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September 03, 2003

Blond eskimos

I teach two courses which touch on Viking settlements in Greenland. These thrived for five hundred years through to the end of the medieval warm period in the early 1400s. A recurring question has been the degree of contact and interaction between the Vikings and later exploration by the Thule Inuit. Some archaeologists have suggested the abandonment of Norse communities was due in part to inter-marriage with the Inuit and adoption of their non-sedentary subsistence strategies. Students regularly ask me why the question is not tested simply using DNA analysis. They are about to get an answer:

A centuries-old Arctic mystery may be weeks away from resolution as an Icelandic anthropologist prepares to release his findings on the so-called "Blond Eskimos" of the Canadian North.

"It's an old story," says Gisli Palsson of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. "We want to try to throw new light on the history of the Inuit." Stories about Inuit with distinct European features - blue eyes, fair hair, beards - living in the central Arctic have their roots in ancient tales of Norse settlements and explorations.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 3, 2003 09:00 AM


There is the related issue of later contact. "Settler" inuit include as family members early Scottish and other european men who worked the coast. I do not know how far back these family contacts go. I did have a friend at school who came up to me to tell me she was MacNeil from Labrador.

Posted by: Alan at September 3, 2003 11:11 AM

That is very kewl! I love stuff like that.

Posted by: Ith at September 4, 2003 12:01 PM

The Central Arctic has been somewhat less exposed to immigrations than coastal and/or river regions.

OTOH, I do recall a scene in one of Dana Stabenow's mysteries wherein the protagonist, an Aleutian, takes the unusual step of standing up to her Grandmother when the latter forbids a young family member from attending school in the lower 48 for fear of marriage outside the tribe and polluting the pure blood. Paraphrasing, it went roughly -

"Purity of blood? Whose? Your grandfather was a Russian Cossack, your father Boston Irish, your husband from Louisiana, and nobody knows what my father was because my mother was too drunk to remember the date, never mind which of her many men!"

Posted by: John Anderson at September 4, 2003 05:57 PM