Tribal Council Member
OTTAWA — This should be the best of times for Pat Sutherland. November’s issue of National Geographic magazine and a documentary airing Thursday night on CBC’s The Nature of Things both highlight research the Ottawa archeologist has been doing in the Canadian Arctic for the past dozen years that could fundamentally alter our understanding of our early history.
If Sutherland is right, Norse seafarers — popularly known as Vikings — built an outpost on Baffin Island, now called Nanook, centuries before Columbus blundered on to North America. Moreover, there’s evidence they traded with the Dorset, the Arctic’s ancient, now-vanished inhabitants, for as many as 400 years.
”That’s incredible,” says Andrew Gregg, who wrote, directed and produced The Norse: An Arctic Mystery, the CBC documentary that recounts Sutherland’s findings. “That rewrites all the history books.”
But Sutherland’s pleasure at the recognition her discoveries are receiving has been sharply tempered by a harsh reality. Last April, even as the documentary about her work was being filmed, the 63-year-old, then curator of Arctic archeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, was abruptly dismissed from her job.
At the same time, museum officials also stripped her husband, Robert McGhee — himself a legendary Arctic archeologist described as “one of the most eminent scholars that Canada has produced” — of the emeritus status it had granted him after his retirement from the Gatineau museum in 2008.
. . .
Two sources told the Citizen that the rupture followed a year-long external investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment. But they are unwilling to speak on the record, and neither Sutherland, her union nor the museum discuss the matter.
Gregg suggests Sutherland’s dismissal may be linked to the museum’s impending transformation into the Canadian Museum of History. “It’s a complete shift in ideology,” he says. “The narrative that’s coming out through this government and our institutions has no room for a new story about the Norse.”
. . .
Until now, the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America was at L’Anse aux Meadows, established around the year 1000 at the northern tip of Newfoundland, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But archeological evidence suggests the Norse only stayed for a decade or so, and there’s no sign that they traded with the natives. There’s not even any archeological evidence that the Norse at L’Anse aux Meadows had contact with the aboriginal population, though Norse sagas — oral histories written down two or three centuries after the events — tell of the settlers being driven away by fierce and unwelcoming natives.
Current evidence suggests the Nanook site on southern Baffin Island, about 25 kilometres from the village of Kimmirut, was established around 1300 AD, though Sutherland says it could date from a much earlier period. If so, it’s conceivable that Nanook was the place of first contact between native North Americans and Europeans.
The site was originally excavated in the 1960s and at the time, was thought to be a Dorset settlement. But based on evidence she has painstakingly assembled over a dozen years, Sutherland says she’s certain the Nanook site is of European origin.
“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.”
It’s a “no-brainer” that trade would have been involved, Sutherland says. The Dorset had the goods, including walrus ivory, narwhal tusks and furs, that the Norse were after. And they were only a two-day sail from 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 says.
As Sutherland has accumulated evidence, her conclusions have become more widely accepted within an initially skeptical archeological community.
James Tuck, an emeritus professor of archeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., says Sutherland’s evidence “seems to be getting better all the time.” He adds: “She’s created a project that has brought together all kinds of different lines of evidence and experts, and they all are pointing in the same direction.”
Tuck called Sutherland’s dismissal from the museum of civilization a “tremendous setback” for the project. ‘I don’t think it’s a death knell, but it’s damn close to it.”
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. Others belong to the government of Nunavut. Negotiations are under way between the museum and Nunavut to determine their fate.
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, something that would have generated tourism and jobs. “There’s a lot of disappointment and dismay that this work isn’t going ahead,” she says.
. . .
“I really want to be able to complete this work. At this stage in my life, this is kind of a legacy, I guess.”
Last edited by uniface; 11-24-2012 at 05:47 PM.
11-24-2012 05:44 PM
Tribal Council Member
Archaeology is NOT rocket science.
It's the people involved who are responsible for the mess it is.
Uni, I guess I don't see the conspiracy theory angle of this... It's politics.
It's been a few years, but I've been to the museum and they have decent display of Norse culture items. It's well known and discussed that the Norse probably didn't set up one single site (La Anse), live there for a while and then leave, they probably traded for fox furs and ivory from the Thule/Innuit people. They made it to Iceland and had a vibrant culture there for centuries, but didn't sail the extra 100 miles to the ice pack of Greenland? They got to a huge land mass teaming with valuable resources (fox pelts, ivory, etc.) and decided that they didn't want to check out the rest of it? Personally I'd be surprised if they didn't make it to Alaska at some point.
I don't know why this lady was dismissed. I could go into the macroeconomic landscape, but suffice it to say that Canada is going through budget cuts, and the museum is about Canadian peoples history not archaeology. The current goverment in Canada is rebranding to create a nationalistic heritige vs our neighbor to the north, and dusty ancient history doesn't really mean squat to them. She and her hubby might have been cut because most canadians don't care about the hinterlands of the north, and the first nations up there have even less interest in hearing about how their culture was really changed by visits from the vikings. If no one wants to pay for it, they need to find a better line of research that someone will fund.
Tribal Council Member
That perspective could have come out of the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
they need to find a better line of research that someone will fund.
The past is either the whole past, the way it was, or we're no longer doing history/science at all.
Abandoning objectivity to advance political agendas by selective omission = not acceptable.
And the ironic part is, it's often at the behest of people whining that their stories have been ignored & overlooked by "history."
Uni, that perspective is very much the driving force behind most science today, and it's about as capitalistic as it gets. If you can't afford to self fund, you end up studying what someone else is willing to pay for... Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mechanics, History, etc. Along the way, hopefully some good comes out of it. I would love to get paid to hold down the couch and surf the web intermingled with massive expeditions to find paleo and deepsea fishing, but that funding doesn't exist unless I provide it, so I have to work for the man. The Haitian guy who does my yard work might really be interested french literature, but I'm paying him to cut my grass. Am I stifling his creativity, or do I have a right to get what I pay for?
Originally Posted by uniface
Some archaeology curation jobs are not open ended research jobs, if she was hired to study Inuit culture, then maybe her desire to study Norse culture came into conflict with her mandate. She was simply given more time to study what she wanted to study.
When I was in undergrad the Mormons were very active in funding research regarding the lost tribes of Israel and Native Americans. A lot of grad students had to bite the bullet and nominally study Mormon archaeology while getting their PhD.
Last edited by joshuaream; 11-26-2012 at 02:54 PM.
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It's my understanding that many of the aboriginal tribes of the Northeast, had pale skin and lighter eyes with respect to the norm.
“The narrative that’s coming out through this government and our institutions has no room for a new story about the Norse.”
Well there it is in a nutshell...pure politics.
As an aside this is pretty interesting:
DNA analysis reveals that four families in Iceland possess genes typically found in Native Americans or East Asians.
Genealogical evidence revealed that these families shared a distant ancestor from the same region.
The Vikings may have brought back a Native American woman with them after they arrived in the New World.
O.A.S.A.R. ( Ohio Artifact Search And Rescue)
Tribal Council Member
If she had been hired to study Inuit culture -- specifically and only (and after that many years there she'd surely have earned some elbow room) -- she'd still have been dealing with a direct influence on it.
If the Vikings were getting furs, ivory &c. from them, they'd have been getting something in return -- something either difficult or impossible for them to obtain on their own and, in any case, something(s) that materially altered their lives and doings. Without knowledge and consideration of, their own picture would be less complete.
That doesn't flush, IMO.