norwegians’ arrival—the Eskimos did not migrate to the island until more than 200 years later, c. 1200 AD.

In the 1200s the island fell under Norwegian and, subsequently Danish, rule. The colonists mysteriously disappeared around 1435, possibly due to a climate change known as the Little Ice Age. Archaeological remains and written records indicate malnourishment among the dwindling number of white inhabitants. The last written records of the Norse Greenlanders pertain to a 1408 wedding in HvalseyChurch, today the best-preserved Norse ruins in Greenland.

Grœnlendinga Saga and Eiríks Saga are the primary written accounts of the discovery and settlement of Greenland and, in North America, Helluland (“Flat Stone Land”—Baffin Island), Markland (“Woodland”—Labrador), and Vinland (“Wineland”—Newfoundland), all in present-day Canada.

Iceland, Greenland, Helluland, Markland, Vinland

Iceland, Greenland, Helluland, Markland, Vinland

The Vikings in North America

In North America the Norsemen encountered a race they called “skraelings.” The sagas describe them as “short people with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads . . . large eyes and broad cheeks.” The Smithsonian Institution states that although the exact meaning of “skraeling” is unclear, “it was certainly a derogatory term.”

In fact, the Norse encountered not only different tribes but, in all probability, both Eskimos (Inuit) and Indians, though the records provide only a single name for all these groups.

In the 1960s a Norwegian husband and wife team, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated a Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, the first archaeologically confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. It pre-dated the voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot by 500 years. Dated to between 989 and 1020 AD, the camp boasted three Viking halls and an assortment of huts for weaving, iron-working, and ship repair.

L’Anse aux Meadows was not Vinland, but rather situated within a land called Vinland extending south from L’Anse aux Meadows to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick. The outpost served as a winter camp and base for expeditions.

In the 50 years since the discovery of the thousand-year-old settlement, archaeologists and amateur historians have unsuccessfully combed North America’s east coast searching for further traces of Viking visitors.

Finally, in October and November 2012, it was reported that archaeologist Patricia Sutherland, adjunct professor of archeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, had announced new archaeological evidence strongly supporting the presence of a second Viking outpost on Baffin Island.

Sutherland was alerted to the possibility of a Norse camp in 1999, when she discovered two unusual pieces of cord excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, where she worked.

Rather than consisting of twisted animal sinew, the cords were expertly woven Viking yarn identical to yarn produced by Viking women in Greenland in the 14th century.

Sutherland scoured other museums, finding more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear including wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions and dozens of Viking whetstones.

The specimens derived from four sites located across a thousand miles of territory extending from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador. The sites belonged to the Dorset culture, an extinct Paleo-Eskimo people.

From the artifacts at Dorset sites, Sutherland conjectured the Eskimos had traded with Vikings, which of course may be true. But, as archeologist Lawrence H. Keeley has impudently pointed out, items found in this manner can just as easily represent the spoils of war.

The archaeologist focused on the most promising of the four sites, Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. There, in the 1960s, a US archaeologist named Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building which he described as “very difficult to interpret.” She believed the site might have been occupied by different cultures at different times, raising the possibility that the enigmatic stone ruins, which bear a striking resemblance to Viking buildings in Greenland, were European.

Since 2001, Sutherland’s team has been carefully excavating the site, where they have discovered a wide range of artifacts pointing to the presence of European seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by European stone masons; and more Viking yarn and whetstones.

Using energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones, detecting microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—evidence of European metallurgy.

After 13 years of careful research, the weight of the evidence placed European traders on Baffin Island sometime between 1000–1300 AD.

“The Norse were here over a long period of time,” Sutherland said. “There were Europeans on the site, no question about that. I think we’ve only just begun to delve into what the Norse were doing there, and we’ve just got the beginning of the story.”

Archeologist Pat Sutherland on Baffin Island

Archeologist Pat Sutherland on Baffin Island

Viking Project “Derailed”

Besides her teaching jobs, Dr. Sutherland had been associated with the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec for 28 years. Twelve years ago she was hired to run the Helluland archeology project. Recently she served as the Museum’s curator of Arctic Archeology.

The Museum is a major institution—Canada’s largest national museum, a significant research establishment, and one of North America’s oldest cultural organizations. It is situated on the Ottawa River across from the Canadian Parliament.

In 1910 Jewish anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir was appointed the first anthropologist in its newly formed anthropology division upon the recommendation of American German-Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas.

Until 1986 the Museum was known as the Museum of Man, but after Left-wing elites denounced the name as “gender biased,” it was changed to the Museum of Civilization. It will soon change again to the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

In the spring of 2012, Dr. Patricia Sutherland was dismissed from her position with the Museum. Simultaneously, Museum officials stripped her husband, prominent Canadian archaeologist Robert McGhee, of the emeritus status he’d enjoyed since his retirement from the Museum in 2008.

No one involved will say why this happened. Two off-the-record sources told the Ottawa Citizen that the firings followed a year-long external investigation into allegations of “bullying and harassment,” although who was allegedly bullied and harassed, or who did the bullying, was not reported.

Dr. Sutherland is contesting the dismissal through her union, which is treating the case as a wrongful dismissal. It is currently before an arbitrator. Meanwhile, the Helluland Project has been suspended.

According to the Ottawa Citizen,

Some of the artifacts Sutherland had assembled were on loan from other institutions, and within days of her dismissal, they were sent back to museums in Newfoundland and Greenland.

Sutherland intended to co-publish her findings with 15 international collaborators, but her dismissal dashed those plans. She also wanted to work with the community of Kimmirut to get national historic site designation for the Nanook site.

The book cannot go forward unless she regains access to her research materials.

“I’m very confident that what we have is an indication of a Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic that we weren’t aware of before, that it was over a longer period of time, and that the interactions with the aboriginal people were more complex and extensive than we thought before.”

Because it was only a two-day sail to Norse outposts in Greenland, “One could reasonably argue that the travels to the east coast of Canada, to the Arctic, was over a period of four centuries,” she adds.

Further Information

Canadian Broadcasting Corp., “The Norse: An Arctic Mystery,” The Nature of Things, November 22, 2012. Executive Producer: Gordon Henderson. Produced, written and directed by Andrew Gregg. A 45-minute Canadian television documentary about Patricia Sutherland’s Baffin Island discoveries. Viewable online only in Canada.

Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland (New York: Checkmark Books, 2001)

PBS Television, “The Lost Vikings,” Secrets of the Dead, May 16, 2000. 55 mins. Narrated by Roy Scheider. Archaeologists and forensic anthropologists investigate the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings. Full episode available online.

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America (London: Penguin Books, 2004; 1st ed. 1965), trans. by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson. English translation of Graenlendinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga, both of which are short and easily read. Devoted as much to the settlement of Greenland and the family of Erik the Red as to the discovery of the New World.


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  1. torgrim
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    The research into European exploration, trade and settlement has the handiwork of Boas and his ilk all over this subject. The renaming of the Institution is but a reminder of their control.
    Fifty plus years ago, an anthropologist by the name of Thomas E. Lee, of I believe, the same University had researched northern Labrador across the strait from Helluland/Baffin Island, and according to Mr. Lee, revealed Norse presence at the Ungava Site where the Payne River meets the sea. It seems Mr. Lee never went back and did further research, and he retired as head of the National Museum years later, “full of honors”…. Lee

  2. Mark Robinson
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I know some Scandinavians… They told me that they didn’t learn too much about Norse history and mythology in their schools… I wonder why!

    • torgrim
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Not learning about one’s past is dangerous and I am not surprised if Scandinavians do not learn of their history. If true, well, it bodes not well. As Aleksandr Solenitsyn is quoted, …

      “To destroy a people you must first sever their roots.”

      Many years ago, the National Geographic Magazine ran an article about the Boy Scouts of Denmark, you see, it was a big blow up about the Danish boys wearing Viking clothing, boating, historic re-inactments, well some “culture mulcher, control freak, just could not have that, so the Danish Boy Scouts were told to emulate the American Boy Scouts and learn about American Indians and so forth…just a memory for what it’s worth.

  3. Edmund Connelly
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    The likely academic assault on Dr. Sutherland is an idea well developed fictionally in Kyle Bristow’s “White Apocalypse” (2010). The book ends with an account of research on “The Solutrean Theory” which argues that Whites were in North America first and were eradicated by later non-Whites. A character in the story publishes these findings in a book which “instilled patriotism in the hearts of Westerners who became cognizant of the fact that Euorpeans have been persecuted since prehistoric times and that white folk face future persecutiion if they do not mobilize to confront the enemies of the Occident. And mobilize they did.”

    I like that ending. Currently, so many Whites are full of guilt and often adopt surrogate “victim” groups. If it can be shown that Whites were a genuine victim group in North America, we could surely mobilize many people morally.

  4. Mark Robinson
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    The problem of the White race is the USA and the Anglosphere, Douglas Reed understood that the jews main target would be the English speaking World.

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn Two Hundred Years Together been blacklisted in the USA and the UK pretty much confirm this.

  5. rhondda
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    For those of you who would like to see her 2000 paper. There is a very interesting map.
    When one goes to this museum’s site there seems to be an awful lot of stuff about native Indians and contemporary native Indian art.

  6. David
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting looking closely at a map because Scandinavia to Canada is essentially an archipelago – a chain of islands. I have this existing notion as the white people’s land being “way over there”, when in reality the distance is not that great and with all the islands along the way it’s nearly just one connected unit for any people with even remotely sophisticated seafaring technology.

    It’s not much more spread out than the Malay Archipelago, and there the peoples are often classified as one sub-race.

    So just conceptually, it seems that the Scandiniavians have as much genetic right to Greeland and Canada as any race.

  7. Outlier
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    The European Solutreans were in North America far earlier …..

    ” The Solutrean industry is a relatively advanced flint tool-making style of the Upper Palaeolithic, from around 22,000 to 17,000 BP.” wiki

    There have been 17,000 year old Caucasian grave sites found in Florida and southern US.

    also …

    Solutreans Are Indigenous Americans – 1:26 hr

  8. me
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting reading! Too bad that politics is getting in the way of genuine science. It like the battle of Kennewick Man – the Canadian equivalent, although no age old skeletons were found.

    On a side note, I wonder if the author will touch base in the near future on the Kensington Rune Stone saga – Vikings traveled much further inland – all the way to Minnesota – than the court historians say. It would be nice if he could do a story on it.

  9. Brian Bosworth
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    In Revolt Against the Modern World, Julius Evola discusses some interesting similarities between the solar traditions of Aryan man and those of the Aztecs, who apparently even claimed to have descended from men or gods from a northern land. I believe Evola attributed such similarities to a common heritage in the polar regions or Atlantis. Perhaps a major Norse presence in medieval America offers a more mundane, but still interesting explanation.

    I’m no scientist but I would think genetics wouldn’t tell us much, since any trace of European heritage among Amerindians could be attributed to post-1492 contact.

  10. C
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Markland means “Fieldland” not “Woodland”.

  11. Andrew Hamilton
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    See Kristen Seaver, Maps, Myths, and Men: The Story of the Vinland Map (Stanford University Press, 2004), p. 37.

    In the context of the sagas it refers to forest land.

    • torgrim
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the link and your essay, Mr. Hamilton.

      The site at Ungava, that Thomas Lee researched, whether they are the “long houses”, or the human remains, spoken of by Mr. Lee, are of Inuit or Norse, is still open for more research, in my opinion.

  12. Ollie
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    The Viking presence in Canada has been known for years. Canadian author
    Farley Mowat has done extensive research on this subject the results of
    which were published in two books entitled The Farfarers and West Viking. I
    don’t have the publishing dates offhand. There is no question of an
    extensive viking presence in Canada and that includes, according to Mowat,
    Southeastern Canada as well.

    Mowat’s basic thesis is that the vikings were basically marauders who
    followed the early Brits, whom Mmowat refers to as Albans, for purposes of
    piracy and plunder. The Brits were driven out of Northern Britain by viking
    depredations to first Iceland and then Greenland and finally to
    Newfoundland. The descendants of these early Brits are the Jack-o-tars who
    still live in Newfoundland. They are a mixture of the original British with
    the Indian population of Newfoundland and are of a dark swarthy appearance.
    Numerous rock cairns and others edifices throughout Newfoundland are also
    evidence of their presence and early habitation.

    Both of Mowat’s books are highly recommended. He is a tremendous researcher
    who has lived in these northern areas to do his research and was responsible
    for many of these early finds. As the article points out, the Jews are busy
    suppressing this truth as they have for decades on this topic as on so many
    others. That is after all what they do best.

    • torgrim
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I have read some of Mowat’s writings and I agree that he is quite good at research.

      When you mention the early Brits and Newfoundland I tend not to agree with Mowat’s interpretation of just who these early explorers were, I am more convinced that the people he has referred to are the Beothuck Indians of Newfoundland and Labrador. These just may have been the last of the Solutrean people. There again, when trying to do research I find a lot of the information very hard to get. In one of the on-line blogs some years ago, there was a description of a Beothuck male and the Crown’s men trying to apprehend him and his “wife”, the discription is very odd indeed, as this “Indian” was measured after being murdered with a rifle shot as being 6’8″ and the , “blood coming from his mouth was in his beard”,….. The Beothuck Indians, are also referred to as Red Indians as it was their custom to paint their skin with red ocher or the sap from the Alder tree to darken their skin. The officials took one of the women from the Beothuck Tribe and displayed her in London and after they dressed her in local dress, she looked just like the Londoners of the day, this was in the 18th century, as I recall.

      I think there has been some attempts to do dna retrievals but I can find nothing definitive.
      The whole Beothuck story since the Portugese from the 14th century fishermen to the English is a sad story, indeed.

  13. Jeff
    Posted February 20, 2016 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Reading this article has led me down a road of reading decades of obscure ne0-arctic archaeologic research papers. Our people were here for a very long time. God bless my ancestors.

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