26 December 2014

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Arctic Canada

Although this National Geographic article is from two years ago, the material is associated with my previous post on the terrific work of Dr. Patricia Sutherland at the Tanfield Valley site on Baffin Island, Canadian Arctic. Many in the archaeology community will be forced to "eat crow" when Dr. Sutherland is finished proving that the Norse Greenlanders were much more involved in the Canadian Arctic than anybody previously thought. Again, a hearty well-done, Dr. Sutherland. (Ed.)

Sharpeners may be smoking guns in quest for New World's second Viking site.

Archaeologist Patricia Sutherland (orange jacket) excavates a
potential Viking site on Baffin Island. 

Heather Pringle

Part of our weekly "In Focus" series—stepping back, looking closer.


For the past 50 years—since the discovery of a thousand-year-old Vikingway station in Newfoundland—archaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America's east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors.
It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.
(Read the new National Geographic magazine feature "Vikings and Native Americans: Face-to-Face.")
While digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island (map), far above the Arctic Circle, a team led by Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found some very intriguing whetstones. Wear grooves in the blade-sharpening tools bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze—materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic's native inhabitants.
Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland's new findings further strengthen the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island. "While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now," said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology, also at Memorial University.
Viking Ship

Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World around A.D. 1000. A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast—named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning "stone-slab land"—before heading south to a place he called Vinland.
In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L'Anse aux Meadows (map) on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.
Viking Yarn
As reported in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, Sutherland first caught wind of another possible Viking way station in 1999, when she spotted two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
Sutherland noticed that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage. The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century.
The discovery prompted Sutherland to scour other museum collections for more Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites. She found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones. (Also see "Viking Weapon Recycling Site Found in England.")
The artifacts came from four sites, ranging from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador, a distance of a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers). Indigenous Arctic hunters known as the Dorset people had camped at each of the sites, raising the possibility that they had made friendly contact with the Vikings.
Intrigued, Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as "very difficult to interpret." Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.
Clues Etched in Bronze, Brass, and Iron
Since 2001 Sutherland's team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.
Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.
In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John's, Canada.
Norse-Native American Trade Network?
Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland's waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.
If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. "I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed," Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. "It's pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought."

19 December 2014

Evidence of Early Metalworking in Arctic Canada


This paper examines new evidence related to an early (pre-Columbian) European presence in Arctic Canada. Artifacts from archaeological sites that had been assumed to relate to pre-Inuit indigenous occupations of the region in the centuries around A.D. 1000 have recently been recognized as having been manufactured using European technologies. We report here on the SEM-EDS analysis of a small stone vessel recovered from a site on Baffin Island. The interior of the vessel contains abundant traces of copper–tin alloy (bronze) as well as glass spherules similar to those associated with high-temperature processes. These results indicate that it had been used as a crucible. This artifact may represent the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in the New World north of Mesoamerica.


The Viking-age Norse established settlements on the southwestern coast of Greenland about A.D. 1000, and these continued to be occupied until the early 15th century. Although less than 400 km separated the Norse Greenlandic colonies from the coasts of Arctic Canada, and explorations to the west of Greenland are described in Icelandic sagas, surprisingly little is known of ventures to North America. The archaeological site at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland confirms saga accounts that the Norse established a short-lived station in Atlantic Canada at some time around A.D. 1000 (Ingstad, 1985; Linderoth Wallace, 20032006). In Arctic Canada and northwestern Greenland a number of Norse artifacts have been found in the remains of early Inuit settlements dating to the 13th or 14th centuries, suggesting occasional contact with the Greenlandic Norse or the salvage of a Norse shipwreck by Inuit who had recently arrived in the area from their Alaskan homeland (Schledermann, 1980; McCullough, 1989). Until recently the Norse presence in the eastern North American Arctic and Subarctic was assumed to have been limited to brief and infrequent explorations (Jones, 1986; Linderoth Wallace,2003).
The Norse gave the name “Helluland” to a mountainous tundra country to the west of Greenland, which can probably be identified with Baffin Island and adjacent regions of northern Labrador (Jones, 1986). During most of the period that the Norse Greenlandic colonies existed, this region was occupied by Dorset culture Paleo-Eskimos, a people who were genetically and culturally distinct from the Inuit, and who were more closely related to peoples whose descendants now occupy northeastern Siberia (Rasmussen et al., 2010). Recently, objects associated with a variety of European technologies have been recognized in collections from several Dorset sites in the Helluland region. The bulk of this material was found in collections that had been excavated from four sites: Nunguvik (PgHb-1) located near Pond Inlet on northern Baffin Island (Mary-Rousselière, 2002); Willows Island-4 (KeDe-14) in Frobisher Bay, eastern Baffin Island (Odess, 1998); three localities at Cape Tanfield (KdDq-9, KdDq-7–1, KdDq-7–3) on the south coast of Baffin Island (Maxwell, 19731976); and Avayalik-1 (JaDb-10) in northern Labrador (Jordan, 1980). These four sites span a distance of approximately 1500 km from north to south (Figure 1). Each site has yielded several lengths of yarn or fine cordage spun from the fur of local animals, bar-shaped whetstones of a type used by the Norse, and a variety of wooden objects including notched sticks closely resembling those used by the Norse as tallies (Sutherland,2009).

Figure 1. Map showing location of the Nanook site and other sites mentioned in the text: (1) L'Anse aux Meadows, (2) Nunguvik, (3) Willows Island-4, (4) Cape Tanfield localities, (5) Avayalik-1.
One of the Cape Tanfield localities (Nanook, KdDq-9; Figure 1) contained the remains of a large structure with long straight walls of boulders and turf and a stone-edged drainage channel. Such features are not known to be associated with indigenous architecture in Arctic Canada, but do resemble those of Viking/Norse construction throughout the North Atlantic region, including Greenland (Roussel, 1941). The Nanook site was first investigated in the 1960s by Moreau Maxwell of Michigan State University (Maxwell, 19731976). Maxwell identified Nanook as a Dorset Paleo-Eskimo site although he noted anomalies in the architectural remains, and obtained a series of radiocarbon dates ranging from 2460 ± 80 to 580 ± 80 14C yr B.P. (calibrated 1σ range 754 B.C. to 1367 A.D., using CALIB14C data set). Radiocarbon dates falling in the first millennium B.C. and early first millennium A.D. relate to early Paleo-Eskimo occupations, and many of the samples were compromised by the inclusion of materials from the marine reservoir or by problems of contamination related to a saturated permafrost milieu (McGhee, 2000). Further investigations were undertaken more recently by Sutherland (2009), revealing additional information on the structure, cultural remains, and complex stratigraphy indicating intermittent use over a considerable period of time. Notably, there is no evidence of use of the site by the Inuit who moved into the area during the 13th or 14th centuries and who remained the dominant occupants of the region to the present day.
Among the specimens recovered by Maxwell in association with the unusual architectural remains was a small broken vessel carved from gray mafic metamorphic rock (catalog number: KdDq-9–3:2129, Canadian Museum of Civilization; Figure 2). The object is 48 mm tall and has a straight sloping base meeting the slightly convex lateral wall at an angle of approximately 140°. The base of the complete object may have been keel-shaped. The artifact appears to have been roughly circular in plan, with diameter expanding from >35 mm at the base to >48 mm at the rim. The base is 15 mm thick, with the walls tapering to a thickness of 6 mm at the rim. The exterior is smoothly finished, but portions of the interior are scarred by scratching or scraping. An irregular break cuts across roughly the center of the vessel, indicating that approximately half is missing.

Figure 2. Three views of the broken crucible.


In assessing the nature of nonindigenous technologies recovered from the Helluland Dorset sites, scanning electron microscopy was used by the authors of this paper to determine if traces of smelted metals were present on the working surfaces of whetstones. The method was also applied to the small stone vessel described above.
The surface of the specimen was scanned using a Zeiss EVO 50 Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) in environmental mode using a chamber pressure from 60 to 100 Pa. The instrument includes a backscattered electron detector, Everhart–Thornley secondary electron detector, and a variable pressure secondary electron detector. For chemical analysis, the Oxford Energy Dispersive Spectra (EDS) system was used in conjunction with the INCA X-sight series Si(Li) EDS Detector (resolution 127 eV) and INCA Energy 450 Microanalysis software. SEM settings included a standard working distance of 8.5 mm, high voltage (EHT) of 20 kV, and probe current of 1 nA. Image store resolution was 1024 × 768 pixels, and images were saved as tiff files.


The EDS component of the SEM provides a qualitative nondestructive means of identifying the rock type used to manufacture the artifact. The major minerals, chlorite and albite, are associated with minor amounts of titanite, iron oxide, and rutile, and traces of chloritized biotite, apatite, allanite, and zircon. The very fine grain size (<0 .5="" a="" abundance="" alteration="" amphibolite="" and="" andesite="" artifact="" at="" basalt="" bedrock="" carving="" chlorite="" consistent="" discovered="" e.g.="" facies="" facilitated="" grade="" granulite="" greenschist="" higher="" hydrothermal="" igneous="" in="" is="" kbars="" locality="" low="" lower="" mafic="" metamorphic="" metamorphism="" mineralogy="" mm="" much="" of="" or="" precambrian="" pressure="" relatively="" rock="" softer="" temperature="" the="" to="" upper="" vessel.="" was="" where="" with="">650°C, 6–8 kbars; (Jackson & Morgan, 1978; St-Onge, Wodicka, & Lucas, 2000). The closest potential source areas of comparable greenschist facies metamorphic rocks are located hundreds of kilometers away in north-central Baffin Island (Jackson & Berman, 2000), in northern Labrador (Morgan, 1975), and on the west (Escher & Pulvertaft, 1976) and southwest (Higgins & Bondesen, 1966) coast of Greenland. Irregular patches of the organic-rich material that formed the unconsolidated matrix in which the artifact was found are present on both worked and broken surfaces. This matrix contains silicate mineral grains of clastic origin (fine sand, silt), glass spherules, and remains of vegetation in addition to metallic grains.
An initial pass across 400 mm2 (20 × 20 mm) of the inner surface of the vessel was done using the automated scan feature of the Oxford EDS system. The quality of this analysis was limited by the small size of the grains of interest (2–20 μm), the short counting times of the automated scan (about 1 second), and the restriction of the instrument's working distance caused by the curvature of the surface of the vessel. The automated scan identified 800 occurrences of copper and 161 of copper–tin.
During subsequent analytical sessions, 57 copper-bearing metallic particles were analyzed manually using longer counting periods; all are copper–tin alloys (bronze) with copper predominant (∼90–95%) over tin (∼5–10%, Figure 3). In cases where the metal particle is smaller than the electron beam and excitation volume, elements attributed to the minerals comprising the rock from which the vessel was carved appear in the spectra. Clusters and individual particles of bismuth (1–3 μm) are quite common. One particle of lead and a number of glass spherules of variable size (<2 a="" and="" are="" class="figureLink" composition="" href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gea.21497/full#gea21497-fig-0004" i="" igure="" m="" nbsp="" present="" rel="references:#gea21497-fig-0004" shape="rect" si-al="" si-ca-ti="" style="background: transparent; border: 0px; color: #007e8a; margin: 0px; outline: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline;" title="Link to figure">4
). Similar to a component of fly ash, which is typically formed at temperatures of 1100–1400°C (Bech & Feuerborn, 2011), such spherules occur at temperatures high enough to melt rock-forming minerals. Along with metallic particles, spherules occur on the broken edge of the vessel as well as on the intact interior surface.

Figure 3. Backscattered SEM electron image and spectrum for a Cu–Sn particle on the surface of the crucible. Individual particles within the linear array are shreds of copper–tin alloy that appear to be caught on the edges of a titanite grain or between titanite and adjacent chlorite.

Figure 4. Backscattered SEM electron image of glass spherules on the surface of the crucible interior.
Copper–tin alloy occurs in crevices between mineral grains, on angular corners of relatively hard albite, within as well as on top of patches of organic-rich matrix, and on both the interior surface and broken edge of the vessel. This variety of settings, together with the “shredded” aspect of individual particles and the presence of glass spherules that are similar to those associated with high-temperature processes, are consistent with the use and breakage of the vessel in an environment where metalworking occurred. One or more small amounts of tin and copper or copper–tin alloy appear to have been melted, probably for the casting of small bronze objects. The broken condition of the crucible would suggest that it was used at the site. The specimen was recovered from an area that also yielded pieces of spun cordage, bar-shaped whetstones bearing traces of smelted metals on the working surfaces, and other specimens related to early European technologies that are consistent with a Norse presence. SEM-EDS analysis of soil matrix from the Nanook site also produced evidence of smelted metal particles.
Small ceramic crucibles were employed in nonferrous metalworking throughout the Norse world (Bayley, 1992; Bayley & Rehren, 2007). We are aware of only one stone crucible, which was recovered from a Viking Age context in Rogaland, Norway (catalog S3335c, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger). Small crucibles with circular plan and either flat or conical bases have been recovered from Early Mediaeval sites in the British Isles including one stone specimen from Garranes in Ireland (Edwards, 1999). The presence of bronze traces in the crucible from Baffin Island is notable, as brass (copper–zinc alloy) is more characteristic of finds from Scandinavia. In a recent study of bronze artifacts from a Viking/Mediaeval site in Iceland, it is argued that the presence of tin and absence of zinc may indicate links with the British Isles, a tin-rich region (Wärmländer et al., 2010).

17 December 2014

Viking Hall discovered in Sweden

Finally, something from Sweden on Viking archaeology for the masses. This interesting article comes to us from Medievalists.net. A link to the original abstract follows the article, but you will have to pay to look. (Ed.)
DECEMBER 8, 2014

A Viking feasting hall measuring about 47.5 metres in length has been identified near Vadstena in central Sweden. Archaeologists from Stockholm University and Umeå University used ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive geophysical method, to locate and map the house foundation.

Scanning with ground radar unit
 The research, carried out by  Martin Rundkvist and Andreas Viberg, can be found in the article, ‘Geophysical Investigations on the Viking Period Platform Mound at Aska in Hagebyhöga Parish, Sweden’, which was published today in the journal Archaeological Prospection.
The Aska barrow, where the hall has been found, was long seen as a burial mound. But archaeologists have now revealed that it is a foundation platform for a large building, most likely dating from the Viking Period. The hall was probably the home of a royal family whose rich graves have previously been excavated nearby.
“Parallels are known from several of the era’s elite sites, such as Fornsigtuna near Stockholm and Lejre near Roskilde. The closest similarities are however seen in a recently excavated feasting hall at Old Uppsala near Stockholm. Such close correspondences suggest intensive communication between the two sites”, says Martin Rundkvist of Umeå University
The building was about 14 metres wide and was equipped with double walls and four entrances. The measurements also indicate the presence of a large hearth with a diameter of ca. 2.5 metres.
Ground radar image
The authors concluded that they have discovered:
a residence of the Viking Period petty kings of Östergötland, a faction or dynasty about which coeval written sources are silent. Nor do they say anything specific about the archaeologically attested class of feasting halls on earthen platforms, although the Beowulf poet does describe King Hrodgar’s hall Heorot as a ‘high house’.
The Viking Period of Sweden, unlike that of, for example, the Danelaw or Ireland, is just barely a proto-historical period. Östergötland is one of Sweden’s best-documented provinces in the written sources, and even here they do not permit narrative history before the thirteenth century. Only the archaeological record can help to understand earlier developments. Postulating a petty royal dynasty that held sway over Östergötland and kept a palatial residence at Aska as early as the ninth century is, from a source-critical point of view, quite a daring contribution to the debate over Viking Period politics. Indirectly, we are identifying the famous jewellery burial excavated near Aska hamlet as that of a queen who stood in personal contact with the Swedish royalty of Old Uppsala and their Danish counterparts at Lejre.
The authors also not the importance of using geophysical surveys as an affordable, quick and non-destructive way to search for underground remains. Andreas Viberg adds, “Our investigation demonstrates that non-invasive geophysical measurements can be powerful tools for studying similar building foundations elsewhere. They even allow scholars to estimate the date of a building without any expensive excavations.”
The article ‘Geophysical Investigations on the Viking Period Platform Mound at Aska in Hagebyhöga Parish, Sweden’, is published in Archaeological ProspectionClick here to access the article via Wiley

14 December 2014

Abandoned Colony in Greenland

Although this article is dated, it does have some interesting info. I completely disagree with their theory however. There is not a single document of which I am aware that states the Norse Greenlanders returned to the old country. Everybody, but the article's author, Gunther Stockinger, Niels Lynnerup, and all his archaeological cohorts from the University of Copenhagen, have known for decades that nobody knows what happened to the Norse on Greenland - they simply disappeared. No documentation exists to refute that contention. I have addressed the matter in a fictional sense in my Axe of Iron historical fiction series on the Greenland Norse and their assimilation with certain pre-historical Indian tribes of Canada and the north central USA. Check it out; draw your own conclusions, I did. The Greenland Norse did leave in an orderly, planned manner - the archaeologists got that right - they came to present day Canada and the north central USA and assimilated with the Indians. (Ed.)


Abandoned Colony in Greenland: 

Archaeologists Find Clues to Viking Mystery

By Günther Stockinger
January 10, 2013

For years, researchers have puzzled over why Viking descendants abandoned Greenland in the late 15th century. But archaeologists now believe that economic and identity issues, rather than starvation and disease, drove them back to their ancestral homes.

On Sept. 14, 1408, Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Björnsdottir were married. The ceremony took place in a church on Hvalsey Fjord in Greenland that was only five meters (about 16 feet) tall.
It must have been difficult for the bride and groom to recognize each other in the dim light of the church. The milky light of late summer could only enter the turf-roofed church through an arched window on the east side and a few openings resembling arrow slits. After the ceremony, the guests fortified themselves with seal meat.
The marriage of the Icelander and the girl from Greenland was one of the last raucous festivals in the far northern Viking colony. It all ended soon afterwards, when the last oil lamps went out in the Nordic settlements in Greenland.
The descendants of the Vikings had persevered in their North Atlantic outpost for almost 500 years, from the end of the 10th century until the mid-15th century. The Medieval Warm Period had made it possible for settlers from Norway, Iceland and Denmark to live on hundreds of scattered farms along the protected fjords, where they built dozens of churches and even had bishops.
Their disappearance remains a mystery to this day. Until now, many experts had assumed that the cooling of the climate and the resulting crop failures and famines had ushered in the end of the Scandinavian colony. But now a Danish-Canadian team of scientists believes that it can refute this theory of decline.

From Farmers to Seal Hunters
The scientists conducted isotope analyses on hundreds of human and animal bones found on the island. Their study, published in the Journal of the North Atlantic, paints the most detailed picture to date of the Nordic settlers' dietary habits.
As the research shows, hunger could hardly have driven the ancestors of the Vikings out of their settlements on the edge of the glaciers. The bone analyses prove that, when the warm period came to an end, the Greenlandic farmers and ranchers switched to a seafood-based diet with surprising rapidity. From then on, the settlers focused their efforts on hunting the seals that appeared in large numbers off the coasts of Greenland during their annual migrations.
When settlement began in the early 11th century, only between 20 and 30 percent of their diet came from the sea. But seal hunting played a growing role in the ensuing centuries. "They ate more and more seal meat, with the animals constituting up to 80 percent of their diet in the 14th century," explains team member Jan Heinemeier, a dating expert from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.
His fellow team member Niels Lynnerup, an anthropologist and forensic scientist at the University of Copenhagen, confirms that the Vikings of Greenland had plenty to eat even as the climate grew colder. "Perhaps they were just sick and tired of living at the ends of the earth and having almost nothing but seals to eat," he says.
The bone analyses show that they rarely ate meat from their own herds of livestock. The climate had become harsher on the island starting in the mid-13th century. Summer temperatures fell, violent storms raged around the houses and the winters were bone-chillingly cold. For the cattle that had been brought to Greenland, there was less and less to eat in the pastures and meadows along the fjords.
On the smaller farms, cattle were gradually replaced with sheep and goats, which were easier to rear. The isotope analyses show that pigs, valued for their meat, were fed fish and seal remains for a while longer but had disappeared from the island by around 1300.
The farmers, who had switched their focus to seal hunting, apparently did hardly anything to avert the decline of their livestock economy. The scientists' analyses of animal bones show that the Greenlanders didn't even try to help their cattle survive the long, icy winter by feeding them something of a starvation diet of bushes, horse manure, seaweed and fish waste, a widespread practice in regions of Northern Europe with similar climatic challenges until a few decades ago.
It also appears that epidemics were not responsible for the decline of farm life on the island. The scientists did not discover more signs of disease in the Viking bones uncovered on the island than elsewhere. "We found normal skeletons, which looked just like comparable finds from Scandinavian countries," says Lynnerup.

Increasing Isolation
So, if it wasn't starvation or disease, what triggered the abandonment of the Greenland settlements in the second half of the 15th century? The scientists suspect that a combination of causes made life there unbearable for the Scandinavian immigrants. For instance, there was hardly any demand anymore for walrus tusks and seal skins, the colony's most important export items. What's more, by the mid-14th century, regular ship traffic with Norway and Iceland had ceased.
As a result, Greenland's residents were increasingly isolated from their mother countries. Although they urgently needed building lumber and iron tools, they could now only get their hands on them sporadically. "It became more and more difficult for the Greenlanders to attract merchants from Europe to the island," speculates Jette Arneborg, an archeologist at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen. "But, without trade, they couldn't survive in the long run."
The settlers were probably also worried about the increasing loss of their Scandinavian identity. They saw themselves as farmers and ranchers rather than fishermen and hunters. Their social status depended on the land and livestock they owned, but it was precisely these things that could no longer help them produce what they needed to survive.
Although the descendants of the Vikings had adjusted to life in the north, there were limits to their assimilation. "They would have had to live more and more like the Inuit, distancing themselves from their cultural roots," says Arneborg. "This growing contradiction between identity and reality was apparently what led to their decline."

An Orderly Abandonment
In the final phase, it was young people of child-bearing age in particular who saw no future for themselves on the island. The excavators found hardly any skeletons of young women on a cemetery from the late period.
"The situation was presumably similar to the way it is today, when young Greeks and Spaniards are leaving their countries to seek greener pastures in areas that are more promising economically," Lynnerup says. "It's always the young and the strong who go, leaving the old behind."
In addition, there was a rural exodus in their Scandinavian countries at the time, and the population in the more remote regions of Iceland, Norway and Denmark was thinning out. This, in turn, freed up farms and estates for returnees from Greenland.
However, the Greenlanders didn't leave their houses in a precipitous fashion. Aside from a gold signet ring in the grave of a bishop, valuable items, such as silver and gold crucifixes, have not been discovered anywhere on the island. The archeologists interpret this as a sign that the departure from the colony proceeded in an orderly manner, and that the residents took any valuable objects along. "If they had died out as a result of diseases or natural disasters, we would certainly have found such precious items long ago," says Lynnerup.
The couple that was married in the church on Hvalsey Fjord also left the island shortly after their wedding. In Iceland, the couple had to provide the local bishop with written proof that they had entered into a bond for life under a sod roof according to the rules of the mother church. Their reports are the last documents describing the lives of the Nordic settlers in Greenland.

08 December 2014

More on the Medieval Vikings on Baffin Island, Canadian Arctic

The following article details an exciting re-evaluation of an artifact's origin by Dr. Patricia Sutherland in her continuing ground-breaking work at the Tanfield site on Baffin Island, Canadian Arctic. This heads-up comes through a Medievalists.net posting, which I receive.
I encourage the reader to access the original report by Dr. Sutherland, from Geoarchaeology that follows this article for complete details of this discovery.
Dr. Sutherland's work continues to lend credence to the contentions I make through my fictional novels regarding the association between the medieval Vikings of Greenland and the pre-historical natives of North America. (Ed.)

Thousand-year-old crucible provides more evidence of the Vikings in Canada’s Arctic

Although it was found about fifty years ago, archaeologists have just determined that a small stone container discovered on Baffin Island in Canada’s Arctic region was actually part of metallurgical equipment used by the Vikings around the year 1000 A.D.
Photo by Mike Beauregard-Flickr
The findings were revealed in an article published in the journal Geoarchaeology, by archaeologist Patricia Sutherland. She and her co-authors report that scanning electron microscopy was employed to determine if metal traces were present in a small stone container (about 48 mm tall) from an archaeological site on Cape Tanfield, part of the southern coast of Baffin Island.
They found that the interior of the vessel contained fragments of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, as well as small spherules of glass which are formed when rock is heated to high temperatures. The object is a crucible for melting bronze, likely in order to cast it into small tools or ornaments. The crucible appears to have been broken while in use, suggesting that it was likely used at the locality where it was found.
The artifact was originally excavated during the 1960s and identified as the fragment of a small soapstone pot made by the local indigenous people, the Palaeo-Eskimo who occupied the area in the centuries around 1000 A.D. However among the Palaeo-Eskimo artifacts Sutherland has identified a wide range of specimens that resemble those used by Europeans of the Viking and medieval periods. These include lengths of yarn spun from the fur of local animals, whetstones bearing metal traces from tools that had been sharpened, and tally sticks of the type used for recording transactions.
The authors write:
Copper–tin alloy occurs in crevices between mineral grains, on angular corners of relatively hard albite, within as well as on top of patches of organic-rich matrix, and on both the interior surface and broken edge of the vessel. This variety of settings, together with the “shredded” aspect of individual particles and the presence of glass spherules that are similar to those associated with high-temperature processes, are consistent with the use and breakage of the vessel in an environment where metalworking occurred. One or more small amounts of tin and copper or copper–tin alloy appear to have been melted, probably for the casting of small bronze objects. The broken condition of the crucible would suggest that it was used at the site. The specimen was recovered from an area that also yielded pieces of spun cordage, bar-shaped whetstones bearing traces of smelted metals on the working surfaces, and other specimens related to early European technologies that are consistent with a Norse presence. SEM-EDS analysis of soil matrix from the Nanook site also produced evidence of smelted metal particles.
The Vikings and their medieval Norse descendants established colonies in southwestern Greenland about 1000 AD, and occupied the region for over 400 years. After more than a decade of research on material from the Eastern Arctic, the evidence indicates a significant early European presence in Arctic Canada.The Norse would likely have travelled to the area in order to obtain furs and walrus ivory, either by hunting or by trading with the indigenous people.
http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=medievalistsn-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1841589594Dr. Sutherland comments, “the crucible adds an intriguing new element to this emerging chapter in the early history of northern Canada.”
The Inuit and earlier peoples of Arctic Canada cold-hammered meteoric iron and native copper in order to make tools, but neither they nor other indigenous peoples of northern North America practised high-temperature metalworking. This crucible may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature non-ferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico.
Click here to read the article Evidence of Early Metalworking in Arctic Canada from Geoarchaeology
To learn more about Dr. Sutherland’s work, see Arctic encounters between Norse and Natives