Axe of Iron series

stacks_image_507 stacks_image_443 Assimilation

Ghostly face carving unearthed from Arctic site of extinct Dorset culture

Montreal Gazette
July 21, 2010

A Quebec archeologist has unearthed the ghostly carving of a face left buried on a remote Arctic island inhabited 1,000 years ago by the extinct Dorset culture the native people who mysteriously vanished from Canada's North after the ancestors of modern day Inuit arrived in this country.

The small, elaborately sculpted "maskette" - possibly worn as an amulet by a shaman serving as a Dorset tribe's guide to the spiritual world - is believed to have been made from walrus ivory and was found on one of the Nuvuk Islands at the northwestern tip of Quebec's Ungava Peninsula.

Traces of the long-lost Dorset or "Paleo-Eskimo" people, who are known to have evolved an artistically advanced society despite their harsh Arctic living conditions, are among the most prized discoveries in Canadian archaeology.

And the carved face, possibly meant to depict a female elder who provided leadership to her community, represents a particularly evocative image, with ears, eyes, nose and mouth all clearly defined on the elongated piece of ivory.

"It may have had some kind of shamanic meaning, but of course we can only offer various possible explanations," Susan Lofthouse, an archeologist with the Montreal-based Avataq Cultural Institute, told Postmedia News.

"Alternatively it could have served as a toy, or some kind of good luck amulet."

Measuring just five centimetres in length, the object was discovered last year during a dig at a known Dorset dwelling site by a group of Lofthouse-led Inuit high school students from nearby Ivujivik, along with graduate students from Universite Laval and Universite de Montreal.

"The moment of discovery was, of course, exciting," Lofthouse recalled. "I was helping one of the teenagers, Siaja Paningajak, excavate her square, and suddenly the maskette was uncovered."

Lofthouse noted that other Dorset depictions of human faces have been found over the years, but "none had the same level of detail that we can see in the Nuvuk Islands maskette."

Particularly intriguing is the possibility that horizontal lines etched below the figure's mouth could represent facial tattoos - a decorative art practiced by ancestral Inuit that may also have been used by the Dorset.

Remarkably, the ancient Inuit chin-tattooing tradition became part of a lively parliamentary debate in Ottawa last year as MPs weighed the merits of officially renaming the country's northern shipping route the "Canadian" Northwest Passage in a bid to symbolically strengthen the country's sovereignty claims in the region.

At the time, Inuit leaders successfully campaigned for the simultaneous adoption of an official aboriginal name for the waterway - "Tallurutik" - that is derived from the tattooing ritual among Canada's Inuit and a related landscape feature on Devon Island, at the eastern entrance to the passage, that appears as thin, dark lines running horizontally along shoreline cliffs.

"I do like the idea that (the maskette) could represent a woman, since distinct depictions of women are so rare in the Dorset archaeological record," said Lofthouse.

"Historically, Inuit women wore facial tattoos - in some areas this was still practiced in the last century," she added. "But we have no evidence one way or the other to tell us that Dorset women did the same thing."

See the historical fiction Axe of Iron series of books that details the Dorset culture and the Greenland Vikings who had relations with them.

Vikings In Nunavut

The following article appeared in the Calgary Herald last summer. It supports my contention that much has happened on this continent that we know nothing about. My interest is the Greenland Norse and I commend archaeologist Pat Sutherland, chief of Arctic Archaeology, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa, ON, Canada, for her findings and her work in the Arctic. Unlike another archaeologist, Robert Park, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Sunderland approached the find with an open mind. Unfortunately, Park sounds like the majority of his ilk. He disagrees for two obvious reasons: he did not make the discovery, and his mind is closed to anything he disagrees with.
As others comb the Arctic and northern Canada for clues about the disappearance of the Greenland Norse settlers, their findings will add credence to my beliefs on the subject: the Norse settlers did not disappear, they assimilated with the pre-historical natives of eastern Canada and the north central United States.
Vikings in Nunavut?

Find may indicate medieval Norse presence on Baffin Island

By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service May 26, 2009

This May 26 handout photo shows a Nanook archeological site on Baffin Island. Traces of a stone-and-sod wall found at the site, if confirmed, would represent only the second location in the New World where Norse seafarers -- popularly known as Vikings -- built a dwelling.

Photograph by: P. Sutherland, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canwest News ServiceOne of Canada's top Arctic archeologists says the remnants of a stone-and-sod wall unearthed on southern Baffin Island may be traces of a shelter built more than 700 years ago by Norse seafarers — a stunning find that would be just the second location in the New World with evidence of a Viking-built structure.

The tantalizing signs of a possible medieval Norse presence in Nunavut were found at the previously examined Nanook archeological site, about 200 km southwest of Iqaluit, where people of the now-extinct Dorset culture once occupied a stretch of Hudson Strait shoreline.

A UNESCO World Heritage site at northern Newfoundland's L'Anse aux Meadows — about 1,500 km southeast of the Nanook dig — is the only confirmed location of a Viking settlement in North America. There, about 1,000 years ago, it's believed a party of Norse voyagers from Greenland led by Leif Eiriksson built several sod-and-wood dwellings before abandoning their colonization attempt under threat from hostile natives they called "Skraelings."

But over the past 10 years, research teams led by the Canadian Museum of Civilization's chief of Arctic archeology, Pat Sutherland, have compiled evidence from field studies and archived collections that strongly suggests the Norse presence in northern Canada didn't end with Eiriksson's retreat from Newfoundland.

At three sites on Baffin Island, which the Norse called "Helluland" or "land of stone slabs", and at another in northern Labrador, the researchers have documented dozens of suspected Norse artifacts such as Scandinavian-style spun yarn, distinctively notched and decorated wood objects and whetstones for sharpening knives and axes.

A single human tooth from one of the sites was tested a few years ago for possible European DNA, but the results were inconclusive.

Among the new artifacts found near the sod-and-stone features at Nanook is a whalebone spade — consistent with tools found at Norse sites in Greenland, and which might have been used to cut sections of turf for the shelter.

There is also evidence at Nanook of what appears to be a rock-lined drainage system comparable to ones found at proven Viking sites.

The apparent "architectural elements" found at the site "still have to be confirmed," Sutherland told Canwest News Service. "They're definitely anomalous for Dorset culture. And when you see these things in connection with Norse artifacts, it suggests that there may have been some kind of a shore station."

Sutherland's theory is that Norse sailors continued to travel between Greenland and Arctic Canada for generations after the failed colonization bid in Newfoundland. She believes they encountered and possibly traded with the Dorset, ancient aboriginals who were later overrun — probably before 1400 A.D. — by the eastward-migrating Thule ancestors of modern Inuit.

The theory is a controversial one.

University of Waterloo archeologist Robert Park recently challenged the dating of artifacts and Sutherland's interpretations of evidence in a paper published by the journal Antiquity.

Park argues that the "most plausible explanation" for Norse-like traces at Nanook and other sites is that "none of these traits come from Dorset-European contact."

He suggests such items may have been developed without any Norse influence by the ancient indigenous inhabitants of northern Canada.

"Despite the difficulty of proving a negative — i.e. establishing that Dorset did not come into contact with the Norse — on the basis of these data there appears to be no convincing archeological evidence that contact occurred," Park concludes.

Sutherland insists that while proof of Norse-Dorset interaction isn't overwhelming, there are now "several lines of evidence" pointing to sustained contact. And she notes that the kind of "boulders and turf" structural feature observed at Nanook is "atypical for Dorset" and consistent with Norse culture.

"I think in any scientific field, when something new comes along that hasn't been given much consideration in the past, it generates debate," she said.

Sutherland, whose research is also featured in the current issue of Canadian Geographic, said a scientific paper summarizing a decade's worth of work on the national museum's Helluland project is due to be published in August.

Further field work at a Dorset site in northern Labrador is scheduled for 2010, she added.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
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Writing vs. Promotion

When a writer is a one man show, as I am, many tasks consume time to the point where little writing is achieved. That is where I am with the continuation of my Axe of Iron series. Promotion of the first book, Axe of Iron: The Settlers has taken most of my time, especially the Internet Virtual Book Tours during March and April--and the beat goes on.

Axe of Iron: Confrontation is essentially complete and 3/4 of the manuscript has been edited, but it is still not complete. To all my readers who have asked: I will finish the manuscript sometime this summer.

The Final Edit

"The most original authors are not so because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And, that is what I try to do each day.

The final edit of Axe of Iron: Confrontation, the second book of the Axe of Iron series, continues. I hope to have the manuscript to the printers by July 1st. This blog will suffer until I achieve that end.

Axe of Iron Website Updated

The Axe of Iron website has been updated with the latest book reviews, articles by author J. A. Hunsinger, and links of interest for everyone who likes to read about the medieval Viking culture.

The website details the premise behind the Axe of Iron series of historical fiction books: six ships loaded with medieval Greenland Viking settlers flee Greenland because of an unsustainable pastoral lifestyle and the hardships brought about by the onslaught of the Mini-Ice Age.

Medieval climate change caused the migration of native peoples on a massive scale throughout Canada and the northern United States, following the herds of wild animals on which their survival depended as the herds moved ever southward away from the savage winters.

Book #2 in the Axe of Iron Series

Axe of Iron: Confrontation, the second book of the adventure packed Axe of Iron series nears completion. Publication target date remains June 2009. An excerpt from this book, and other helpful information about my books, may be found under the 'Books' tab on my website.

You came here because of your interest in the medieval Vikings. Don't miss my past blogs on the subject.

Thank you for coming by.

Best Regards,
J. A. Hunsinger

Assimilation Between Greenland Norse and Arctic Natives?

Some of the many unanswered questions about the Greenland Norse: did they assimilate with the natives of the Canadian Arctic?

If so, when and with whom?

We can never know for certain, but by about 1425 all had disappeared from the Greenland settlements. As I have mentioned previously, they were not seen again. They disappeared: no bodies, no ships, no tools, nothing related to them has ever been found.

Two distinct Arctic native cultures are involved with the Greenland Norse, the Dorset, or Tuniit people, and later in about the 13th century, the Thule, or Inuit people migrating from what is now the western Canadian Arctic regions.

In support of my contention that a gradual process of assimilation with these native cultures of the Arctic. and the natives of North America, began early in the history of the Greenland Norse settlements I make reference to numerous Norse artifacts found in medieval Thule dwelling sites on the east coast of Ellesmere Island and Skraeling Island, at the head of Alexandra Fjord on Ellesmere's east coast.

I do not mean the odd spindle whorl, ship rivet, broken needle fragment, or a couple links of chain mail. There are too, many artifacts to list here: a complete carpenters plane, iron wedge, ship rivets, knife and spear blades, wool wadmal cloth, numerous pieces of chain mail(all thought to have a common origin), odd gaming pieces, and so forth. These artifacts have been carbon dated to the mid-13th century.
Ellesmere - Vikings in the Far North, Peter Schledermann, 1977-1980. Vikings, The North Atlantic Saga, William Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward, (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 2000)248-256.

So, the answer to the question is obvious. The Greenland Norse did regularly contact the native peoples of the Arctic and that contact was prolonged and intimate, because the artifacts were found in Thule house ruins.

Those particular Norse people had already assimilated.
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