Ancient suspects cleared in Viking mystery tale

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It's the oldest whodunit in Canadian history, and new research has conclusively ruled out one of the suspect aboriginal groups behind the retreat of Viking would-be colonists from the New World.

A scientific redating of the eastward migration of the Thule -- ancestors of modern-day Inuit -- has pegged their push across Canada's polar frontier to no earlier than AD 1200. That's at least 150 years after Norse voyagers from Greenland are believed to have abandoned their short-lived, 11th-century settlement at the northern tip of Newfoundland following hostile encounters there, and in Labrador, with native inhabitants they called Skraelings.

Because of their relatively late arrival in northern Canada -- originally set by experts at about AD 1000 -- the Thule (pronounced"too-ley") have always been outside contenders in the long-running quest to identify the people who scared the Vikings out of Canada.

An earlier paleo-Eskimo culture called the Dorset -- which was eventually overrun and extinguished by the eastward-migrating Thule -- and Indian nations such as Newfoundland's extinct Beothuks and the ancestral Innu of Labrador remain suspects in this coldest of Canadian cold cases.

Thule archeological sites, while spread widely across the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, have never been found as far south as Newfoundland. But lingering uncertainty about the timing of the Thule migration, the precise boundaries of their movements and the identity of the Skraelings who clashed with the Norse have kept the Thule as long shots on the list of suspects.

Now, a study by Canadian archeologists Max Friesen and Charles Arnold -- published last month in the scholarly journal American Antiquity -- argues that their redating of two sites in the western Arctic proves the Thule didn't reach Canada from their Alaskan homelands until after 1200.

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