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Manitoba History: Tryggvi J. Oleson and the Origins of Thule Culture: A Controversy Revisited

by Graham A. MacDonald

Manitoba History, Number 15, Spring 1988

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Because the Thule Culture, as well as many of the pre-Eskimo cultures, has been studied in a historical vacuum, only the odd scholar has realized the intimate connection between it and the Icelandic colonies in Greenland. — T. J. Oleson

Although he notes that most scholars accept an Alaskan origin of Thule Culture, Oleson neither presents their case nor a comprehensive rebuttal of it. His basic claim that the oldest Thule sites are to be found in Greenland and the youngest in Alaska is not documented and is not supported by archaeologists. — William E. Taylor, Jr.

 Manitobans sometimes forget that their province has an arctic frontier and that Inuit (Eskimo) peoples have played a role in its history. An interest in the arctic and its peoples came naturally enough to Manitoba scholars of Icelandic extraction whose own roots lay “in northern mists.” Two such scholars courted controversy during their lives because of their respective views of the arctic. The most famous of these was Viljalmur Stefansson, who was born at Arnes Manitoba and who made a major contribution to our understanding of the north through his arctic explorations and his large body of publications. Less well known is Tryggvi J. Oleson, a native of Glenboro, Manitoba, and an outstanding medieval historian. His views of arctic history and in particular of the genesis and nature of Thule culture, advanced in his book Early Voyages and Northern Approaches, led to a genuine controversy in Canadian social science. Despite notices to the contrary Oleson’s views were by no means new, and his synthesis of many earlier contributions was an attempt to stimulate an interest in a neglected European arctic history.

When Professor Oleson of the University of Manitoba published Early Voyages and Northern Approaches in 1963 as volume one of the new Canadian History Centennary Series, there were high expectations in the scholarly community. This series is only now being completed and the general contribution it has made to Canadian historical writing has not been disappointing. Nevertheless it came as something of a shock to D. G. Creighton and W. L. Morton, the original editors of the series, when Professor Oleson’s volume met with a good deal of critical hostility. The book dealt with the earliest years of recorded Canadian history, covering the period 1000 to 1632 A.D. The major criticisms were focused very much on Oleson’s interpretation of the archaeological record, particularly with respect to the origins and character of Thule Eskimo culture.

The editors of the series were faced with a difficult situation owing to the untimely death of Professor Oleson in the same year his book was published. While he had been well aware of the views of many of his critics, there was in fact no occasion for him to reply. When a reprint edition was contemplated in 1968, the editors decided to include selected excerpts from the major reviews in the form of a new introduction, and as a kind of caveat to readers. The text itself was left unaltered. At the time, this may have seemed a reasonable approach to a book which was intended to serve as a general introduction to Canadian history for students and the interested lay reader. In retrospect, the result may have been to bury Oleson’s thesis rather than stimulate discussion of its many aspects. The reviews tended to leave the impression that there was nothing more to say about the main thesis.

The present paper seeks to place Oleson into a context of enquiry little acknowledged by his critics. This tradition of thought had its roots in the eighteenth century and peaked in the twentieth century writings of Fridtjof Nansen, Viljalmur Stefansson, and Jon Duason. This body of thought put forth propositions and suggestions not consistent with the general arguments of many archaeologists.

The main issues raised by Oleson’s critics in the mid-1960s concerned his understanding of the forces which led to the genesis and spread of Thule culture in the centuries after 900 A.D. Also under review was his interpretation of certain bodies of ethnological evidence, particularly with respect to an arctic population known as the “Tunnit.” Finally, his notion that Thule peoples received a strong imprint from an ongoing cultural and racial mixing of old Norse Greenlanders with resident Eskimo or Eskimo-like peoples was generally rejected. The comments of some of the reviewers were heated, but before entering into the controversy, it is important to note some assumptions which were commonly held by many arctic scholars in the early 1960s.

The basic chronology of cultures in the high and middle arctic had been well established by the time Oleson’s book appeared. Since 1925, when Diamond Jenness had distinguished the likelihood of an earlier culture (which he called the Dorset) from the more recent Thule culture archaeological record, a general framework of interpretation had developed. It consisted of the following:

8,500 to 2,500 BC

Alaskan Micro-Blade Traditions

2,500 to 800 BC

Independence and Pre-Dorset (Arctic Small Tool Traditions)

800 BC to 1000 AD


1000 to 1600 AD


1600 AD - Modern

Inuit (Eskimo)

This was the basic picture in 1963 and while much has been learned since, this chronology remains orthodox in the 1980s. [1]

The establishment of knowledge about the existence of several cultures in the high arctic, particularly in the Bering Sea area, between 8,500 B.C. and 800 A.D., was based largely on post-World War II studies. There is still much debate about the relationship of the ancient micro-blade users and later practitioners of the “arctic small tool” traditions. Were these micro-blade users people of Indian stocks from the forests to the south, or were they more properly ancestors of arctic peoples well adapted to tundra and coastal conditions?

Norse Settlements in America.

Between 1957 and 1964, peoples who had been previously described under general headings such as “pre-Dorset” were located more systematically in time and place by William Irving and Richard MacNeish within what Irving called the “arctic small tool tradition.” This phrase represented an effort to tie together in some logical way the many localized groups between Alaska and Greenland who appeared to possess a very similar tool kit and who flourished between about 2,500 B.C. and 800 B.C. There was a general feeling in the early 1960s that such groups were the initial colonizers of the arctic zone and that they probably had descended not from arctic peoples but from inhabitants of the forested south. [2]

The fifty years of archaeology leading up to the definition of the “arctic small tool tradition” also resulted in greater knowledge of later northerners. In the 1920s the historic relationship of the modern Inuit with the earlier cultures was not well understood, and this lack of knowledge was a major impulse towards the organization of The Fifth Thule Expedition from Denmark (1921-24). Many questions were answered, or at least intelligently speculated upon, as a result of the expedition. Then, in 1925, Diamond Jenness made his major contribution through his definition of the Dorset culture. [3]

The manner in which archaeologists introduce important new distinctions is usually on the basis of material culture analysis. This was certainly the case in 1925 with respect to Jenness and the Dorset. Jenness compared the nature of the harpoon heads which were characteristic of the Thule Culture with those he was inspecting from Cape Dorset. Thule harpoon heads had holes in them (for thongs) which were clearly drilled. The unfamiliar Dorset types had holes which were merely gauged out. Other distinctions have been added over time. For example, it appears that the Dorset peoples did not have the use of dogs for the pulling of sleds, a fact of great importance in any consideration of the general mobility of the Dorset.

By the early 1960s arctic archaeology was advancing on many fronts, but within a broad academic consensus of Dorset - Thule succession: that is, most held the view that the Dorset peoples had slowly been displaced by means of a lengthy migration of powerful Thule whale hunters from the west. But the appearance of Early Voyages and Northern Approaches caused a genuine stir amongst scholars, for Oleson outlined an unconventional view of the origins and development of Thule culture. At the heart of the controversy that ensued lay a disagreement, not about the basic chronology of the cultures as just outlined, but about the fundamental character of some of those cultures and the mode of their appearance. He argued against the view that the Thule had gradually displaced the Dorset peoples during the course of a long and gradual series of west to east migrations from the region of Alaska. In his chapter entitled “The Origins of Thule Culture” Oleson put forth quite a different idea:

It is sometimes forgotten that until the twelfth century at the earliest there was no such thing as a genuine Eskimo culture diffused throughout the Canadian Arctic. Until then the north was peopled with small, localized groups such as the old Bering Sea, Punuk, Birnirk, Ipiutak, and even the Dorset Cultures, none of which can properly be described as Eskimo. [4]

Oleson was attempting to atomize the arctic peoples into their historic regional localities, and to move away from the more abstract group nomenclatures such as “Eskimo.”

A second major argument represented a redefinition of the identity of the Tunnit people and a re-interpretation of the correct location of this group in place and time. While the definition of sub-cultures has usually proceeded on the strength of artifact analysis and typologies, one group, the Tunnit, had come to the attention of archaeologists and historians alike through the researches of anthropology and the gathering of oral traditions. Franz Boas in his pioneering work on the Central Eskimo in the 1880s drew attention to the Eskimo legends concerning an earlier people identified as the Tunnit. [5] After Boas a number of others also gathered traditions concerning them, but a clear consensus on the identity of the Tunnit had not been achieved. [6] A distinct view of the matter was provided by Oleson, who suggested that the Tunnit were not, as was commonly supposed, a mere variant of the aboriginal Dorset peoples or the Thule, but indeed a quite different group. They were those who had been identified in Eskimo tales as a “bleareyed” [blue-eyed?] race from the east. Drawing on the legends collected by Boas, E. W. Hawkes, Knud Rasmussen, and especially his historical mentor Jon Duasson, Oleson contended that the designation “Tunnit” derived from Inuit language combining tun (reindeer) and it (men) - or Reindeer Men. The Tunnit were none other than the Icelandic Greenlanders. [7]

As soon as the Icelandic hunters or boothsitters, that is, the Tunnit, began to migrate from the farming settlements, they came upon the aborigines in Northern Greenland and the islands of the Canadian archipelago. These aborigines were the Dorset people ... The inter-mixture between the Icelanders and these more primitive people, which must have begun as early as the eleventh century, was to lead to the development of a new and distinctive culture and the evolution of a new people - the true Eskimos who spread from Greenland in the east to Siberia in the west. This development, from which the modern Eskimo culture has evolved, is known as the Thule Culture.

In short, the long and drawn out decline of the European-style Norse Colonies in Greenland was to be explained not by some Eskimo conquest or by the effects of disease and climate change, but by the natural inclinations of a group to adjust their economy and way of life to one more appropriate to arctic conditions. The Norse, according to Oleson, had slowly gone native.

The scholarly community by and large would have none of this, and many of the reviewers had a field day. This led to the reprint publishing dilemma referred to earlier. Among the reviewers, the one who displayed the least patience with Oleson’s thesis was the renowned archaeologist and participant in the Fifth Thule Expedition, Therkel Mathiassen. Mathiassen himself had been responsible for the identification and definition of the Thule Culture through his work at Thule Greenland during the Second Thule Expedition, and at Naujuan in Repulse Bay during The Fifth Thule Expedition. His report on the Naujuan finds has been considered a classic statement in Central Eskimo studies. [8] Clearly, Mathiassen’s views were important. Concerning Oleson’s synthesis, he contended that “the large section on the history of the Eskimos and on the relations between the Eskimos and the Norsemen in Greenland must be said to be completely misleading.” According to Mathiassen the author had taken “at face value the extremely fanciful book about this problem written by his compatriot Jon Duason.” On Oleson’s identification of the Tunnit with the Norse, Mathiassen contended that “there is nothing whatsoever in the stories of the Tunit which points to the Norseman.” [9] These pronouncements are hard to reconcile with the close documentation provided in chapter eight of the Oleson volume which draws heavily on the accounts of Boas, Hawker, Rasmussen (the guiding light of The Fifth Thule Expedition) and others.

The influential director of the National Museum program in archaeology, William E. Taylor, Jr., had several major problems with the Oleson volume. Among these, the principal one was with the notion that Thule Culture had received its strongest imprint in the eastern Arctic and then spread its effects westward. He agreed with Mathiassen that the error grew out of a misidentification of the Tunnit. Against Oleson’s idea that there had been a cultural and racial blending of the old Dorset and old Norse peoples, Taylor stated: [10]

That speculative reconstruction embodies so many errors that a critic might despair of listing them in detail. Perhaps it will suffice to say that there is no evidence of a Norse-Dorset blending ... that there is no evidence that the Canadian Thule culture people were racially blended with Caucasoids, and that there is no reason to believe that the Thule culture began earlier in Greenland than in Alaska.

William E. Taylor Jr.
Source: National Museums of Canada

Thus, Oleson was accused of a heresy of the first order. The archaeology of the day (and by and large thereafter) contended that the main imprint and source of Thule culture was connected with the north Alaskan Birnirk cultural stage and that the bearers of this cultural style, in their pursuit of whaling, began to move eastward by 900 A.D. and arrived in Greenland around 1200 A.D. Taylor added that “most archaeologists consider Tunnit and Skraeling to be Eskimo and Norse terms respectively for Dorset Culture Eskimos.” [11] Taylor completed his demolition of the Oleson thesis with the observation that “The evidence to support the Oleson-Duason view would of necessity be archaeological and yet I am sure no Arctic archaeologist would support their speculations. Certainly none has presented an appraisal of Canadian Eskimo prehistory compatible with that attempted by Oleson.” [12]

Another generally unfavourable review was published by the distinguished scholar at the Smithsonian Institution, Wilcomb E. Washburn. His observations contained the following conclusion. [13]

The history of the early Norse settlements in the New World has always been shrouded in mystery. It remains shrouded. Professor Oleson, before his untimely death, wrote this provocative interpretation which adds another voice to the confused chorus that has sought to establish what happened to the first European settlements in the New World. The chorus is a confusion of tongues and disciplines as well as of theories. No one scholar has yet appeared who can bend the bow of anthropology, history, and linguistics to the degree necessary to exploit fully the scanty remains, literary and archaeological, of those settlements.

The reviewers tended to greatly exaggerate the polemical tone of Oleson’s writing, as though his thesis somehow implied some ad hominem considerations. This was particularly unfortunate for many colleagues associated with Oleson have remarked upon his love of controversy and his ability to infect his students with a passion for learning and the clash of ideas. [14] According to long-time associate, the late Father Jensen, “Tryggvi Oleson was a careful scholar, certainly not given to promoting romantic notions of an early Norse presence in North America. He did, of course, have access to a vast set of Icelandic literary sources which were outside of the purview of most North American scholars, historians and archaeologists alike.” Substantial response to Oleson’s ideas appears to have been limited to only one major paper, an assessment of the Tunnit literature by Patrick Plumet. [15]

The evidence drawn from the Tunnit legends, while important, was not the main body of evidence which interested Oleson when looking at Inuit origins. Tangible archaeological remains and architectural survivals were much more important. A central preoccupation of enquirers into the character of Thule culture was the relationship of that group with the sea, especially the development of the material-culture base which could support a sophisticated sea-hunting culture. The origins of that material-culture base was the point on which Oleson parted company with much conventional scholarship. In so doing, he also revived and extended an older tradition of enquiry and interpretation.

This older tradition of enquiry was at odds with the general model developed by archaeologists in the early 1960s. Oleson, as a medievalist, argued for strong pre-Columbian European influences on the high arctic. North American arctic archaeologists, by and large, had been preoccupied with Siberian origins and influences, and generally minimized medieval European effects. This difference in perspective was important in the debate and can be readily noticed through a brief review of how Thule culture was normally evaluated by archaeologists.

The topic of whaling was central to the arguments archaeologists had made since the 1920s to explain the rise of Thule culture in the period around 900 A.D. Questions concerning the nature of a whale-hunting tool-kit appropriate to the capture of the larger species of migrating whale (particularly the Bowhead Whale and the Right or Balleen Whale) were converted into a series of questions concerning the origins of such a way of life. Models were sought which might explain the relative rapidity of its alleged rise and spread. These questions were introduced into a context which still lacked much solid archaeological data relative to the vast landscape under consideration. Old-world models became useful and necessary aids to reflection. In the first half of the twentieth century therefore, there had been much interest shown in the probable affiliation of the Eskimo peoples with old-world cultural hearths. There was the possibility for example, that the Eskimos might represent late survivors of the mesolithic hunters and cave-artists of ice-age western Europe. This became a progressively less satisfactory model owing to the large time-frames involved and the general lack of sequential evidence required to confirm such a hypothesis.

But in 1950, the much-respected arctic archaeologist of the Smithsonian Institution, Henry B. Collins, decided to re-evaluate the entire problem of old world origins of the Eskimo in the light of the archaeology accomplished over the previous fifty years: [16]

Now that excavations have been made in the American Arctic and Siberia the postulated cultural affinities between Eskimo and Paleolithic appear in a different light. The recent excavations have produced new and unexpected evidence of relationship between the older Eskimo cultures, the early Siberian Neolithic, and European Mesolithic.

By 1950 there were reasons for looking not only at Siberia but also at ancient Scandinavia. As early as 1910 George Sarauw had identified a group of deer hunters spread far to the north of Norway in the 7th millennium B.C. These “Meglamosians,” through their probable affiliation with the flint-using “Fosna” peoples, led to a sea-adapted people which had a tool kit that included harpoons and a large skin boat like the umiak, two important elements in the later Inuit tool-kit. [17] A bone antler harpoon for example, was found in the skeleton of a ringed seal at a site of Meglamosian provenance. [18] This identification of a sea-adapted group in early Scandinavia complicated the question of Inuit Old World origins-even further. [19]

Whether or not this north Scandinavian location, or any others, could be considered as the ultimate cultural hearth of sea-oriented Eskimo culture was not certain in the 1950s, and indeed some scholars such as Edward Weyer despaired of any further attempt to successfully link old world centres with new in terms of Eskimo origins. [20] Collins’ reassessment gave way to more modest goals in the 1960s when archaeologists attempted to piece together the nature of the scarcely documented local cultures which had been discovered over the past forty years. [21] There was much to do in this regard, particularly in Alaska where post-World War II archaeology had been most productive. It was generally assumed by 1963 that Thule Culture, with its important whaling component, probably had received its earliest formulation in cultural hearths around Point Barrow and the Punuk Islands area of Bering Straight. [22] On this model, it was proposed that a process of immigration and cultural diffusion from Alaska eastwards best explained the fairly rapid rise of what has come to be called Thule. From the dating techniques employed by archaeologists, (greatly assisted by the refinement of the carbon-14 method by 1960) it had become a point of general agreement that the Thule came to prominence in the period around 900 A.D., and that they penetrated Greenland around 1200 A.D. [23]

Tryggvi Oleson agreed with these general proposed dates of origin, but his ideas on the location of the original hearth were radically different from those of most scholars. In suggesting that Thule culture came about largely as the by-product of a long-standing process of admixture between old Norse people and the Dorset peoples, Oleson developed an eastern arctic cultural hearth, and dismissed the notion of a western arctic origin for Thule peoples.

For a scholar to undertake such a total revision of the conventional wisdom a deep and sustained contemplation of sources was required. Similarly, one would expect reviews of such a work to do justice to the author’s use of the sources. A reading of the reviews is disappointing in this regard, for one is left with the impression that a long and careful inspection of a wide range of materials by Oleson was dismissed out of hand. In particular, many of the reviewers missed the essential point: Oleson’s revision was based largely on a reinterpretation of the writings of the archaeologists themselves. While the writings of Jon Duason were important on literary and linguistic matters, they were not the major source for Oleson’s ideas on the general sequence of arctic events or for his knowledge of the archaeological record. [24] The archaeological literature of Oleson’s time, as he interpreted it, was hard-pressed to explain the relative lack of material items indicative of a presumed whaling way of life at the Birnirk sites in Alaska, even though these sites were supposed to give the key to the origins of Thule culture. In addition, Oleson found archaeological explanations of large scale movements of Thule peoples and influence in the period after 900 A.D. quite unconvincing. [25] Oleson had drawn the conclusion that such movements could not be explained under the assumptions and rules of evidence which the archaeologists themselves had established; and so by his own marshalling of evidence he concluded that Thule had in fact received its strongest imprint in the eastern arctic. [26] Having asserted that archaeological models of migration and early Alaskan influence were inconsistent, Oleson pointed to forms of evidence of a more literary nature than archaeologists had utilized.

Oleson claimed that archaeologists tended to develop their conclusions “in an historical vacuum.” [27] His earlier writings had attempted to redress the balance. While thoroughly acquainted with the controversial aspects of the “Vinland” question, Oleson was in fact not greatly interested in that controversy relative to the much greater implications of the existence of a large pocket of Europeans settled on the coast of Greenland and in Iceland. [28] Indeed, the suggestion that Oleson was “biased” in favour of just about anything Scandinavian cannot be supported from an inspection of either his continuing assessment of the Vinland literature or the 1961 discoveries at L’Anse-Aux-Meadows by the Ingstads. [29] Several reviewers of Oleson’s book did grant the success with which he had introduced historical factors. For example, the geographer Andrew Hill Clark stated: [30]

Never before to this reviewer’s knowledge, have the available documents, traditions, and potential sources of literary reference been mined so thoroughly or presented so clearly in English.

While one reviewer found unconvincing his suggestion that relations between Europe and Greenland continued into the mid and later 15th century, [31] there was certainly sufficient and adequate economic history available in 1964 to suggest that the north-Atlantic triangle was well-plied throughout the 15th century. [32]

The extent of the early migration to Iceland was estimated by the French historian Musset to have approached 30,000 to 35,000 people between 870 and 930 A.D. [33] The subsequent colonization of Greenland opened up two major frontiers on the arctic. Oleson did not pursue his “historical vacuum” idea back into its European trade setting at great length, for that was not his purpose. Yet, looking in this direction might well increase the legitimacy of his initial observation, and it might amplify our view of arctic life in the period from 900 to 1500, particularly with respect to the traditional role of whaling in medieval Scandinavian society.

Questions about the ultimate role of a north European cultural hearth for the Inuit can not be answered easily, and the complex history which unfolded in Scandinavia from the 6th millennium B.C. to the period of the Viking expansion in the 8th century A.D. cannot concern us here. [34] What is of interest is the long and presumably unbroken connection with the sea which became part of the Norse identity and way of life down to our own day.

There is a tendency to see the medieval European Greenlander as an agriculturist, but a more likely model for that individual may be Ottar, the remarkable Norwegian and sometime attendant at King Alfred The Great’s Court, the one who lived “farthest north of any Norseman.” His account of his voyage to the White Sea in the late ninth century has been preserved along with some knowledge of his way of life. Along with the occasional pursuit of agriculture, Ottar also engaged in reindeer herding, fishing, whaling, and walrus hunting. Deer, fish, walrus and whale were his main stocks in trade for the markets to the south. [35]

That an ancient perfection of sea mammal exploitation had become an important element in the way of life of the sea-faring Norse can be established through the medieval record. Helge Ingstad has summarized some of the main evidence: [36]

For the Norsemen, harpooning whale was an old-established art. The older Gulating Law has two chapters on whaling regulations and is explicit on the subject of whale-hunting. The king’s Mirror gives detailed descriptions of various species of whale found in the Arctic Ocean, displaying a knowledge of these creatures such as could have been acquired only through generations of hunting.

Thus, the ninth century penetration of the eastern arctic by a rump population of the most aggressive element in contemporary Europe, possessed of unmatched seafaring skills and long-accustomed to a life of trade, farming, hunting, fishing and whaling, must be taken as more than a minor event with respect to the traditional life-ways which had been developed by the widespread but highly localized groups then in possession of the North American arctic.

Therkel Mathiassen found it to be an “entirely fantastic thought” that “a cattle breeding population such as the Norsemen, should have left their good settlements in south Greenland and have migrated to far poorer districts and there have mixed with the Skraelings ...” [37] However, there is little in the historic background of the northern Scandinavians to suggest that cattle breeding was their sole mode of economy. [38] The archaeological record has now supplemented the documentary record as far as Greenland is concerned. Inge Kleivan has observed: [39]

The explanation that the Norse could not survive without supplies from Europe was formerly prominent, but archaeological excavations of Norse ruins have shown that the Norse were prepared for self-sufficiency.

One close student of the Norse Colony has made clear through his analysis of Norse middens and garbage heaps just what the evidence suggests for that self-sufficiency. From a range of samples, T. H. McGovern has established the general range of proportions of domestic animal bones to wild fauna. In general, domesticates account for between one-quarter and one-third of animal bones found at the farms. Seal bones make up a major proportion of all Norse bone collections. [40]

This is surely not surprising given the eclectic nature of Norse economy and its regional variants. [41] In this Norse eclecticism may be found the key to Oleson’s radical thesis of 1963, for it was not merely the diversified survival techniques of the Norse that commanded his attention, but the temporal context as well, a context marked by a dynamic tendency to range far and wide.

Much of Oleson’s scholarship centered around the fairly uncommon proposition that there was a Canadian medieval history in the European sense of that term. His opening salvo on this suggestion dates from 1950 when he published an article entitled “Polar Bears in the Middle Ages.” This marked the practical beginning of his identification with the works of Jon Duason, the Icelandic scholar whose writings remain virtually unread by English-speaking students. The works of Stefansson were also important in Oleson’s writings. The piece on polar bears developed the evidence for long-standing trade links between the high arctic and the countries of Europe and the near-east throughout the medieval period. Fox pelts, falcons, bear skins, and even the occasional live polar bear were important stocks in trade, much desired as diplomatic gifts between princes and those with power. Widespread archaeological evidence for these activities, particularly in the form of stone traps and eider duck shelters, was cited on behalf of these arguments. [42] It was suggested that after 880 A.D. sporadic trade activity had taken place between the high arctic and Europe. [43] Documentary evidence for this trade and the general history of Greenland is in no way as abundant as the record for the colonizing hearth in Iceland. The record of archaeology has, however, richly supplemented the meagre Papal documents, trade accounts, and occasional personal accounts which constitute the written history of Greenland. [44]

Just why the medieval Greenland settlements gradually declined and lost their capacity to carry on trade and a European-inspired way of life is a question which had fascinated historians and archaeologists alike since the mid-18th century. A most thorough examination of this question was undertaken by the explorer Fridtjof Nansen in his Northern Mists (1911) and by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in his 1938 “introduction” to a new edition of The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher. These writings provided the occasion to subject to criticism the various orthodox explanations which were given to explain the eclipse of the Greenland colonies. These explanations were normally based on suggestions that there had been (1) an Eskimo conquest of the decayed Norse Colonies, that (2) disease had taken away the colonists, or (3) that an increasingly severe climate associated with a “little ice age” had rendered life impossible. These ideas had been in circulation in various forms since the early reports of Ivar Bardarson, who from 1341 to 1360 acted as manager of the farm belonging to the Bishopric at Gardar in Julianhaab, the eastern-most Greenland settlement. (See map.) Conquest provided the earliest explanation, but ideas of disease, climate deterioration and piracy were added by other 19th century writers such as Henry Rink. [45]

Against this portrait of European disappearance by means of one or a combination of disasters, Oleson synthesized another tradition which had its origins in the 18th century writings of Egil Thorhallason and which had come down through the writings of Sundt, Nansen, Steffanson and Duason. Drawing on archaeology, literary sources, and medieval trade information along with the evidence presented by modern anthropologists, a quite different view was presented. The Canadian arctic was seen as a mutually advantageous frontier between aboriginal America and northern Europe, a zone of economic intercourse and cultural accommodation for those who chose to live there. With the passage of time the Norse settlers recognized the advantages in “going native” for, as the geographer Carl Sauer observed, their colonies “failed as small out-posts that slowly lost the ability to live in the European manner.” [46]

As to the question of cultural fusion between groups, the arguments presented in Oleson’s work were made from the perspective of material culture studies, architecture, ethnology literary sources and physical anthropology. Research since the 1960s has still not clarified the difficulties presented for those seeking to come to firm conclusions in many of these fields and no firm conclusions will be advocated here, particularly with respect to the difficult area of physical anthropology. There were, nonetheless, some remarkably inconsistent complaints made by some of Oleson’s reviewers. Mathiassen, who himself had done much to identify the historical emergence of a hybrid Eskimo-Norse variant culture in west Greenland (the Inugsuk), still felt it absurd to think Greenlanders would slowly abandon a domestic farming way of life for that of hunters. As has been suggested, however, this was not a new idea in Oleson’s work; as an hypothesis it had a pedigree dating back to the mid-eighteenth century. [47] In more general terms, and from a Canadian point of view, the idea of hybridization between Native and European, and of the abandonment of colonial centres by Europeans for the life of the land, are fundamental themes of continental history from the seventeenth century onwards. There is no logical reason for assuming that such processes were not at work in the high arctic between 900 A.D. and 1500 A.D.

Despite the heavy emphasis given to the argument for long-standing admixture between old Icelandic and arctic indigenes, most of the reviewers showed little interest in this proposition. In one major review, by the prominent historian of New World settlement, David Quinn, a very unexpected citation was given as a refutation of the Oleson argument. Quinn cited the following passage from George Best’s Narrative of 1578, written during Best’s participation as a captain on Martin Frobisher’s Third Voyage. Regarding the natives of Baffin Island, Best noted:

These people I judge to be a kind of Tartar, or rather a kind of Sawed, of the same sort and condition of life that the Samoeds be to the North-eastwards beyond Moscovy, who are called Samoeds, ... And by late conference with a friend of mine ... who hath great experience of those Samoeds and people of the Northeast, I find that in all their manner of living, those people of the Northeast, and these of the Northwest are alike. [48]

Quinn took this passage to mean that the members of Frobisher’s expedition ‘saw the Eskimo as modern ethnologists do, as a circumpolar culture.’ Now it may well be true that Best saw similarities as stated above, and indeed Oleson quotes similar material from the Frobisher Voyages suggesting the “tartar” parallel. But also drawn by Oleson from the Frobisher Voyage evidence are observations which suggested the presence of other groups co-existing together and, by degree, interacting through trade and marriage alliances. It was the varied nature of the ethnological evidence which caused Oleson to reject the notion that there was a uniform circumpolar Eskimo culture in place in the high arctic in the 16th century. In Oleson’s view, a complete review of the Frobisher Narratives and other evidence pointed toward an eastern arctic inhabited by four groups, namely: residual Dorset peoples; the imperfectly understood “skraelings”; pure, if degenerate Norse; and a growing race of mixed-bloods - the developing Thule. [49]

Any suggestion that an intermingling of the races would not take place in the long term is surprising given what was and is known about hybridization in many other parts of the world. Particularly relevant is historical experience in old Quebec, old Ontario and on the plains after the 17th century. [50] In his exhaustive review of the various centres in Canada from which biological fusion took root, Marcel Giraud observed about the western plains region: [51]

... the very force of circumstances obliged them [the fur traders] to accommodate the habits and associations of a millieu from which they did not find it possible to withdraw as they could on the coast. It was no longer a question of merely awaiting the arrival of the Indians and exchanging European goods for their furs; instead it became important that the personnel, if it did not wish to abandon the field to the Canadians, should learn from their methods and spread out among the native people.

To what extent this would have been the case with the passage of time in the high arctic remains problematic as the regularity of trade expeditions with old Europe waned and then totally disappeared some time in the fifteenth century. Practical economy lay in the direction of the land and adaptation to native ways.

Cutting up a whale. Woodcut from an Icelandic manuscript in F. Nanson, Northern Mists.

At stake in the argument between Oleson and the archaeologists was the methodology to be employed in assigning meaning to the words “Thule” and “Dorset” and how they were related. Archaeologists have been very interested in finding sites which are “stratified,” that is, sites where a “Thule” site is found directly on top of an older “Dorset” site, and the “Dorset” site in turn is on top of an even older “Pre-Dorset” site. Such a situation occurs at Lake Harbour on the southern side of Baffin Island. Lake Harbour and other such sites tell us much about what kind of people occupied a given area and when they did so. The relationships between those peoples (if any) is much more difficult to establish. There is certainly room for questioning the assumption that a Thule-inspired “conquest” was underway more or less continuously across the arctic after roughly 900 A.D. If one is not wed to the notion that the only way technology advances is through migration, then a process of gradual refinement and adoption of new ideas and materials, stimulated by the presence of Europeans in possession of a powerful set of medieval technologies, located on the eastern periphery of the arctic, would be a sufficient explanation for the fairly rapid transformation and upgrading of the arctic tool kit. Longstanding trade relationships with the Dorset would provide the major mechanism for this process of idea-refinement, along with the selective and gradual admixture of Greenlanders “going native” in the face of declining opportunities to carry on the European way of life in settled villages.

In the same way that contemporary archaeologists see strong continuities between the various layers of Inuit-Eskimo Cultures, distinguished by tool-kit modifications (Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Thule, and Modern), so also should it be acknowledged that there are strong continuities between medieval Norse life-ways and Thule life-ways. The differences have usually been stressed. But the accommodation made by the Norse to the sea through the harvest of large sea mammals; their ability to produce iron implements, parallel in design to Eskimo artifacts; their ability to hunt caribou in an efficient manner; their skill as architects; and their undoubted gifts for political organization — all of these aspects of the Norse way would have survival value for all peoples in the arctic. The last point, that of the “political” was not stressed by Oleson; however, the capacity of the Norse for quick assimilation into such major areas of conquest in old Europe as Normandy and the British Isles, while at the same time strongly influencing the future political organization of the host cultures, is one of the more intriguing aspects of Norse history. [52]

In suggesting that traditional archaeology was overlooking major sources of influence in the transformation of arctic cultures, Oleson was able to gain only very qualified support from fellow historians. David Quinn made the following observation: [53]

Oleson’s isolation of a frontier element among the Greenland colonists may prove useful for future analysis while some of the material he utilizes may very well point to a degree of assimilation of Norse individuals and culture traits in certain Eskimo groups notably in Baffin Island.

But anything so sweeping as the alteration of Dorset Culture into Thule was not an idea Quinn was prepared to endorse. Nevertheless, arctic archaeologists were stuck with a problem: how to explain a radical shift in arctic lifeways which came about precisely in the time period when the Norse penetrated the arctic and the new world. This shift was not and still is not in dispute, and many projects and papers have been assembled in recent years by archaeologists on these themes.

In particular, questions of Dorset-Thule succession have been studied at sites where there is a presumed sequence of the cultures through time. In his recent synthesis of eastern arctic prehistory, M. S. Maxwell tends to stress the continuities between Dorset and Thule cultures. With respect to hunting and the nature of the resources utilized, he sees a more efficient exploitation of a similar ecosystem taking place in Thule times. “Thule hunters were able to take advantage of more targets of opportunity.” Maxwell suggests that the technologically inferior Dorset may have become over-dependent on a hunting schedule which required a great expenditure of energy (in the absence of dog-sleds) to be at the correct place at the correct time in order to undertake successful hunting. This rigid system of scheduling may have been “a contributing factor to Dorset collapse when upset by intruding Thule hunters.” [54] It was Oleson’s contention however, that no such intrusion need be posited, for the relevant process was one emanating out of the east and it was not one of conquest but of gradual mutual learning and accommodation between two peoples already resident in the eastern arctic. This model is not inconsistent with what some archaeologists studying Dorset-Thule succession in specific localities have noticed. For example, E. Bielawski has argued on behalf of modification and reciprocal interchange between Dorset and Thule, and concluded: “The eastern Thule subsistence pattern increasingly came to resemble the Dorset patterns.” [55] These kinds of conclusions tend to reinforce the notion of localized change rather than positing large migratory movements of people as an explanation for cultural modification.

Significant additions to our knowledge of the role of iron in arctic prehistory has been added since Oleson’s day as well. The frequency of its occurrence at excavated sites of Thule character has been seen by one authority as evidence in favour of more widespread and frequent trade relationships between Inuit and Norse than had previously been suspected. [56] But no reply has ever been given in the literature to the striking re-interpretation of evidence given by Oleson as a response to Mathiassen’s contention that Thule culture artifacts demonstrated a degeneration in style as the people moved from west to east. Such a reality was “almost inexplicable” in Oleson’s view. Surely a culture in the full flower of cultural expansion would not demonstrate through the archaeological record a technology which was degenerating! Oleson contended that it was the larger model of west to east movement that was incorrect. The process of expansion was from east to west, and the pattern was therefore one of gradual artifact improvement rather than degeneration: [57]

On the other hand, if the Thule Culture originated as an iron age culture in Greenland and gradually spread westward to Alaska and Siberia, there is no problem in explaining the increasing excellence of its arts and artifacts. An iron age people increasingly cut off from sources of iron is driven to the manufacture of stone and bone implements and in the course of generations, masters this new technique.

In other words, the bearers of the Thule Culture had to progressively re-adapt to the working of bone and stone as they moved towards the west, while the superior design elements which had been introduced under the influence of iron models were retained.

There were other cultural elements which required explanation as well. Following Duason and others, Oleson asserted that there was a great variety of material evidence scattered around the eastern arctic indicative of Icelandic influences rather than indigenous ones. [58] Much of the evidence was of an architectural or “built” nature, including stone caribou runs oriented towards corrals, and eider duck shelters employed for the gathering of the eider down which was a much valued item in traditional Icelandic society. An area of dispute concerned Oleson’s contention that the typical stone Thule-type house was one inspired by Icelandic models of design — the “skal” or house. Shipsheds — “hrof” — were also pointed out, along with stands for inverted Norse-style boats, as opposed to kayak stands. [59]

This debate remains a lively one largely through the work in Ungava by the late Thomas E. Lee who reacted strongly against the contention that sites in the Payne Bay area were largely of a Dorset or Thule provenance. [60] Lee maintained that the evidence was strongly in favour of Norse occupations, and that there was evidence of an anthropological nature in the form of skulls. The large structure at Payne Bay, which he investigated, suggested to Lee a large Icelandic communal dwelling, while the associated “Hammer of Thor” cairn he considered to be characteristic of the harbour guides employed by the Norse. [61]

There was a large body of literary material sifted by Oleson as well, much of it little known to English speaking and continental students. One of the least satisfactory aspects of the reviews was the rather casual manner in which much of Oleson’s evidence was dismissed, particularly the Duason material. Of the reviewers only Thomas E. Lee seems to have made use of Oleson’s manuscript English translation of Duason’s Landkonnun og Landnam Islendinga i Vestur heimi. [62] A consultation of Oleson’s sources may explain the relatively late appearance of a critical review by Lee in 1967. His assessment of the book provided a strong contrast with those excerpted in the preface to the 1968 reprint edition of Early Voyages and Northern Approaches. Lee wrote: [63]

I have read Oleson’s tremendous work, cover to cover slowly, carefully, six times - and will again ... I regard it as by far the most important and instructive single work to come out of Arctic research in this field in recent times. Its true worth will remain hidden for years ...

There remains to discuss very briefly those questions relevant to physical anthropology. Oleson moved cautiously on this front, but as with his archaeological conclusions, he based his observations solidly on the testimony of current scholarship. [64] The evidence displayed by modern physical anthropology concerning ideas of admixture is still not particularly clear to the layman. What seems likely is that admixture of such recent vintage would not reveal significant shifts in basic skull morphology and that only secondary racial characteristics would be noteworthy. This indeed, is one direction which discussion took in the 1920s when Diamond Jenness and Viljalmur Stefansson became engaged in a debate about the character of the so-called “blond” Eskimos of Coronation Gulf. [65]

In the early 1960s physical anthropology was rapidly moving away from older approaches based on cranial measurements and towards blood-group studies and so-called nonmetrical studies of cranium variation. The search had commenced for meaningful measures of “genetic distances” between contemporary and historic populations. The most hopeful approach seemed to lie in the establishment of correlations between living representatives, their host populations, and gene-types. Old and New World populations might thereby reveal some of their historic connections. [66] There is still a lack of skeletal materials from the arctic. Whether or not modern studies of “genetic distance” or other exercises in metrical and non-metrical measurement can provide persuasive evidence for post-900 A.D. admixture of Norse and Inuit is a question best left with the students of physical anthropology. There has been surprisingly little discussion of the skull found at Payne Bay by Lee and described by Carlton S. Coon as Icelandic. [67]

Mathiassen’s idea that there was no “evidence” for intermixture between indigenes and Greenlanders is another matter altogether. As Oleson observed, his own ideas were not new, but had indeed a “hoary” past. Nansan, Stefannson, and others developed cogent arguments on this topic, but such writings have had little influence on recent archaeological theories. Typical of the disinterest, and perhaps even of the unawareness of this body of thought is the statement in the most recent Smithsonian Institution synthesis of Arctic Pre-history given by Inge Kleivan. In her discussion of racial mixture as an historical problem, she begins her discussion with observations on Hans Egede’s early 18th century writings and states: “Several similar observations exist, but these impressions of a European element in the Greenland Eskimo population may easily be explained as a result of contact with Europeans in the centuries after the disappearance of the Norse.” [68] Yet Oleson and others had all developed extensive critiques of this position. Writing a summary of these critiques in 1938, Stefansson observed that “the gradually fading European culture well overlapped the revival of westward enterprise” initiated by Cabot and Columbus, and the “physical traits of the medieval Norse never disappeared from Greenland.” On the contrary they have “merely been wrongly identified during the last two centuries” by those who have considered these surviving traits “wholly the result of modern intermarriage between Eskimos and Europeans.” [69]

One source of this confusion was the writings of the Danish Missionary Hans Egede who was active in the revived Greenland Mission field in 1721. His Diary, published in 1741 contains references to what is unmistakably a highly mixed racial population, although Egede himself did not draw this conclusion, believing as did many others in the idea of an Eskimo conquest of the old Greenlanders, or that pirates had destroyed the original settlements. The theory of widescale admixture was developed by others such as E. Thorhallesen in his Rudera (1776), and the work of Eilert Sundt in 1860. After editing Egede’s Diary, Sundt drew conclusions quite different from Egede’s concerning the manner in which the old colonies had declined. With the gradual disappearance of shipping from Europe, he stated: [70]

With this way of life all better things would soon be forgotten, and now it might happen that a Norwegian born girl preferred an Eskimo Kayak paddler as a suitor and master, to a less successful family supporter of Norwegian descent.

In such a process would have been found one of the beginnings of a new population. Unlike the situation in southern Canada where stimulation from the European heartland remained dominant, the situation in the arctic was reversed. There would be strong forces leading Scandinavian women, as well as men, to go native.

Members of the Fifth Thule Expedition. Top row (left to right): Kai Birket-Smith, Therkel Mathiesen, Helge Bangsted. Bottom row: Captain Peder Peterson, Knud Rasmussen, Peter Freuchen and Jacob Oleson. Birket-Smith and Jacob Oleson finished their explorations in Churchill. Photo from Peter Freuchen, Arctic Adventure, 1935.

David Quinn’s reluctance to grant any undue influence to a Norse “frontier element” led him to conclude that anything more, “such as the transformation of a whole indigenous culture by a handful of Europeans within such a relatively short period is intrinsically unlikely and quite at variance with the evidence.” [71] There are some objections which can be raised to this line of argument, quite apart from the new kinds of evidence which have been found in the arctic since 1964. First, the notion that the Norse colonies represented a mere “handful” of Europeans, needs to be put into the demographic context of the aboriginal settlements of the day. A concentrated population of sea-faring Europeans, in possession of powerful iron technologies and familiar with their own traditions of harvesting northern faunas, would be a potent force and a source of great curiosity to the largely dispersed and small migratory groups of Inuit then in possession of the arctic. A fluctuating population of from 3000 to 9000 Norse in Greenland (not to mention the much larger population in Iceland) would be a factor of the most potent kind in that period. [72]

Secondly, the notion that such transformations as took place in the high arctic must be seen as taking place in a “relatively short period” does not quite ring true. Given the rapidity of the disruption caused by the rather small numbers of Iberians who penetrated the 16th century central and south American cultural landscapes, there is little reason to suggest that great transformation cannot come about rapidly. [73] Further, a half-millennium does not, in standard historical studies, represent a short period of time. It might be argued that the relative stability of the Norse colonies, the natural inclination of the colonists to participate in many similar resource harvesting activities, and the capacity of those colonists to provide useful trade items, and to organize for political purposes, would provide a very favourable matrix for cultural fusion. [74] The demoralizing effects of mass communicable disease on indigenous Inuit society appears to have been minimal compared with what was experienced in the early period of Iberian-Amerindian contact. While Iceland probably suffered considerably from the Black Death after 1348, there is little evidence for a contamination of Greenland. [75]

The central conclusion reached by Oleson, that arctic aboriginal pre-history had been theorized in an historical vacuum with respect to European developments, is difficult to resist. The evidence of extensive trade links with the central arctic, the possibilities of a more comprehensive nordic cartography than hitherto expected, and the sheer weight of Norse influence in the period under study, all suggest that Oleson may even have understated his case. The tendency for students of arctic prehistory to see the Norse presence as rather peripheral to main developments fails to accommodate the body of evidence provided and discussed by many scholars. Norse activities provided admirable prototypes for any aboriginal group seeking to extend its own capacity for mastery of the arctic seas and lands.

On the surface, Oleson’s tour de force of interdisciplinary history does not seem to have exercised much influence on archaeological interpretations of the arctic in the last twenty-five years. In taking on the northern subject he placed himself outside of the territory trod by Canadian historians and in utilizing such a wide range of sources he placed himself outside of the theoretical framework of most archaeologists. It is not surprising that he received a more sympathetic hearing from historical geographers such as Andrew Hill Clark and Carl O. Sauer. Oleson’s model of analysis had much in common with that advocated by the Berkeley School developed by the influential triumvirate of Sauer, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, and historian Herbert E. Boulton. For these scholars and their impressive list of progeny, the leading research questions were inter-disciplinary ones and concerned the character and origins of the “culture area.” [76]

In attacking the well-entrenched archaeological models of “conquest,” “invasion,” and “advance,” Oleson was actually well in tune with developments which were starting to take place within the archaeological community. The preoccupation with migration and conquest was starting to wear thin by the early 1960s. Some have recognized 1963 as the specific year in which manifestos proclaiming the need for a “new archaeology” were first hurled out by scholars such as Lewis R. Binford, Don Bothwell and Eric Higgs. In an influential book, Science in Archaeology (1963), Bothwell and Higgs jointly penned the following telling critique: [77]

Nor is it possible to believe easily that when artifacts dispersed they did so because a people migrated. But by such hypotheses, which is an attempt to trace tradition in time and space, one gets a prehistoric picture of invasions and mass movements of peoples, and wars, and by a pyramid of hypotheses, all the trappings of the historical picture. The tail of history wags the prehistoric dog.

In 1964 Binford initiated a discussion which still continues, with his challenge that too much of archaeological interpretation was based on inference, and that there was a distinct lack of rules governing archaeological postulates. [78] Another important plank in the platform of the new archaeology was the concept of ecology, associated most strongly with the name of Karl Butzer. [79] The new archaeology displayed much more interest in the complexities of site and region than with large inter-regional patterns, and it perhaps comes as no surprise that Butzer was trained as a geographer. Since 1966 Butzer has exercised considerable influence from his position at the University of Chicago, and it is interesting to speculate on what the relationship of his own work might be to that of the former Head of the Chicago Geography Department, Harlan H. Barrows, who in 1923 published his major theoretical statement in historical geography, Geography as Ecology. [80]

Defining boundaries between disciplines has become a serious 20th century problem for students and scholars. Like the weather, everybody talks about it but nobody seems to know what to do about it. There has been an impressive tradition of historical geography developing in Canada since the 1960s, through the focused studies of Bruce Trigger and Conrad Heidenreich on old Huronia, the work of A. J. Ray on the fur trade, and R. Cole Harris on old Quebec. As with many other elements of Canadian historical scholarship, this trend may be traced back to Harold Innis, who has been praised by two prominent historians of geographical thought for writing some of the best historical geography between 1930 and 1970. [81] The labels are of course not the issue, but it is curious how certain fashions of research may settle on a discipline, only to resurface fifty years later in another discipline as something new. In retrospect, Oleson’s work should be seen as a major contribution in Canadian historical geographic studies. In the search for the origins of the cultural hearth of the Thule, and in attempting to assess its probable influence over space and time, Oleson was in good company. If knowledge is, as some suspect, the outcome of what transpires during the course of a most elaborate game, then perhaps Professor Oleson’s only sin was that he played the game too well.


1. A comprehensive synthesis was produced in 1964 in German by Hans-George Bandi, Urgeschicte der Eskimo (Stuttgart, Gustav Fischer Verlag). This appeared in English translation with revisions in 1969, as Eskimo Prehistory. Trans. Ann E. Keep, Univ. of Alaska, Studies of Northern Peoples, No. 2 (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press). For a clear and well illustrated introduction to the general concepts of arctic prehistory see Robert McGhee, Canadian Arctic Prehistory (Ottawa: National Museum of Man, 1978). An important summary of the state of arctic pre-historic research, contemporary with the publication of Early Voyages and Northern Approaches was John M. Campbell, ed., Prehistoric Cultural Relations Between the Arctic and Temperate Zones of North America, Arctic Inst. of North America, Tech, Paper no. 11 (Montreal: 1962).

2. See Ronald J. Nash, The Arctic Small Tool Tradition, Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of Manitoba, Occasional Paper no. 2 (Winnipeg: Univ. of Manitoba Press, 1969) pp. 1-3. For a systematic review of chronologies in the arctic, see any of the following: H. G. Bandi, Eskimo Prehistory, Don E. Dumond, The Eskimos and the Aleuts (London, Thames and Hudson, 1977); Moreau S. Maxwell, Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic (New York: Academic Press, 1985).

3. See Diamond Jenness, “A New Eskimo Culture in Hudson Bay” Geographical Review, 15(1925), pp. 428-37.

4. For a schematization of cultures and sub-cultures, periods of occupation, and geographic locations, see the Appendix in Bandi, Eskimo Prehistory, pp. 188-89. See also, H. B. Collins, ‘The Origins and Antiquity of the Eskimo’ in Smithsonian Inst. Annual Report, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: 1951), p. 425 f., W. S. Chard, ‘The Western Roots of Eskimo Culture’ Proceedings 32nd. Int. Congress of Americanists, 1958, pp. 81-87; M. G. Levin, Ethnic Origins of the Peoples of Northern Asia, Arctic Institute of N.A. Trans. no. 3 (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1963); S. I. Rudenko, The Ancient Culture of the Bering Sea and the Eskimo Problem, Arctic Inst. of N.A. Trans., no. 1 (Toronto, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1961).

5. Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Ethnology, 1888). (Coles Reprint, 1974), pp. 634 f.

6. Cf. Tryggvi J. Oleson, Early Vintages and Northern Approaches 1000 - 1632 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1968) ch. 8, and Patrick Plumet, “Vikings et Tunnit: A propos de l’ouvrage de Tyrggvi J. Oleson” Inter Nord (1968), pp. 303-08.

7. Oleson, p. 54; 59.

8. A. P. McCartney, “Introduction” in A. P. McCartney, ed. Thule Eskimo Culture: An Anthropological Retrospective (Ottawa: National Musuem of Man. Mercury Series, no. 88, 1979), p. 3.

9. Therkel Mathiassen, “Review,” Scandinavica 3(2) (1964), pp. 147-48.

10. William E. Taylor Jr. “Review,” Arctic (March, 1964), pp. 61-62. William E. Taylor Jr. “The Fragments of Eskimo Prehistory,” The Beaver (Spring, 1965), pp. 8-9.

11. Taylor, “The Fragments of Eskimo Prehistory,” pp. 8-9.

12. Taylor, “Fragments,” p. 9.

13. Wilcomb E. Washburn, “Review,” New Jersey Historical Series, Smithsonian Institution (April, 1965), pp. 802-03.

14. W. L. Morton, “Obituary Notice: T. J. Oleson,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (1964), pp. 802-03.

15. Plumet, “Vikings et Tunnit.”

16. Henry B. Collins, “The Origins and Antiquity of the Eskimo,” in Smithsonian Inst. Annual Report, 1950, Washington, D.C., 1951, p. 425.

17. Cf. Grahame Clark, The Stone Age Hunters (London: Thames and Hudson, 1967), pp. 92-111; Grahame Clark, World Prehistory: A New Outline, (London: Cambridge U.P., 1969), pp. 79-82; V. Gordon Childe, The Dawn of European Civilization, 6th Ed., Revised (New York: Random House, 1964) pp. 10-12; Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade: Life in Northern Europe from 15,000 B.C. to the time of the Vikings, (New York: A. Knopf, 1956), Chapters 10 and 11.

18. Clark, Stone Age Hunters, p. 106.

19. Bibby, Testimony of the Spade, pp. 165-68.

20. Edward Weyer Jr. “Eskimo Prehistory in Perspective,” Polar Notes, no. 1 (Nov. 1959), pp. 71-78.

21. See S. I. Rudenko, “The Ancient Culture of the Bering Sea and the Eskimo Problem,” trans. by Paul Tolstoy, Arctic Inst. of North America. Anthropology of the North, trans. from Russian Sources, no. 1 (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1961), and C. S. Chard, “The Western Roots of Eskimo Culture,” Proceedings, 32nd Int. Cong. of Americanists, 1958, pp. 81-87.

22. Cf. H. G. Bandi, Eskimo Prehistory; D. Dumond, The Eskimo and the Aleuts; Smithsonian Inst. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5, The Arctic (Washington, D.C.: 1984) pp. 8-22, pp. 359-76. On the actual importance of whales in the later Thule culture see also the debate between M. M. R. Freeman and A. P. McCartney. Cf. M. M. R. Freeman, “A Critical View of Thule Culture and Economic Adaptation” in McCartney, ed. Thule Eskimo Culture, pp. 278-85; and A. P. McCartney, “The nature of Thule Eskimo Whale Use,” Arctic 33(3) (1980), pp. 517-41.

23. The most up-to-date analysis of the orthodox view of Thule culture expansion is to be found in Moreau S. Maxwell, Pre-history of the Eastern Arctic (New York: Academic Press, 1985). A lucid summary of the general position and interpretation may be found in Robert McGhee, “Thule Prehistory of Canada” in Smithsonian Inst. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5, pp. 369-76.

24. See particularly the documentation provided in Chapters 7,8,9,10,11. It is difficult to agree with the assertions made by Taylor and Quinn that Oleson had played down the arguments of archaeologists. Quinn makes the remarkable statement that “these startling theories are set out mainly as interpretations of the literary sources with only limited acknowledgement of the extensive archaeological and ethnological work which has been done on Greenland and the Arctic generally.” The contrary is the case in the chapters mentioned above.

25. Bandi, Eskimo Prehistory, p. 149; Freeman, “A Critical Review of Thule Culture”; Brian W. D. Yorga, “Migration and Adaptation: A Thule Culture Perspective” in McCartney, ed., Thule Eskimo Culture, p. 287; Oleson, Early Voyages, p. 60.

26. Oleson, Early Voyages, pp. 60-61.

27. Oleson, Early Voyages, p. 60; Washburn, “Review,” p. 802.

28. Oleson, “Polar Bears in the Middle Ages,” Canadian Historical Review, 31 (1950), pp. 47-55; “The Vikings in America” Canadian Historical Association Report (1954), pp. 52-60; “The Vikings in America: A Critical Bibliography” Canadian Historical Review 36 (1955) pp. 166-73; Early Voyages, ch. IV; “Vikings-Eskimos-Tunnit” in R. S. Hoyt, ed. Life and Thought in the Early Middle Ages (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1967).

29. Carl O. Sauer, Northern Mists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 152 f., and Cf. Oleson, “The Vikings in America”; “The Vikings in America: A Critical Bibliography”; Early Voyages, Ch. IV.

30. A. H. Clark, “Review,” Geographical Review 55 (1965), p. 619.

31. Melvin H. Jackson, “Review,” William and Mary Qty. 23(3) (1966), p. 173.

32. Cf. Robert Latouche, The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages (New York: Harper, 1961), p. 211 f.; E. M. Carus-Wilson, Medieval Merchant Ventures: Collected Studies 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1967), chapters I and II.

33. Cf. Latouche, Birth of Western Economy, p. 227.

34. While no comment will be offered on the validity of the recent studies by Barry Fell, the most radical interpretations of European Bronze-Age influence abroad in the period after 1000 B.C. (and particularly influences from the Scandinavian heartland) are to be found in his works, America B.C., Saga America, and Bronze Age America. While traditional archaeologists do not look fondly on such works, Fell and his colleagues work from real evidence. That the tide is turning in favour of making room for these ‘radical’ theories of pre-columbian contacts can be seen from the new respectability given to them in standard university texts. See, for example, the chapter by Stephen C. Jett in Jesse D. Jennings, ed. Ancient North Americans (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1983).

35. Karen Larsen, A History of Norway (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1948) pp. 73-74; William Scoresby, An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery, Vol. 2 (London: 1820), Ch. 1; Fridtjof Nansen, In Northern Mists (London: W. Heinemann, 1911) Vol. 1, p. 172; Vol. 2, pp. 155-59.

36. Helge Ingstad, Land Under the Pole Star, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966), p. 75.

37. Mathiassen, “Review,” p. 148.

38. On the place of the Norse in general European trade patterns during the so called ‘Viking Age’ see Per Sveas Andersen, Vikings of the West: The Expansion of Norway in the Early Middle Ages (Oslo: 1971), chapters III and IV; and Archibald R. Lewis, The Northern Seas: Shipping and Commerce in Northern Europe, A.D. 300-1100 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958).

39. Inge Kleivan, ‘History of Norse Greenland’ in Smithsonian Inst. Handbook of the North American Indians, Vol. 5: Arctic (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1984), p. 557.

40. T. H. McGovern, “The Lost Norse Colony of Greenland,” in E. Guralnick, ed. Vikings in the West (Chicago: Soc. of American Archaeology, 1982), p. 555.

41. Cf. Andersen, Vikings in the West, and Lewis, The Northern Seas, and George Nellerman, “Caribou Hunting in West Green-land,” Folk 11-12 (1969/70), pp. 133-53.

42. Oleson, “Polar Bears in the Middle Ages,” pp. 47-55. McGhee has argued that some of the evidence cited in this connection may not be Eider Duck shelters but slab hearths dating to the Paleo-Eskimo period. Cf. Robert McGhee, “Norsemen and Eskimos in Arctic Canada,” in Guralnick, ed., Vikings in the West, p. 49. But see also Helge Ingstad, Land Under the Pole Star, pp. 94-97.

43. For an interesting and sometimes provocative interpretation of arctic cartography, including the proposition that significant contributions were made to cartography by Inuit, see J. R. Enterline, Viking America: The Norse Crossings and their Legacy (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972), ch. 5.

44. See Finn Gad, The History of Greenland 2 v. (London: Hunt, 1970) and V. Stefansson, Greenland (New York: Doubleday, 1942).

45. V. Stefansson, ‘The Disappearance of the Greenland Colony’ in Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic (New York: 1956), p. 18.

46. Sauer, Northern Mists, p. 153.

47. Compare Oleson, Early Voyages and Northern Approaches, “Foreword” to the 1968 Reprint p. xiii and Stefansson, “Introduction” to The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher (New York: Argonaut Press, 1938).

48. Quinn, “Review,” p. 48.

49. Compare Quinn “Review,” p. 45 and Oleson, Early Voyages, pp. 79-80 and Stefansson, “Introd,” Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, pp. lxv-lxvi; Voyage I, p. 166; Voyage p. 19.

50. Cf. William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (New York: New American Library, 1963), p. 655 f.; and on the new world context see for example, Cornelius Jaenen, Friend and Foe: Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), p. 161 f.; Marcel Giraud, The Métis in the Canadian West, George Woodcock, trans., (Edmonton: Univ. of Alberta Press, 1986, Vol. 1, ch. 6 and ch.7.

51. Cf. Giraud, The Métis, p. 311.

52. Cf. P. H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings, (London: Methuen, 1982) pp. 98-100, 108 f. and R. Allen Brown, The Normans, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), ch. 2 “... and so by 1042, as still in 1066, AngloScandinavian, rather than Anglo-Saxon, may be thought the more appropriate description of the old English Kingdom.” (p. 14)

53. Quinn, “Review,” p. 48.

54. M. S. Maxwell, Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic, (New York: Academic Press, 1985), p. 132.

55. E. Bielawski, “Contractual Transformation: The Dorset-Thule Succession,” in A. P. McCartney, ed., Thule Eskimo Culture, p. 103.

56. Robert McGhee, “Norsemen and Eskimos in Arctic Canada” in Guralnick, ed., Vikings in the West, p. 46 f. On iron generally, see also, A. P. McCartney and J. D. Mack, “Iron Utilization by Thule Eskimos of Central Canada,” American Antiquity (38(3) (1973), pp. 328-38; T. H. McGovern, “Thule-Norse Interaction in Southwest Greenland: A Speculative Model,” in A. P. McCartney, ed. Thule Eskimo Culture, pp. 171-88; Sauer, Northern Mists p. 151 f.; Peter Schledermann, “Notes on Norse Finds From the East Coast of Ellesmere Island, N.W.T.,” Arctic 33(3) (1980), pp. 454-63; Peter Schledermann, “Eskimo and Viking Finds in the High Arctic,” National Geographic (May, 1981), pp. 575-601; Robert McGhee, “Why Did the Vikings Leave?” Rotunda (winter, 1987), pp. 42-48.

57. Oleson, Early Voyages, p. 61.

58. Ibid., pp. 67-8.

59. Ibid. pp. 64-66.

60. Cf. William S. Laughlin and William E. Taylor Jr., “A Cape Dorset Culture Site on the West Coast of Ungava Bay,” National Museum of Canada. Bull. No. 167, (Ottawa: 1960) pp. 1-15 and T. E. Lee, “Archaeological Discoveries, Payne Bay Region, Ungava,” Univ. of Laval, Centre D’Etudes Nordiques, no. 20, (Quebec: Univ. of Laval, 1968), and subsequent reports.

61. See John Doig, “Storm Over Ungava,” Anthrop. J. of Canada 21(1983), pp. 18-28; Thomas E. Lee, “The Norse in Ungava,” Anthrop. J. of Canada 4(2) (1966), pp. 51-54; Thomas E. Lee, “Archaeological Investigations of a Longhouse, Pamiok Island,” Collection Nordicana, Centre d’Etudes Nordiques, No. 33, Laval Univ. 1970; Lee, “On the Trail of the Northmen,” The Beaver, (Winter 1983).

62. Reykjavkik, 1941-1947.

63. T. E. Lee, “Review,” Culture, 28 (1), 1967.

64. Oleson, Early Voyages, pp. 84-85.

65. Oleson, Early Voyages, pp. 82 f.; H. B. Collins, “Stefansson as Anthropologist,” Polar Notes No. IV (Nov. 1962), pp. 8-13; D. Jenness, “The Blond Eskimos,” American Anthropologist, N.S. XXIII (1921), pp. 157-67. Robert McGhee, Copper Eskimo Prehistory, Pub. in Archaeology, no. 2, National Museums of Canada, (Ottawa: 1972), pp. 1-5, 125-30. Stefansson’s reply to critics came in an appendix to the 1927 edition of My Life with the Eskimo, abridged edition (New York: MacMillan, 1927).

66. See in particular Emoke J. E. Szathmary, “Human Biology of the Arctic,” in Smithsonian Inst., Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5, The Arctic, pp. 64-71. The most up-to-date treatment of general problems concerning physical anthropology and the peopling of the new world from Asia is W. S. Laughlin and Albert B. Harper, The First Americans: Origins, Affinities, Adaptations (New York: G. Fischer, 1979). A recent and exhaustive look at the evidence provided by physical anthropology for the general support of the west to east migration model in the high arctic is to be found in C. J. Utermohle, From Bar row Eastwards: Cranial Variation in the Eastern Eskimo, (Ph.D. Thesis, Arizona State Univ., 1984).

67. Cf. J. Doig, “Storm Over Ungava,” and Lee, “On the Trail of the Northmen” but also, McGhee, Copper Eskimo Prehistory, and the general discussions provided in the Smithsonian Institution, Handbook Vol. 5. In the Handbook the general body of literature arguing for a substantial medieval European influence on arctic populations is little discussed and scarcely acknowledged.

68. Inge Kleivan, “History of Norse Greenland,” in Smithsonian Institution, Handbook p. 554.

69. Oleson, Early Voyages, ch. 11; Stefansson, Unsolved Mysteries, ch. 1 and Stefansson, ed. “Introd.,” The Three Voyages, pp. xxvi-xxxi.

70. Stefansson, ed. “Introd.” The Three Voyages, p. lxx.

71. Quinn, “Review,” p. 48.

72. Stefannson, Unsolved Mysteries, p. 11-12.

73. Cf. William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples, (Garden City, New York: Anchor, 1977), “Introd.” and ch. V.

74. On the trade relationships and craft traditions current amongst Scandinavians after A.D. 750 see P. H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings (London: Methuen, 1982), ch. 8, Latouche, Birth of Western Economy and Andersen, Vikings in the West.

75. Oleson, Early Voyages, pp. 71-3, and Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford, 1984), p. 74.

76. Cf. Carl Sauer, “Foreword to Historical Geography,” in John Leighly ed. Land and Life: A Selection from the Writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer (Berkeley: Univ. of Cal. Press, 1963) pp. 358-65; and Preston E. James and Geoffrey G. Martin, All Possible Worlds: A History of Geographical Ideas, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley, 1981), pp. 325-26.

77. Don Bothwell and Eric Higgs, ed., Science in Archaeology: a survey of progress and research, 2nd ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), p. 34.

78. Cf. Lewis R. Binford, “A consideration of archaeological research design,” American Antiquity 29(4) (1964), pp. 425-41; and Colin Renfrew, “Foreword” to Lewis R. Binford, In Pursuit of the Past: Decoding the Archaeological Record (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983), pp. 7-9.

79. Karl W. Butzer, Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography (Chicago: Aldine, 1964); and Archaeology as Human Ecology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

80. On Barrows, see James and Martin, All Possible Worlds, pp. 324-25.

81. Ibid.

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