Never mind Columbus. Never mind John Cabot. Chris- and Johnny-come-latelies. Forget about the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland – basically a boatyard, abandoned in 10 years.
If you want to know the folks who really made the first, sustained North American contact with aboriginal peoples, let me introduce Patricia Sutherland. Until recently one of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s senior archaeologists, Sutherland has spent 30 years documenting her case – that Norse traders conducted a thriving trade in fur and walrus ivory with the native Dorset peoples on Baffin Island a millennium ago.
Her evidence is laid out persuasively in Andrew Gregg’s new documentary The Norse: An Arctic Mystery, airing Thursday night on CBC TV’s The Nature of Things. Norse cordage, Norse whetstones, Norse metals, the pellets of rats who accompanied the Norse on their ships – it’s all here. It’s not easy changing entrenched academic opinion, but Sutherland is on the road to doing it.