Ancient Vikings in Today’s Politics?


Apr 27, 2016 by Rua Lupa

I had recently read an excellent summary on the latest piqued interests about Viking settlements in North America (AKA Turtle Island) by Alyxander Folmer, “Wyrd Words: Vikings in the New World“. One of the sites that were mentioned was the Nanook site (also known as Tanfield Valley) Located on Baffin Island, which was halted in 2012 when the Canadian Museum of History cut the funding for this excavation and fired Archaeologist Patricia Sutherland. A site that garnered international attention as seen in National Geographic’s article “Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada“.


Image By Patricia Sutherland

Image By Patricia Sutherland

Sadly this dismissal was strongly tied to the politics of the time – the ideologies of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For an overview I highly recommend watching The Fifth Estate’s “Silence of the Labs” which I’ll embed below,

Which got me wondering, what has come of this site? Did Patricia Sutherland ever get her job back for wrongful dismissal? Have the federal scientific teams all over our nation remained disbanded since? Are the labs reopening under our more science accepting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Is there any recourse for the destruction of our federal study libraries (like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans)?

The latest news I could rummage was an article by Sean Craig at Buzzfeed on Jan 14, 2016, “What’s Gone On Behind Closed Doors At Canada’s Most-Visited Museum“. It reports that,

“The Liberals called the change an attempt to “turn the museum into a subsidiary of the Conservative Party spin machine.””

“…in December, current CEO Mark O’Neill [(‘Canadian Museum of History’ CEO who oversaw the letting go of archeologists in the museum during the Conservative Party’s rule)] received a letter from Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc demanding he resign.”

“[Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly] now says she supports O’Neill.”


NDP Heritage critic Pierre Nantel stated,

“The Liberals once opposed Conservative changes to the museum and promised they would stand up for Canadian scientists and researchers. They now need to explain why they are giving their support to Mr. O’Neill without at least requiring him to go through a merit-based appointment process.”


Jean-Marc Blais, the museum’s director general and vice president, was recorded saying,

“Mark [O’Neill] put that in writing in his message two weeks ago: We’re not the museum of the 1990s, we’re not the museum of the 2000s. We’re the museum of 2012. And this — if you read between the lines — it means a lot of things when he says that. … He doesn’t work alone. We have our board, we have our minister. Our minister is here often. Very often. Very, very often. And so that’s a big change.

Some of us were here in the 1990s. We never saw a minister come here — except if there was a government ceremony or something. That’s it. You didn’t have a minister coming and making announcements of different things and checking out our collections.”

The article points out that,

“…in the months leading up to the unveiling of the new mandate, and under O’Neill’s leadership, the museum made legal threats against six archaeologists who objected on ethical grounds to a major acquisition [of artifacts]. Three Parks Canada archaeologists also advised the museum against the acquisition on ethical grounds.”

Read the whole article if you want learn more about this situation with archeologists in the museum being legally threatened when they spoke out. Their concerns centering around museum collection guidelines to discourage the acquisition of artifacts obtained through commercial exploitation or for unscientific purposes, with the belief that such acquisitions could encourage the unregulated and unscientific trade of cultural artifacts. Of which Sutherland also played a role in.

The article goes on to mention a petition that arose after Dr. Sutherland’s dismissal which has some of its own updates of the time. It even links to a paper by her and two co-authors, based on work that was completed before her departure from the museum. It was published in the journal Geoarchaeology.

Evidence of Early Metalworking in Arctic Canada

Evidence of Early Metalworking in Arctic Canada

The abstract reads,
“This paper examines new evidence related to an early (pre-Columbian) European presence in Arctic Canada. Artifacts from archaeological sites that had been assumed to relate to pre-Inuit indigenous occupations of the region in the centuries around A.D. 1000 have recently been recognized as having been manufactured using European technologies. We report here on the SEM-EDS analysis of a small stone vessel recovered from a site on Baffin Island. The interior of the vessel contains abundant traces of copper–tin alloy (bronze) as well as glass spherules similar to those associated with high-temperature processes. These results indicate that it had been used as a crucible. This artifact may represent the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in the New World north of Mesoamerica.”

Source CBC - Patricia Sutherland at Tanfield Valley, Baffin Island

Source CBC – Patricia Sutherland at Tanfield Valley, Baffin Island

If you watched the “Silence of the Labs” you would of  learned that
the museum denied her access to her research materials and many were dispersed, having been forced to leave with only what she could carry in her instant dismissal. With this article being my only source, I’ve come to learn that the museum and Sutherland are still in dispute over access to her research.

“The museum says it offered her a workspace, copies of materials, a research budget, and access to collections during “non-regular working hours.””

“I have indicated to the museum what is needed to be able to continue and complete my work: full access to collections, records and facilities,” Sutherland said in a statement. “I have not been offered and do not have this access.”


Within “The Silence of the Labs” documentary Sutherland states,

“The emphasis for the Arctic seems to be on 19th-century British naval exploration in the Northwest passage,” she said. “My work isn’t in the Northwest Passage; it’s too old. The project, I think, was not on message for the Conservative government.”


Former Museum of History CEO Victor Rabinovitch and the Canadian Association of University Teachers are both calling on the new government to re-examine the museum’s mandate change.


If my fellow Canadians would like to see more of what Sutherland’s work involved, you can view it on the CBC website “The Norse: An Arctic Mystery” hosted by David Suzuki* on The Nature of Things (awesome Program!).

Sorry my international friends – its one of those darn “only available in [insert nation]” things, but there is an article, photo gallery and interactive page showing what the structure on the dig site in Nanook probably looked like.


*Our Neil deGrasse Tyson, in terms of public scientific education. I also highly recommend Dr. Suzuki’s book, “Sacred Balance


One thought on “Ancient Vikings in Today’s Politics?

  1. […] again! That is something that managed to happen to Canadians with Harper. Do not make our mistake, do not let these violations to democracy go quietly into the dark. Being quiet is to be forgotten. So be bold and public as much as possible to keep the politicians […]


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