Dorset in the Arctic: A Norse Connection

Which group may have influenced the Dorset? It was the Norse, of course.

Written by Ann Chandler

Posted May 1, 2015

Did the Dorset people, who occupied the Arctic between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1000, have more extensive contact with the Norse than originally thought?

Pat Sutherland, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is seeking the answer through reinvestigation of some archaeological sites and artifacts.

Over the past five years, Sutherland has been investigating four Dorset sites: Avayalik in Northern Labrador, Nunguvik on North Baffin Island, Nanook on South Baffin Island and Willow’s Island in Frobisher Bay. Sutherland believes that artifacts of spun cordage found at these sites will provide some of the answers to the questions of Dorset-Norse contact.

The Dorset people, Sutherland says, wore traditional clothing made from hides, while the Norse were known to fashion textiles and objects from spun materials. Presence of the cordage artifacts, spun from the hairs of Arctic hare, fox and dog, has led Sutherland to suggest that the Dorset may have had more contact with the Norse Greenlanders than previously thought.

Some academic theories have the Dorset people disappearing from the Arctic by the 11th century, but Sutherland believes that the presence of the cordage may suggest that the Dorset people survived longer, well into the period of the arrival of the Norse in Greenland in the late 10th century.

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To read more about the project and view the cordage read Patricia Sutherland’s essay on the HistoryMuseum.ca website.

This article originally appeared as part of a 22-page special feature in the June-July 2006 issue of The Beaver.

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