Norse: An Arctic Mystery is centered on the archaeology of the Arctic and the ancient native people who lived there. Dr. Patricia Sutherland lends her expertise to The Nature of Things to break down the distinctive characteristics of the groups of people who once occupied the Canadian Arctic:

History
The Dorset culture developed from the migrations of people coming from Siberia about 5000 years ago. They survived in the eastern Canadian Arctic from around 500 BC to 1400 AD.
Technology and Culture
Although they were lightly armed and specialized in sea ice hunting, they also hunted caribou, small fur-bearing animals, fish and birds, using spears and traps. They also hunted animals as large as walrus and narwhal, but probably lacked the equipment to hunt larger whales. They lived in small mobile groups occupying tents and light winter houses, which they built with turf and/or snow.
Interactions
During the late Dorset period of 700-1400 AD, they would have had contact with the Norse in the form of a trading relationship. They disappeared from the archaeological record during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and one theory attributes that to the Thule (ancient Inuit) overrunning the Dorset people. However, Dr. Sutherland suggests it’s unfair to label the Dorset as an inferior culture to the Thule since they were able to survive for such a long period of time in the Canadian Arctic.
History
The Thule were the direct ancestors of the Inuit. They moved rapidly eastward from Alaska around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD.
Technology and Culture
They had effective maritime hunting technology, including umiaks, which were large skin-covered boats up to 10 metres long. These innovations helped the Thule hunt animals as large as bowhead whales. They also developed dog sleds, which gave them greater mobility. They had large winter communities and lived in heavily insulated permanent houses with whale bone roof supports. Sutherland says this way of life continued until the sixteenth century, around the same time the shift to modern Inuit life began.
Interactions
The Thule had occasional contacts with the Norse, which probably involved raiding and wary trading.
History
The Inuit descended from the Thule people.
Technology and Culture
They expanded and diversified the Thule people’s whale-hunting specialization as they moved into new areas and concentrated on hunting smaller animals.
Interactions
Their mastery of sea mammal hunting led to their participation in the nineteenth century European whaling industry. The Inuit were also eager to trade with Europeans for metal tools, and to raid early European expeditions.
History
Dr. Sutherland clarifies the appropriate uses of the terms “Norse” and “Viking.” She says the name “Norse” applies to the Scandinavian-related peoples from the Middle Ages to Renaissance times. However, the reputation of barbaric explorers, warriors and merchants belongs to the Vikings, which were Norse warriors who went on raiding expeditions in Europe. The “Viking Period” refers to the pre-Christian Norse of about 800 to 1000 AD. The “Mediaeval Period” is roughly from AD 1000 to1500. The Norse spread westward to Iceland during the ninth century and to Greenland around 1000 AD. The Greenlandic Norse settlements had about 2000 people and existed until about 1450 AD.
Technology and Culture
Hunting was an important part of the Norse economy, but Greenlandic Norse also relied primarily on livestock farming, as they raised sheep and goats. However, this method of farming had its pitfalls. It is believed that a possible combination of overgrazing and the devastating effects of the Little Ice Age contributed to the breakdown of the Norse population in Greenland.
Interactions
The main reason the Norse settled in Greenland was to exploit their resources for trade. Sutherland says the Norse might have established a relationship with the inhabitants of Arctic Canada to collect walrus ivory and other valuables to trade with Europe. “If they could be obtained from trade with Aboriginal peoples, the Norse would have done so,” Sutherland said.

-

The Wild Canadian Year

Wild Canadian Year


Visit our website to watch the series online, discover extra behind-the-scenes stories and view Canada's nature scenes in 360. Visit Wild Canadian Year

From CBC Kids

The Nature of Thingies