Indigenous Peoples & Vikings

The so-called Maritime Archaic Indians, primarily a hunting and fishing culture, populated parts of Atlantic Canada beginning perhaps 7,500 years ago -- far predating the more famous Inuit, who "only" arrived about 4,000 years ago. These early natives relied chiefly on the sea for their food, fashioning ingenious hooks and spears to do so. Why they eventually disappeared, nobody knows. Could it have been the long winters?

Tribes also spilled north from the region we know today as the state of Maine: M'ikmaq, Maliseet, and the Passaquamoddy (also more broadly known as Algonquin and Abenaki). These peoples also lived a nomadic life of fishing, trapping, and hunting; they changed camp locations several times each year to take advantage of seasonal fish runs, wildlife movements, and the like. They would persist until the European colonists made contact with them in relatively "recent" times.

One of the most amazing chapters in coastal history was the short visit by the Vikings (yes, those Vikings), who rowed and sailed all the way from Scandinavia around A.D. 1000 to the windswept northern coast of Newfoundland. They decamped at a point of land called L'Anse aux Meadows, where as many as 100 Vikings appeared to have lived at the peak of the settlement, including some women.

But the Vikings abandoned the settlement after just a few years, returning to Greenland and Denmark and thus ending the first European experiment in the colonization of North America -- an experiment that would not be resumed for 500 more years, when a fellow named Columbus would try it. No graves have ever been discovered at this Viking site. What does that mean? We simply don't know. But it certainly is intriguing.

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