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

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

By Robert Park

Antiquity, Vol.82 (2008)

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 Our knowledge of the Norse Vikings comes from their sagas and other historical documents, and from archaeological excavations in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.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, 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 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 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 and has already been incorporated into the secondary literature.

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