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A 2008 article from the Nunatsiaq News claimed there was new evidence of European contact with the Canadian Arctic, saying things like:

Dating of some yarn and other artifacts, presumed to be left by Vikings on Baffin Island, have produced an age that predates the Vikings by several hundred years.

It's been eight years since this article was published. Has the scholarly community gotten anywhere with this? How likely is this pre-Viking contact looking?


Note: If your answer doesn't say anything about finds on or related to Baffin Island, you're probably not answering the right question. I'm not asking about Polynesians in Peru, nor Welsh in the Midwest, I'm asking about Norse contact with Baffin Island around 1000 AD.

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There was an argument that Christian monks from Ireland made contact and settled Iceland and Greenland in around 500-600AD - If I can find the source I'll post. –  Alan Kael Ball May 14 at 6:45
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@Tyler, I hardly think yarn and rat droppings are indicative of aliens. –  Joe May 14 at 8:26
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The article you link is pretty vague on timing, talking about " from 1000 AD to 1450 AD or even earlier." and only later about dating of some yarn that "predates the Vikings". It it not clear that Sutherland (the archaeologist) believes that the finds pre-date the Vikings. Not sure that this article: tinyurl.com/m3jlcnu refers to the same site, but it says "Sutherland uncovered strong evidence that an archeological site called Nanook, on southern Baffin Island, was a Norse settlement established around 1300 AD and was likely used by Vikings based in Greenland to trade with the Dorset." –  Jørgen May 14 at 9:39
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Also see this article: counter-currents.com/2013/02/… which goes throught some of Sutherland's research. The (to my unlearned eyes, plausible) claims seem to be more about the extent of Norse exploration/colonization in the general Greenland/Baffin area in the previously accepted post-1000AD timeframe rather than any extension of this timeframe to earlier than 1000AD. –  Jørgen May 14 at 9:42
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@Jørgen, I think you've got the makings of a great answer to the question. –  Joe May 14 at 19:09

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"How likely is this pre-Viking contact looking?": Not very likely. The linked newspaper article mainly focuses on the finds and that they may be Viking, but is pretty vague on timing, talking about " from 1000 AD to 1450 AD or even earlier." and only later about dating of some yarn that "predates the Vikings". It it not clear that Sutherland (the archaeologist) believes that the finds pre-date the Vikings.

Not sure whether this article refers to the same archeological site, but it says "Sutherland uncovered strong evidence that an archeological site called Nanook, on southern Baffin Island, was a Norse settlement established around 1300 AD and was likely used by Vikings based in Greenland to trade with the Dorset." If it is the same site, it seems it was mainly the local newspaper that produced a modest exaggeration of the researcher's findings.

Also see this article which goes through some of Sutherland's research. The (to my semi-learned eyes, plausible) claims seem to be more about the extent of Norse exploration/colonization in the general Greenland/Baffin area in the previously accepted post-1000AD timeframe rather than any extension of this timeframe to earlier than 1000AD.

Finally, the above links hints that Sutherland has run into some problems with the funding of her research. Though there is no sign that this is in any way related to the quality of said research (the brief paragraphs I read focused on administrative stuff), it does help explain the lack of follow-up on these themes after 2008.

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The article does not actually claim pre-Viking contact.

We already know, from both the Icelandic Sagas and archaeology finds, that around 1000 AD, Vikings settled in Greenland, then tried it again in Newfoundland ("Vinland")(*). This latter expedition first cruised past two other pieces of land, called Helluland and Markland. These two most probably correspond to Baffin Island and Labrador, respectively. An important point is that both Iceland and, even more, Greenland, lacked a good source of wood. Wood was a scarce resource, yet crucial for building houses, ships and tools in Viking society. The coast of Labrador is ripe with trees, and the name "Markland" reflects it (it means "Forest Land"). Therefore it is quite plausible that Vikings from Greenland and possibly Iceland would regularly make the trip to Markland, not to settle but to fell trees.

Indeed an Icelandic document from 1347 reports a ship going off course and landing in Iceland while in the process of returning from Markland (the probable intended destination being Greenland). We know that sagas tend to report only heroic feats, and lumberjacking was probably not heroic enough to warrant its own verse.

If we accept the idea of at least semi-regular trips between Greenland and Labrador, following the navigational course that goes near Baffin Island, then it is highly probable that some parties actually made landfall on Baffin Island at least occasionally, if only in case of bad weather or emergency repairs. The artefacts reported by Sutherland then make a lot of sense. They don't actually imply either a permanent settlement or trade relationships with Inuit people, but they show presence. A settlement would be problematic because Vikings tended to rely on cattle for food, and maintaining cattle on the definitely non-grassy coast of Baffin Island would be very challenging. The Greenland settlements were abandoned in the 15th century, which hints at Vikings unable or unwilling to alter their lifestyle into more "Inuitic" practices. If Vikings stopped on Baffin Island for anything else than immediate survival, then a trading post would be much more plausible than a true settlement.

Yarn and sticks don't unambiguously point to Vikings, as opposed to other European societies of that time; that's what is meant by the expression "or other Europeans". But Vikings were in the vicinity (Greenland, and briefly in Newfoundland), had the seafaring abilities, and the navigational knowledge (the road had been reconnoitred), and the economical motive (wood from Markland). Invoking other people is a bit far-fetched.

To sum up, the archaeological evidence more indicates Viking exploration (or possibly settlement or trade) on Baffin Island than non-Viking or pre-Viking contact. However, it does show that these things were happening relatively early, around 1000 AD, that is right after the first settlement in Greenland, which makes sense since they needed wood from the very beginning.

(*) We are not really sure that Vinland is Newfoundland, though the Anse-aux-Meadows site certainly matches the sagas.

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"predates the Vikings by several hundred years" was the phrase in the article that seemed strange. Sounds like a claim of pre-Viking contact to me. –  Joe Aug 12 at 15:29

Not sure about the northern parts of Canada. But I did read a book that detailed evidence of Mediterranean contact with Native Americans. Such as bearded statues with Phoenician features and possible coins. It has been rumored that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians got tin with the help of the natives. This was before tin was discovered to be in Britain. I see no reason why this couldn't be possible. If they went then I think that it is entirely possible.

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Interesting, but this isn't really an answer to the question. –  Joe Jun 22 at 23:30

The western (Pacific) seaboard of North America and even Peru have many examples of Caucasian settlement predating the vikings and Colombus.

caucasian discoveries map

Welsh speaking indians

Along the Missouri river a tribe of Welsh speaking Mandan Indians later wiped out by Smallpox raised eyebrows.

In Peru the Chachapoya people have pale Celtic features with red hair and freckles. The Chachapoya culture—characterized by its stately stone buildings—developed approximately between 100 and 400 AD, according to scientific dating methods, long before the Inca made similar achievements.

In Washington state a 9,000 year old skeleton known as Kenewick man was found to have Caucasian features in contrast to the American Indian tribes of that area. The local tribes became so incensed and felt so threatened they declared the skeleton to be ancestral and forbade any further scientific investigation of Kenewick Man

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Welsh speaking Indians? –  fdb Jul 22 at 13:59
    
What does this have to do with yarn on Baffin Island? –  Joe Jul 22 at 15:28
    
It is proof that Caucasians spread further than the Canadian Arctic as far as the pacific coast of north America, ipso facto it is not implausible they spread to intermediary locations in Canada. –  user2357 Jul 23 at 4:27
    
@fdb There was Celtic contact with North American indians before the voyage of Christopher Columbus –  user2357 Jul 23 at 4:29
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The first link is about Kennewick Man, a find from 8000 years and 4000 miles away. The second is about Welsh-speaking Mandans, a theory that I see no evidence for. –  Joe Jul 23 at 18:13

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