Evidence of Viking/Norse Metalworking in Arctic Canada
December 5, 2014
An object that was found by archaeologists a half-century ago has now been recognized as further evidence of a Viking or Mediaeval Norse presence in Arctic Canada during the centuries around 1000 A.D.
In an article published in the international journal Geoarchaeology
, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland and her co-authors report that scanning electron microscopy was employed to determine if metal traces were present in a small stone container from an archaeological site on southern 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 Mediaeval 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 Vikings and their mediaeval 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. Dr. Sutherland states 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.
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