Buried under the tundra on a windy cape of Baffin Island lies one of the most important archeological finds in Canada. An untrained eye would miss it—but not scientist Pat Sutherland. Her new work here at the place they call Nanook will likely change history.
Pat Sutherland working on Baffin Island
Listen to an interview with Pat Sutherland on As It Happens.
Dr. Sutherland has been working on the archeology of the Arctic for more than 30 years. Her expertise is the ancient native people who lived there. But along the way she started finding artifacts that didn't fit—pieces that weren't made by indigenous hands, but by Norse traders, possibly as far back as a thousand years ago.
Is it possible that someone was here from the other side of the Atlantic, centuries before the arrival of Columbus or Cabot? Is it possible that this is the site of first contact between native North Americans and Europeans?
The new documentary film THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY follows Sutherland on her journey to prove that the early history between North America and Europe did not unfold the way the history books say it did.
The Ottar, a Norse shipping vessal.
"The Norse were here over a long period of time, and they had business to do," says Sutherland. The dig at the Nanook site has revealed signs of a structure—stone walls marking out the shape of an trading post—possibly the first European building this side of the Atlantic.
"It certainly substantiates that there were Europeans on the site," says Sutherland, "no question about that."
THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY follows Sutherland from the south shore Baffin Island to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, the departure point for Norse sailing west, searching for trade goods like ivory and furs across the North Atlantic to Canada. In Denmark a crew of latter-day Vikings lifts the sails on a reproduction of an ocean-going ship. And in Ottawa Sutherland gets down to the hard science—using state of the art technology to unlock the hardest kept secrets of Norse arrival on Baffin Island.
"I think we've only just begun to delve into what the Norse were doing there," says Sutherland, "and we've just got the beginning of the story."
In the spring of 2012, Dr. Pat Sutherland was dismissed from the Canadian Museum of Civilization after working there for 30 years. She was most recently the curator of Arctic Archeology. Dr. Sutherland is contesting the dismissal through her union, so she can regain access to her research. Currently the Helluland Project has been suspended.
THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY is produced by 90th Parallel Productions in Toronto. Gordon Henderson is Executive Producer. THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY is produced, written and directed by Andrew Gregg.