Contact between the Norse Vikings and the Dorset Culture in Arctic Canada

By Park, Robert W. | Antiquity, March 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Contact between the Norse Vikings and the Dorset Culture in Arctic Canada


Park, Robert W., Antiquity


Introduction

One the most dramatic encounters in human history took place when the Norse Vikings came into contact with the native North Americans whom they called 'Skraelings', completing the longitudinal expansion humanity around the earth. Our knowledge of the Norse Vikings comes from their sagas and other historical documents, and from archaeological excavations in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. The 'Skraelings' encountered in the New World are known to archaeological research as people belonging to three very distinct cultures, namely Dorset, Thule and Point Revenge occupying parts the eastern Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland (Figure 1), Dorset and Thule belong to the Eskimo cultural tradition, whereas Point Revenge belongs to the Indian cultural tradition. In a major study based on the geography and chronology of the saga descriptions, and on the archaeological evidence then available, McGhee (1984) concluded that the Norse did have occasional contacts with all three these cultures. He believed that Norse contacts with the Dorset, the subject this paper, were very limited and took place in northern Labrador, one the few regions where Dorset populations were believed to have survived into the Norse era. However Sutherland (2000a & b; 2002) recently re-evaluated the evidence and concluded that the Dorset interacted much more intensively and extensively with the Norse. This new model more widespread Dorset-Norse interaction and acculturation has been accepted by a number researchers (Appelt & Gullov 1999: 66; Gullov 2000: 323-4; McGhee 1996: 191-4; 2000a: 58-9; Odess et al. 2000) and has already been incorporated into the secondary literature (Fagan 2005: 20, 202-3; Pringle 2000; Anon 2000: 18).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

This paper endeavours to integrate all the old and newly published data and argues that neither scenario of Dorset-Norse contact is well supported. Previously published analysis of radiocarbon dates from Dorset sites throughout the Arctic (Park 1993; 2000) strongly suggests that the Dorset had largely died out in the centuries prior to the arrival of the Norse, so there is good reason to suspect that these cultures were never contemporaries anywhere. However, enough doubt remains about the chronology in some regions (e.g. Fitzhugh 1994; Friesen 2004) to warrant a thorough evaluation of all the archaeological evidence supporting contact between these two cultures.

Dorset and Norse

The Dorset were the descendants of people who had migrated eastward from Alaska by 2500 BC. Their sites are known from Victoria Island in the west to Ellesmere Island and Greenland in the north and to Newfoundland in the south-east. While Dorset people lived in the Canadian Arctic, the region around the Bering Strait and northern A1aska witnessed a separate sequence of cultural developments that produced the Thule culture. Approximately 1000 years ago the Thule expanded eastward and eventually occupied almost every part of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland previously inhabited by the Dorset.

At almost the same time, halfway around the world from the Alaskan ancestral homeland of the Dorset and the Thule, the Norse began a westward expansion from Scandinavia that would ultimately bring them too into Canada. There are three crucial dates here. The first is AD 985, conventionally accepted as the date when Erik the Red led the colonisation of Greenland from Iceland. The date of the first voyage from Greenland to Arctic Canada is not known for sure but Leif Erikson is presumed to have made such a voyage around AD 1000. The third date is AD 870, when the Norse are believed to have colonised Iceland. This date is very firmly established due to volcanic ash stratigraphy (Vesteinsson 2000: 164) and other kinds of evidence (e.g. Price & Gestsdottir 2006) and for that reason the AD 870 date seems the most reliable.

The archaeological evidence, most famously the site of L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, shows that soon afterwards the Norse made at least some ventures into North America.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Contact between the Norse Vikings and the Dorset Culture in Arctic Canada
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.