--supplementary article to PART TWO: Seagoing Boat Peoples--


Addressing the Debate Raised in Farley Mowat's "Farfarers"

Author Farley Mowat stirred up debate in his 1998 book Farfarers when he created an elaborate theory that explained mysterious rock arrangements on the Labrador coast of Canada as foundations of "longhouses" as the work of walrus hunters from the Northern British Isles he called "Albans". The mystery of how these longhouses were roofed was simple, he said - they came in skin boats of the curragh variety found in Britain until the last century, and overturned them. Along with this theory, he wove an original story with regards to the history of the British Isles.  His theories were immediately dismissed by the scholarly world as sheer fantasy. It is all too easily to disagree with a theory, and offer no alternative. The following article addresses Mowat's thesis, and offers an alternative perspective that is in keeping with my theory of the expansion of skin-boat peoples as presented  SEA-GOING SKIN BOATS AND OCEANIC EXPANSION: The Voyages of the Whale HuntersIt is valuable to at least scan the above general article to better understand the concepts peresented here.


    The idea of Europeans crossing the Atlantic in ancient times has a double standard, one standard used by archeologists and others who think of aboriginal peoples as real humans, and another standard used in popular thinking, which treats the aboriginal peoples of the world in much the same way as it does animals - part of the background - as if only the behaviour of the "advanced" civilized person means anything.
      Thus today, archeologists may speak of evidence of crossings of the North Atlantic dating back many thousands of years, as evidenced in the archeology on the coast of Labrador; while at the same time popular culture celebrates the "Norse" as the first Europeans to "discover" North America by their landing on the Labrador and Newfoundland coasts of Canada about 1000 AD.
    The saga of their visit was recorded in the Icelandic texts called the "Vinland Sagas" that spoke of journeys from Greenland to a place called "Vinland".  And over the decades other  theories have  proposed other "civilized" Europeans visited the coast of North America before the Norse, the most popularized one being that Irish monks reached the Canadian coast  in curraghs, skin boats of ox hide that had been used in the British outer islands by the native "Picts" there..
   This preoccupation with the recent past of European civilization "discovering" America has been seen more recently to be somewhat pointless, since LIVING North American Native culture is better respected, and it is acknowledged that a great deal of history occurred for thousands of years right here in North America; that North America did not begin in the 16th century. Thus the accidental stumbling on North America by the Greenland Norse certainly was certainly not the first time it occurred, considering that  rock carvings found in places like Alta, Norway, dating to up to 6000 years ago, show large seaworthy skin boats capable of crossing an ocean just as easily as a Norse ship. Furthermore  the Irish curraghs - if monks managed to sail to Labrador or Newfoundland with such craft made of skins - themselves originated from aboriginals from the same traditions as those of arctic Norway
    As I demonstrate in SEA-GOING SKIN BOATS AND OCEANIC EXPANSION: The Voyages of the Whale Huntersthe skin boat was invented by the  seagoing aboriginals of the European arctic (because the dugout made from a hollowed log was not possible in the treeless arctic), and the Irish curragh itself is obviously descended from it - replacing the original walrus skins for ox skins after walrus became extinct in the British Isles.
    Author Farley Mowat, coming from an older generation which thought in terms of "Norse" and "Irish Monks" and "discovery" by civilized Europe, was naturally disposed to view unusual manifestations in the archeology of the Labrador and Newfoundland coast, as evidence of visits by civilized Europeans, whether by Norse or others. Accordingly, departing from the archeologists' desire to view the archeological finds  as mostly representing features from aboriginal peoples, Mowat conjured a fantasy of  "Albans" from the British Northern Isles spending weeks crossing the North Atlantic, and spending a half a year on the Labrador coast, harvesting walrus for their tusks.
    His far-fetched theory was written up in his Farfarers: Before the Norse (Toronto, 1998), and the theory has not been recieved well by archeologists - who find his theory of "Albans" spending months living under overturned skin boats while harvesting walrus for their tusks as being farfetched. My own view is that it is absurd that anyone would make the long journey from the northern British Isles to the Canadian arctic seas when the indigenous peoples were already hunting walrus and - as the Church knew well - the easiest way to obtain walrus ivory was by simply establishing a trading post and have the indigenous peoples procure the ivory and bring it to the trading post in exchange for cheap European "trinkets" - the pratice used by the Hudson Bay company and other trading companies to procure furs. Of course, one can imagine that the "Albans" were naive or stupid.....Clearly Mowat was carried away by the fact that overturned boats can be used for shelter, and have been throughout the ancient boat-using world.
      What then was the evidence that fascinatged Mowat?
  The two major archeological mysteries where the remains of "longhouse foundations" and cylindrical rock "beacons" visible from the sea found down the Labrador coast and in places in Newfoundland.
    Archeologists have generally assumed that they were made by the indigenous people or if some suggest European connection, then  Greenland Norse. Mowat let his imagination run wild, and came up with a new people he called "Albans". They were after walrus ivory, he claims, and the arrangements of rocks thought to be longhouse foundations was actually, he claimed the low rock walls upon which the overturned skin boats were placed. Associated with these sites there were also large cylindrical rock "beacons" visible from the sea, which were obviously intended for boats to find the sites. The sites were obviously re-used in annual cycles of activity.

(left) typical cyllindrical pillar of rocks used as beacons to be visible from the sea, and (right)Pamiok Longhouse No. 2 site after reproduction page 8 of The Farfarers:Before the Norse, Mowat, Toronto, 1998

An example of a "longhouse foundation" , and typical cylindrical pillar of rocks seemingly acting as 'beacons' to be seen from the sea found on the Labrador Coast of Canada. They were the subject of debate, that spawned Farley Mowat's book, Farfarers: Before the Norse.  Question: who made the "longhouse foundations" and how did they cover them when the environment lacked building materials other than stone and sod?
   By the term "Albans" Mowat  was referring to ancient British. They could easily have endured in the northern isles even as the southern parts of the British Isles were invaded by Celts and Romans. These "Albans" were according to Mowat,  peoples of the British Northern Isles who has survived the conquest of the British Isles by the Romans and Celts. There they met and became associated with  Irish monks who were in search of desolate islands to practice their religion and found help among these people.
     Historical records do identify short people who liked to shelter themselves in low semi-buried dwellings. But they were identified as Picts. Mowat's "Albans" were made up by Mowat, and were not short people, but regular people - fishers and "crofters".
     The historical evidence that Mowat uses is very real. How that evidence is interpreted is the problem.
     For example, in his investigations Mowat found evidence of the use of skin boats by natives in the British Isles, dating back to the Roman Age and earlier. He found historical references to these people arriving at markets at the Scilly Islands in their skin boats, and sailing over the ocean to a place called "Mictis".  Clearly, there was a coastal and northern people in Britain before it was invaded by Romans and Celts, who fished the seas and used skin boats.
   To the Oestrimnides (now Skilly Islands at the southwest tip of the Britain) come many enterprising people who occupy themselves with commerce and who navigate the monster-filled ocean far and wide in small ships. They do not understand how to build wooden ships in the usual way. Believe it or not, they make their boats by sewing hides together and carry out deep-sea voyages in them. .....[Roman poet Avienus, quoting fragments from a Carthaginian periplus (seaman's sailing directions) dating to the 6th century BC -  taken from Farfarers, Mowat, p 40]
        Another early reference to British in skin boats is from Pliny (the Elder) who explains in his Historia Naturalis written around 77A.D.  that a much earlier historian, Timaeus, made reference to an island called Mictis, "lying inward, in the sea; six days from Britain where tin is found, and to which Britons cross in boats of osier covered with stitched hides"  (This information is given in Farfarers p 337) 
   These references we can accept describe original peoples of Britain, which the Greeks called Aluiones and Romans Albion. Yes we could call them "Albans". But did this culture endure long enough to be involved with the Canadian arctic?  The trouble is that, as these quotes suggest,  the golden age of the "Albans" occurred probably before Roman times. Indeed, the fortifications in the British north, called Broches, were built during the Roman Age, as defences against Celts, and indeed Romans. The Romans were keen to assert control over all of the British Isles. I believe, therefore, that the original native British, those disposed to harvesting the sea with skin boats, simply sailed away to Norway, Iceland, and even North America during the Roman Age. If they were able to sail to Mictis (which I will explain below was probably Norway), well they could have remained there, safe from oppression of Romans or Celts. If they were able to sail west and land on fertile coasts of Labrador or Newfoundland, well they would have gone there too. Unlike land-based people who had no alternative than to accept the authority of invaders, these people could leave.
        Thus the theory that there was migration westward over the sea during the Roman era, makes sense. But we are talking about the Roman Age, much earlier than Mowat's imagined walrus hunters.  If Britain's original peoples - at least the seagoing ones in the north -  reached the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland, then we should look for manifestations of newcomers in the early centuries AD.  According to archeology, the "Beothuks" appeared in Newfoundland in the early centuries AD, in the Roman Age. But they did not come to harvest walrus. They came to find a new home base away from the Romans. They did not come with missionaries, because the Christian Church was still in its infancy.  Mowat did not consider the Beothuks as originaL "Albans" because scholars have considered them aboriginal North Americans, which flies in the face of a desire to discriminate between civilized Europeans and aboriginal peoples. And yet the Beothuks were quite different from the regular aboriginals. When Portuguese captured them and took them into slavery in Portugal, they apparently looked much like the Portuguese except for having more muscular upper bodies  (no doubt from paddling their skin boats in the sea.) We know that the original British were not tall caucasians, so it is  possible that the Beothuks came from the northern British Isles in the Roman era   

The Original Seagoing Aboriginals of Britain

 I have discussed in greater detail in SEA-GOING SKIN BOATS AND OCEANIC EXPANSION: The Voyages of the Whale Hunters, the fact that the British Northern Isles peoples who sailed in skin boats, must have ultimately originated from the general sea-going aboriginals of the Scandinavian arctic. At some early date, as early as 3000BC, some would have migrated south into the British Isles, found a wealth of sea life there, and some would have remained there, living a more localized life, compared to the original seafarers who lived a more nomadic, seasonally migratory, life in the style of ancient aboriginal hunters-fishers.  Being of those origins, the language they spoke would have been the language of boat using aboriginals across the northern European seas and wilderness  which I propose were Finnic languages. (See SEA-GOING SKIN BOATS AND OCEANIC EXPANSION: The Voyages of the Whale Hunters, )
        Mowat rightly assumes that the words the ancient Massilian Greek visitor to the north, Pytheas cited, like Thule and Orcades, came from the northern natives.  If it was Finnic as the theory of expansion of skin boat peoples suggests, then the word Thule should possibly interpret well with Finnic, such as with Estonian or Finnish. The name Thule has been accepted from earliest times to have been the name of Iceland. Iceland is characterized by the fact that it is actively volcanic, spewing smoke across the North Atlantic to the British Northern Isles and Norway. If it had a name, it seems that the name should make reference to this, since ancient names were simple descriptions of what was named. The name recorded by Pytheas as Thule (Greek TH sounds like a "D"), a word that is exactly identifiable with Estonian tule  (single T is more like an English "D") which as a genitive would mean '(place, island, etc) of the fire'  (Indeed in Estonian tulemägi, literally 'fire-hill', means 'volcano')  Finnish, which retained an -n genitive would have called the island tylen, which is also recorded in historical records. 
  A further word, worth looking at from a Finnic perspective is the abovementioned Mictis. It could be an abbreviation and Germanic distortion of mägedese  'place of the mountains' which generally describes Norway right across the sea fro northern Britain
      Perhaps of greater significance to our argument that the Beothuks were in fact fugitives from the British Northern Isles, is the fact that Estonian can interpret the name "Picti" (first initiated by the Romans) with püükide   (Ü=  as in "ewe") which would mean '(people, etc) of the catches'  (of fish, etc). I believe that the northerners in the skin boats back in Roman times and earlier, appeared at markets of mainland Britain selling fish and other marine products, and thus the native British, speaking the same Finnic-type language, simply identified northerners as fishermen, as sea-harvesters, fish catchers. (This notion that the language of the Britannicae was also Finnic is controversial because it has long been assumed it was a Belgic type of Celtic; however in the first century A.D. the Roman historian Tacitus, in describing the Aestii of the southeast Baltic in his Germania, who can be viewed as ancestral to Estonians, wrote that their language was "closer to that of the British" implying similarity between Aestic and Brittanic.)    
    In some historical records the name Peti appears, perhaps abbreviated and hardened by the Norse language since it appears in Norwegian texts. This can be seen as a degeneration of the original word. Indeed, according to Ptolemy's information, the name Epidi appears in the British north in Roman times. See the discussion below. Peti, could be an abbreviation and/or dialectic distortion of BEOTHU which is seen in Beothuk,  the -K in Beothuk could have been  a nominalizer added by the Basque language, as a result of the early  Basque contacts with the Beothuks in Newfoundland.


   So is it possible the Beothuks were the "Albans" who hunted walrus and created the "longhouse foundations"? We note that humans are by nature very territorial, so that Beothuks could not trespass on  hunting territory already occupied by indigenous "Dorset" culture seafarers. That may be the reason they ended up in Newfoundland, south of the Labrador coast and the "Dorset" peoples. We note that since the Dorset culture sea people did not sail, but went with currents, it is possible that they avoided travelling south past Newfoundland, on account currents would drive them out into the open sea. By staying adequately towards the north, if swept to sea, they would be carried back to Greenland. See the map below showing the current circuit "C".
     Thus there is logic in the fact that the Beothuks ended up in Newfoundland. The "Dorset" peoples sent them onward until they found places the "Dorset" did not go, owing to the currents of "C".
     And it is interesting to note that aboriginals in skin boats appear in the Vinland Sagas: : But one early morning as they looked around they caught sight of nine skin-boats: the men in them were waving sticks which made a noise like flails, and the motion was sunwise . . . . . .They were small and evil-looking, and their hair was coarse; they had large eyes and broad cheekbones. . . (Eirik's Saga, 10)  If one did not know that this account was made in Newfoundland, one might think it described Picts.
      The argument for making a connection between the  "Peti" (as expressed in Germanic) and "Beothuks" (a Basque interpretation) is strong.
     Thus I believe there is merit in believing seagoing aboriginals of the waters of the northern British Isles, with plenty of opportunity and motivation, established themselves in middle and southern Newfoundland during the Roman era (the first few centuries AD). But can we propose they endured in Britain beyond the Roman era in any significant way or made further migrations to North America?
        As we advance past the Roman era, into the period during which Celts advanced into the British Isles, and the Germanic Norse too imigrated into Britain, can we expect the original  "Alban" culture to have endured? If we are speaking of the "Picts", historical records suggest the "Picts" were Christinaized and assimilated around the 10th century.


 If the Beothuks are identified as an offshoot of the Picts of the British Northern Isles of the Roman Age, then information from the Roman period, suggests that the sea-harvesters always had an association with the VENNE-named traders. They probably spoke close to the same language. The Picts and VENNE may have defined the two divisions of the later historic Picts - the one group being sea-harvesters, and the other being the trader settlements.
   Thus Mowat may have sensed something, and even looked at the Beothuks as candidates for his theory, but finally he dismissed the Beothuks. The problem lies in the fact that if the Beothuks arrived in Roman times as semi-civilized Picts, over a period of many centuries of isolation, they would have become more primitive again, and so the kind of people Mowat was looking for could not be found in them. If there were civilized peoples visiting Newfoundland between the time of the Romans and the Norse, they would likely have been the VENNE traders, because, after all, having always had close association with the Picts in northern Britain, they would have been aware of any Pictish who had sailed away and settled in territories to the west as well as those who had sailed away to the east to the Norwegian coast.
  It is also worth noting that the Norse called the VENNE traders by the name Vindo (plural Vindr) and the possibility exists that the Norse used the term "Vinland" as a result of rumours about the Vindr traders having visited the place
   Returning to Mowat's theory, could any people from the British Northern Isles have been crossing the North Atlantic, camped under overturned skin boats, harvested walrus, and taken tusks back to Europe to sell? It seems to me that in the course of history, during and after the Roman period in the British Isles, any northern natives who were not able to sail away, were doomed. Some may have endured by keeping to the more remote islands, where the only people they encountered were Irish monks who sought the isolation for their own religious reasons.

The Survival of Seagoing British Aboriginals After the Roman Age?

    Before the Roman Age, the seagoing aboriginals of the British Isles were so prevalent, that ancient historians saw them everywhere even in the south, riding in their crazy skin boats.
  But after the Roman Age, during the rise of Christianity, those who had remained in the British Northern Isles and had not fled to Norway or Newfoundland (by my theory) were only witnessed by the monks on remote islands, as the following passage suggests:  
       Originally it was the "Peti" and the "Papae" who inhabited these [Northern]  islands. The first of these people, I mean the Peti, were scarcely taller than pygmies. Morning and evening they busied themselves to an amazing degree with the building and fitting out of their towns. But at midday, thoroughly drained of all their strength, they lay low in their little underground houses under the pressure of their fears...
     But in the days of Harold the Hairy... some pirates [Vikings] kin to the very powerful pirate Rognvald advanced with a large fleet across the Solundic Sea. They threw these people out of their long-standing habitations and utterly destroyed them; they then made the islands subject to themselves.  (from a 12th century compendium called Historia Norwegiae,  above excerpt  from p 111, Farfarers.).
           Proceeding further forward in time, even these "Peti" have vanished, but maybe not.  Mowat wrote:
    Existing Shetland traditions speak of a people called Finns who inhabited Fetlar and northwest Unst for some time after the Norse occupied Shetland. This name is identical with the one by which the Norse knew the aboriginals of northern Scandinavia. It is also the name given by Shetlanders (of Norse lineage) to a scattering of Inuit . who, in kayaks, materialized amongst the Northern Isles during the eighteenth century.. (Mowat, Farfarers, p 110, Toronto, 1998)
     Mowat's dismissing the "Finns" as lost Inuit (ie from Greenland) shows a lack of awareness of the meaning and application of the word "Finn". In recent times scholars have identified the historic use of the word with "Lapps" (today "Saami") but in earlier times the word "Finn" also referred to aboriginals on the sea, and in forests, anywhere in the Scandinavian Peninsula that they were found. The use of the word "Finn" by the invading Germanic powers  was similar to Europeans calling all the North American natives "Indians" for the longest time. The Danish kingdom conquered the Norwegian coast from 800-1000AD, established rule, and assimilated the "Finns" with which they had contact. Only the reindeer-"Finns" in the mountains, making a living in a peculiar way off reindeer, were spared assimilation. I therefore identity the observed "Finns" as remnants of the north Atlantic seagoing aboriginals who camped on coasts and islands.
    If we go back to before 800 AD, it would be hard to separate the seagoing "Finns" of the British Northern Isles from those seen on the Norwegian coasts. Historic accounts of  Picts crossing the sea to Mictis, can only refer to crossing the sea to Norway. Mowat thus is almost certainlyu in error in dismissing people called "Finns" as being lost Inuit from Greenland. They were more likely the remnants of  aboriginals of the Northeast Atlantic, who moved from place to place between the British Northern Isles, Norway, and perhaps Iceland and the Faeroes.
     Were the "Picts" and seagoing "Finns" variations on the same northeast Atlantic sea people? It is well known that aboriginal people varied everywhere  in the degree to which they became involved with civilization. It often depended on how close they were to the encroaching civilization.
  Thus, to summarize, although Mowat's vision of early British riding around in skin boats, may be correct, and in the north their defending themselves with the use of brochs may be correct, and their ability to travel both to Norway as well as Iceland may be correct.... it seems to me that evidence of their continued existence  after the establishing of  Celtic and Roman power, is lacking. 
  All the information from the later period, at best speak of "Finns" or small people called "Peti".  They do not seem like the strong entreprendeurial people Mowat depicts crossing the North Atlantic and living for a half a year in harsh conditions just to spend days  harvesting walrus. Even if such strong entreprendeurial people still existed after the Roman Age, they would not have harvested walrus themselves. Throughout history, traders obtained goods by trading for them.
  If there had really been any "Albans" seeking walrus tusks, they would have journeyed to the Labrador coast with their boat filled with trinkets, traded them for walrus ivory, and returned home. Next year they would have done the same, spending little money and time, and letting the aboriginals obtain the desired goods in their efficient manner, and also avoiding angering the aboriginals by trespassing on their hunting territories. Any trade-minded people, like indeed the Greenland Church later, knew that the easiest way to obtain walrus ivory was to trade for it. And certainly evidence points to that happening from time to time, whether the traders were from among the VENNE or someone else.  The presence of the names Vennicones and Vennicni in stragetic locations on the Roman Age map (see box above) suggests the Veneti (who were also established in southwest Britain) were the traders who collected aboriginal goods and could very well have made long distance journeys as far as Newfoundland and Labrador if there was promise pf obtaining walrus ivory, furs, and even lumber (there was a lack of lumber in historic British Isles)
       What Mowat describes does not meet the test of common sense - there was no wisdom in harvesting walrus themselves and then face the ire of the natives whose hunting spots were invaded, not to mention the hardship of spending a winter. We recall that in the Viland Saga, the Norse settlement was attacked after the natives determined thery were not traderes but invaders
 . Later in history the Basques and others did embark on harvesting seas themselves, but only when demand greatly exceeded what the aboriginals could supply and they had superior technology.
 In the American interior, when it came to the fur trade, the Europeans never abandoned the wisdom of having the Natives themselves obtain the furs and to trade them for it.
   Thus excluding any "Albans", or even Beothuks, as the makers of the "longhouse foundations", we come to the question, who made them and how?  The answer is the same as it has always been - it was made by "Dorset" seagoing peoples. But how? What was the way of life that gave rise to them?

A Better Interpretation For The Longhouse Foundations and Beacons

 The entire story of the Picts and "Albans" that preoccupied Mowat in most of his Farfarers, thus can be seen as going off track in the interpreting of the data, and although interesting, having no bearing on the mystery of the "longhouse foundations" that sparked the entire work. In other words the fascinating story of the original peoples of the British Isles and the mystery of the North American archeological sites of longhouse foundations and beacons, are two separate stories,  connected perhaps only by a third story - traders who crossed the North Atlantic.  We have three completely distinct peoples, and we cannot roll them all into one simplistic solution.
   We have above studied the story of the British indigenous seagoing peoples. Now let us look more closely at the story on the Labrador-Newfoundland coast.
    Both the "longhouse foundations" and "beacons" described earlier, can be, and have been, assumed by archeologists to have been made by seagoing Eskimos of some sort. There is evidence of their being archeologically "Dorest". Still, the boat shaped archeological sites have posed a mystery to archeologists in that they have not found any evidence of how they were roofed. 


  Since the locations where the "longhouse foundations" were found, have no materials from which the longhouses could be built besides rocks and sod, the mystery has always been in how they would have been roofed. Did the visitors carry poles and skins with them for that purpose? If they were roofed by materials that seagoing people carried with them, then the problem was that carrying the materials for building the shelter would encumber the tribe. Surely if there were special materials for roofing the longhouses, it might be smart to leave them there, protected, for whenever the clan returned. Thus Mowat's idea of the boats themselves being used for the roof  is possible but since the natives themselves had skin boats, umiaks, why not consider the possibility that the seagoing aboriginals themselves could have done it. No need to invent any foreign visitors from far away. It is somewhat racist not to believe that the aboriginals themselves could shelter themselves under their skin boats. Mowat does not pursue that possibility even though Ironically, he actually himself presented the fact of Inuit camping under  their  skin boats  in his introductory pages:
     "Certain it is that almost every Stone Age people throughout the northern circumpolar region depended upon skin boats. . . .  As late as the 1970's Alaskan Eskimos still made umiaks sheathed in walrus hides that could carry thirty or forty people across the stormy Bering Strait. When bad weather (or good hunting) brought such travellers ashore, they would turn their umiaks upside down to provide themselves with shelter. A big one upturned on a stone-and-turf foundation could provide comfortable housing for a large family, even in winter." (p 18  Farfarers)
   And yet, he failed to present any discussion about eastern seagoing Eskimos of the Labrador coast turning over their skin boats onto the "foundations"!!! He could then have argued against it, still; because the native skin boat shape was long and narrow and not consistent with the wider shape and width demanded by the "longhouse foundation" (Mowat had assumed a typical wide European-type shape for the "Alban" skin boat, which would have had a better fit to the foundation.)


      Mowat may also have failed to generally consider truely seagoing Eskimos .   Perhaps in his research he did not encounter the Greenland Inuit  skin boats and their dominance of whale hunting before the Basques entered the whaling industry in the 16th century. He made no mention of the Greenland Inuit whalers of the 16th century, who displayed a familiarity with this activity that could only come from a long history. As summarized by O.P. Dickason: ( my underlining)
   "The closest to sustained, contact that developed between Natives of the  eastern Arctic and Europeans during this period was through whaling. This began along the Labrador coast and the Strait of Belle Isle, where Inuit met with Basque whalers, and later with French. These encounters introduced Europeans to Inuit technology for deep-sea whaling, which during the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries was the most advanced in the world. Combined with European deep-sea ships, that technology led to the efflorescence of world-wide whaling. Initially, Inuit-white encounters followed the pattern of trading and raiding. It is not known if this behaviour extended to Davis Strait, where Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, and Scottish whalers were operating irregularly off the Greenland coast; but by the first half of the eighteenth century, Inuit were occasionally working with Europeans as the latter intensified their whaling activities. . ."   (p92, Canada's First Nations:A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times, O.P. Dickason, Toronto, 1992)
  The skill in whaling obviously was not newly acquired. Most likely whaling and harvesting of sea life generally, had been firmly established in the northwestern Atlantic from earliest times, among the "Dorset" culture, dating back 5000-6000 years ago.
    The harvesting of large sea-animals must have been established and spread widely through the arctic seas long ago. We note that a toggling harpoon found at L'Anse Amour Mound in Labrador dates back to 7500 years ago (Archaic Cultures in the Strait of Belle Isle Region, Labrador, J.A. Tuck, R.McGhee, Arctic Anthropology, XII, 2 (1975) pp 76-91) .
   According to archeologists, many millenia ago, humans arrived and  spread through the Canadian east arctic from east to west in a number of stages of what archeologists called the "Dorset" culture. Recently,  an archeological "Thule" culture spread from the Canadian west arctic to east arctic  replacing the most recent version of the  "Dorest" culture. It seems   brother peoples coming from the west challenged the "Dorset" peoples with new technology, displaced them and/or absorbed them. But was the displacement total? It is reasonable to assume that the better "Dorset" activities and methods endured, and were not displaced. A sea-going "Dorset" people may have  continued to travel the waters of Labrador and Greenland, affected little by the "Thule" culture. Or more likely there was a blending of cultures, wherein the "Dorset" may have had superior whaling techniques, which remained undisplaced. Thus the "beacons" and "longhouse" sites perhaps belonged to older "Dorset" traditions rather than the new "Thule" traditions,  induring in the seagoing nomads of the Labrador coast, and lasting into the 18th century in the "Greenland Inuit".   It would explain why Greenland Inuit have a sense of having always been there, not of having come from the west. A culture such as archeology finds it, reflects only the physical culture. New physical culture can be adopted without language, history, or soft culture being changed.
    No written description makes the case for the sophistication of aboriginal whaling activity in the North Atlantic than this illustration of Greenland "Eskimos" gathering to hunt whales.

Greenland Inuit clans meeting to hunt whales

from Description de histoire naturelle du Groenland, by Hans Egede, tr D.R.D.P., Copenhagen and Geneva, Frere Philibert. (Image adapted from reproduction in Canada's First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times by O.P. Dickason, Toronto, 1992. )

   This illustration of  whale-hunting is impressive. It shows clearly just how sophisticated the northwestern Atlantic seagoing aboriginals were in terms of having mastered a way of life harvesting the sea.  What is shown must represent the culmination of millenia  of sea-harvesting traditions specially designed for the North Atlantic, traditions that may date back to origins in arctic Scandinavia. I presented the following illustration from rock carvings dating to some 5000-6000BC in SEA-GOING SKIN BOATS AND OCEANIC EXPANSION: The Voyages of the Whale Hunters

    It is easy to imagine that the techniques first shown in this prehistoric illustration are also depicted in the illustration of the Greenland Inut,
   Significant to our quest for an answer to the "longhouse foundations" is the appearance of  the Greenland "Eskimo" skin boats. They have poles on the ends, that may have been intended for handling the boat, and there is  a crosscrossing of rope on the side, which suggests the skins are designed to be easily removed. Compare these Greenland skin boats with an illustration of the Alaskan version.  The Alaskan umiak looks like a more permanent construction.
Detail from 18th century illustration of Greenland Inuit whaling showing the sides made of two long poles, probably with skins attached. In addition there appears to be ropes  suggesting the skin was easily removed by "unlacing". This suggests that the skin was easily removed to be used for the purposes of creating a shelter

By contrast, the Alaskan skin boat, looks quite permanent. It lacks features suggesting a desire to easily handle the boat and remove the skin.  Various parts of the skin  may be affixed directly to the frame here and there by pieces of rope though the skin, in contrast to the Greenland scheme of holding the skin by pressure of the "lacing" on the outside.
   The illustration of the Greenland "Eskimos" shows a gathering of the clans (bands, extended families) of the sea-going tribe. Each large umiak would represent one clan, and it appears there are four clans, which is a typical number for a natural tribe. Among boat-using hunting people across the northern world, a  tribe would  consist of some four to six clans who had established over many generations,  claims or rights to specific hunting territories, rights which they would pass down from the clan chief  to male descendants.


       The manner in which clans unite to form tribes is influenced by their circumstances. In a forest setting, the clans might unify into a tribe if the clans each occupy a branch of a river system. In the case of ocean-people, the pattern of ocean currents, coasts, and winds could join a number of clans into a tribe.
    The hunting territory for the seagoing peoples was not defined in terms of land area as in civilization (based on farming people)  but in terms of specific hunting areas in the sea. The clan would move within their own territory, from one hunting area to another according to the patterns of nature, in a usually annual circuit, only coming back to the same place the following year.   Each clan would  defend their  territory,  and respect the territories of the other clans. There would have to be an agreement if more than one clan hunted at one location. They moved through the environment on their own, but congregated, usually annually, at an agreed-apon location,  to affirm their identity in the larger social order, the tribe, exchange news, pursue celebrations, find mates.  A good place for the multi-clan meeting was where food was plentiful enough to support all the clans together, and where it was advantageous to have help from each other,  such as hunting whales.    
   Each clan had their own territory, their own number of campsites that they visited year-by-year, and they would have guarded their rights to the animals.  It is because hunting territories, campsites, associated clans, etc were all strongly defined, that a clan was not likely to wander aimlessly. Strange territory meant they could be intruding on some other people's territory and  had to be on guard, proceed with caution. It is because of this ownership of hunting areas, that it would be difficult for any foreigners to intrude. Any Europeans attempting to harvest some animal like walrus from a location a clan owned, could end up being attacked by the entire tribe - other clans coming to the aid of the clan experiencing trespassing.  While it would not have been difficult in recent history when Europeans had guns , early Europeans would not have had much defence against the aboriginals if they intruded on the aboriginal hunting territory.  Any "Albans" at well known walrus hunting sites would have been driven off  It was far easier to remain respectful and detatched towards the natives, and get the ivory by trading some quaint European items - cloth, metal, trinkets.
   Thus the  archeological features discussed by Mowat, the  seeming longhouse foundations and the beacons visible from the sea, are much more easily explained in terms of long established native sea-going people of the northwest Atlantic, who spent most of their lives moving around on the open Atlantic and harvesting large sea-animals like whales. They would have been ancestral to the Greenland "Eskimos" and originally archeologically "Dorset". These people would have  systemantically visited familiar  campsites year after year,  in their annual circuit,  camped on rocky coasts and islands if it was needed, to be close to their hunting places, and used methods and equipment that had been adapted to this specialized form of life over countless generations. With a way of life spent mostly on windblown rocky islands, being able to use the skins of one's boats as shelter would certainly have been part of a good system.
    The boats shown in the illustration were clearly not invented overnight, but over centuries in adapting to the special conditions encountered in the seas off the coasts of Greenland and Labrador.
    The places where the sea animals were located were usually far from the coast, among scattered rocky outcrop; and so,  the sea-harvesting clans  needed to be able to improvise their life on even small rocky islands not far from the hunting sites. They would improvise shelters from very large skins that were easily removed from frames with the long poles, by "unlacing" the rope. The debated "longhouse foundations" may simply have been one form of shelter, designed for open flat terrain. Elsewhere they draped the skins against rock walls, in front of caves, etc. 

  Merely overturning umiaks produced cramped shelters. Using skins of boats rather than whole boats  gave greater versatility and comfort in fashioning shelter.  It solves the objection of the umiak being too narrow if overturned. Possibly two skins could be combined to create a large communal shelter for two clans. Below reproduces, from Farfarers one of the remains of the so-called "longhouse foundations". Note that the scattered rocks do not show a constructed wall; and that assumptions that there was one, is speculation. The nature of the edges, with rotten turf and stones, could merely represent the accumulation of rocks and turf used to hold down and seal the edges of  the tent through repeated use. 
Pamiok Longhouse No. 2 site after reproduction page 8 of The Farfarers:Before the Norse, Mowat, Toronto, 1998 (The black rocks are thought to be in their original positions)
    The archeologist of the site, Tom Lee,  interpreted the distribution of rocks and turf as a broken turf and rock wall, and used the loose rocks to build a speculative reconstruction which is shown in Farfarers page 7.  If the skin boat comes apart easily, if the skins can be easily removed by several men via the poles, and if the poles themselves become supports, then we have all the ingredients for shelter.  A shelter and an umiak cannot exist at the same time. And that is what is suggested in the illustration - the boats appear to contain everybody (other than those placed temporarily on rock islands) - men, women, children.
    The shelter, the longhouse, may have been made out of two umiak skins, connected to two poles each. The base would then be held down by rocks and turf - which would explain why nowhere have archeologists found proper walls, only loose stones and turf. The following speculates on what was done. It requires further research by people with more information about the traditional Greenland umiak.

Conception of he Pamiok No. 2 site  with a tent  made using 2 umiak skins including the poles that formed the skin boat sides..
      One would expect that the interior would have had arrangements of stones for fireplaces, sleeping platforms, etc.  In my interpretation, shown in the illustration,  most of the interior stones actually belong in the interior, and the fewer stones around the edges were never used as a wall, but simply piled on the edges of the tent to hold down the edges. Turf pieces sealed the cracks. Repeated use meant the site's edges always looked broken down since they were never built up. 
    Who made them? Were they made by seagoing aboriginals? Mowat records archeologist Tom Lee saying "I've found little in the way of artifacts except a lot of Dorset-culture litharge [scraps and flakes of flint] . . .Dorsets appear to have camped here after this longhouse was abandoned."  Lee assumes the site was abandoned, because he preconcieves a wall. But if there never was a wall, and it was a tent-site re-used over and over by the Dorset people who left only their food scraps behind, then it would agree with the concept that it was made by seagoing Dorset people who came with a large umiak, or two per clan, pulled them ashore, removed the skins, and erected the longhouse tent using the skins. When they left they took everything except scraps away with them.  There never was a proper wall
   The large number of such "longhouse sites" in the region of Ungava Bay suggests it was a congregating area for clans. Indeed a major hunting site was nearby. As mentioned above, while clans moved through the environment independently, they congregated at special locations of abundance and activity of larger scope that many clans could better perform together. All the nomadic hunting peoples travelled around in small extended families and then congregated at bountiful sites where food was plenty and/or a combined effort was reguired involving many clans - as we see above in the illustration of Greenland aboriginal whaling. It is easy to imagine a gathering of clans near walrus hunting grounds and hunting in a group effort for greater efficiency.

The Cylindrical Beacons - Seemingly Used Around the Entire North Atlantic

Typical  cylindrical pillar of rocks often over 6 ft (2 m) tall that are best explained as markers of campsites in the annual circuit of movement of the seagoing Dorset clans, to be seen from the sea.
      Mowat's map of the cylindrical beacons in the Canadian arctic  shows them widely distributed on the Canadian east and arctic coast. The wide distribution of these "beacons" -- in Ungava Bay, Hudson Strait, eastern Hudson Bay, down the Labrador coast, etc --  cannot be explained by occasional cross-Altantic visits by Europeans (ie "Albans" or Norse). They were obviously established by sea-going aboriginals of many clans, and over many generations. They could be very old. Once made, there was no reason to remove them. They became permanent landmarks.
     These beacons were not made by the recent Inuit peoples, who instead erected irregular stone structures called inuksuak made from a few large rocks to depict a person and to signify that a human had been there. The beacons were visible from the sea and clearly were made by seagoing peoples. With respect to a beacon found near the Pamiok No. 2 location, Mowat quoted  archeologist Lee as saying ". . too big, Too regular. Too well made. Not Eskimoan at all. And look at the thickness of the lichen growth on them. They're too old to belong to the historic period.
     But something that is old, that predates the newer  culture, would belong to the earlier "Dorset" culture, would it not?
      Mowat continued: (p 162) "Tower beacons of this type are also found  on Britain's Northern and Western Isles, Iceland, western Greenland, the eastern Canadian high arctic,  the Atlantic coast of Labrador, and Newfoundland." I add that other sources say  they can be found on the Norwegian coast too.  This means that the beacons were not merely North American but a North Atlantic skin-boat sea-hunter institution, as typical and widespread as the Atlantic seagoing skin boat itself. 
   Note on the following map that all these locations mentioned by Mowat, plus Norway,  circle the North Atlantic.  It suggests two divisions of North Atlanic seagoing aboriginal peoples, eastern and western. I have defined these divisions acording to the absence of islands between Iceland and Labrador and by the patterns of the ocean currents. Mowat may want to view the makers of these beacons as a relatively civilized seafaring people, but the truth may be that they were largely primitive (in the sense that they were nomadic, and lived off the sea in a self-sufficient manner), and all belonging to the same race as the Greenland Eskimos. It is European chauvinism that wants these people to be more like the modern seafarer of the Northern British Isles, rather than the Eskimo/Inuit.
   There is a general tendency of older generations to dismiss aboriginal peoples, make them background decorations to the adventures of Europeans; and as sympathetic as Mowat may be to aboriginals, he was raised to celebrate the Norse, the British, the European and place aboriginal peoples in a different universe.

The "beacons" are found throughout the North Atlantic (areas in the lighter lines), and it is clear they were made by  ancient skin-boat-using aboriginal sea-harvesters of the North Atlantic, who comrpised two  divisions (heavier lines). The eastern division has long vanished, while the western division was last represented by the Greenland whale hunters.
A map of the currents of the North Atlantic shows why there would have been a natural division between eastern and western tribes. The circling of the currents encourages one division to be set up mainly around circuit B, and the the other in circuit C. In addition note that the space betwen Iceland and Labrador, without islands, would discourge travel between the two divisions, except along the coast of Greenland. This current along Greenland , travelling east to west would  encourage  peoples from B, with evolving European  racial features , to venture towards the west.  The names "Dorset", "Fosna" and "Komsa" refer to archeological designations of prehistoric cultures in these areas, their artifacts seen along the coasts and islands. I propose they were all related and ultimately has the same origins.
     These beacons, placed to be visible from the sea, thus marked the locations of campsites for the nomadic sea-going aboriginals of the North Atlantic. Once an ideal campsite location was established, it would be reused over and over,  year after year, and thus it was useful to construct beacons visible from the sea, in order to find the place again and again.


    Mowat's The Farfarers:Before the Norse, (Mowat, Toronto, 1998 )  presents much good information from his research, but  his analysis is not scholarly. He began with an idea of peoples from his Scottish heritage riding in skin boats and using the boats as shelters, and basically did what all bad scholars do - organize and select data in order to 'prove' a preconcieved idea, and resist abandoning it when the research did not really support the idea as he originally, naively, concieved it.
     Proper scholarship only entertains a general question and tries not to predict the solution. The question is "How were the longhouses suggested in the archeological finds made, and who made them?" He may have originally thought the Norse made them, thus he did change course once before beginning the book in his imagining an earlier people, he decided to call "Albans". But the research really did not support such a simple, narrow, interpretation. But could he back out now? His publisher was waiting for a book!
    There is a good story for "Albans" of Roman times, including their possibly being the origins of Beothuks, but for the centuries after the Roman Age, there is less and less basis for contacts with North America by a single group. More likely the North American evidence represents footprints made by a number of groups, from traders who kept their journeys secret and established a couple of trading posts, to groups of monks creating a settlement on Newfoundland, to early settlers who were not Norse, but Finnic (the original north European boat people), to random accidental visits by lost Icelandic fishermen. The reality behind the diverse information he collected from his research is far more complex than his simplistic theory about a hypothetical "Alban" people.
   He may have sensed alternative paths for the book, but was forced to continue on the "Alban" path, and thus created something that is more fantasy than fact, and has been treated that way.
  I believe there are three major stories in the accumulated evidence - the story of Roman Age native British, the story of North Atlantic seagoing aboriginal peoples, and the story of contact by northern traders, not even mentioned by Mowat. And within these three themes there are many subdivisions, both on the British side and North American side. For example the evidence of a settlement may represent a trading post set up by traders. The texts speaking of a settlement of clergy may represent a genuine settlement of Irish monks, that if they were all men, only lasted one generation.  There are several major themes each with several angles, and it may be very difficult to find connections between the many possible themes and angles.

author: A.Paabo, Box 478, Apsley, Ont., Canada


2016 (c) A. Pääbo. UPDATED 2016