The Arctic historical overview

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Chapter 1

Introduction and Historical Overview

The Arctic was unique during the contact era. It was seen as a means to an end, the location of the sought after Northwest Passage to the riches of Asia. The lack of a continuous presence of a foreign power due to the harshness of the polar environment, meant that contact between Europeans and Inuit was sporadic at best. Following the expeditions of Martin Frobisher and John Davis to Eastern Baffin Island in the 16th century, no further known direct contact with Europeans was made, by the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut Inuit inhabitants, until the arrival of whalers in the 19th century. While the past undesirability of this believed barren land has made the notion of Arctic sovereignty a difficult political issue today, it provides the ideal setting for studying the consequences of contact between two vastly different groups from an archaeological and historical perspective. This work will concentrate on the impacts of Frobisher's voyages, all of which are well documented. A relatively large amount, for the Arctic, of archaeological excavation and survey has taken place in the region of Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island (figure 1.1). The Smithsonian and Meta Incognita projects in particular stand out as having made a significant contribution to both Frobisher and Contact studies.

Due to the temporal isolation of the area from further European contact; most artefacts recovered have known origin which means their affect can far more easily be inferred. Instead of presenting a particular area in depth, the general outcomes of this contact as a whole shall be considered; the impact of material goods, the ideological affects of contact, and implications for the present day will all be looked at, in order to try to establish the full extent of Elizabethan exploration on the indigenous populations of the Arctic.

Historical Overview

In 1576 Martin Frobisher set out on the first of his three voyages to the Arctic with two ships, the Gabriel and the Michael, and a Pinnace, on a privately funded voyage with the aim of

discovering the Northwest Passage to the Orient. Only the Gabriel completed the crossing and reached Frobisher Bay, which was named Frobisher Strait, the English believing they had found the passage to Cathay. It was here that they first encountered the Nugumiut, the Thule Inuit who occupied the region. After some initial trading, five men were sent ashore in the ship's boat to return one of the Inuit to shore. They were told not to go out of sight of the ship, an order they subsequently disobeyed and were never seen or heard from again (McGhee 2001: 53). In retaliation an Inuk was captured and, along with a piece of black rock, returned to England. Both the man and the rock were treated as proof of Frobisher having discovered a new land. The man's apparently Asian features suggested to the English that the chances of finding a Northwest Passage through the Arctic were promising. On top of this, on the fourth attempt of having it assayed, the black rock was dubiously found to contain gold ore (Fitzhugh 1993: 2, Fitzhugh and Laeyendecker 1993: 11). It was later proved worthless, but not before two further voyages to the Arctic had been completed, their main aim being to source and mine the ore.

john white watercolour.jpg The second of these voyages took place in 1577. Three ships successfully made the journey to the Arctic, with the island of Kodlunarn, in the east of Frobisher Bay, being used by the English as a base camp. The island was chosen for its rich veins of the ore, as well as its vantage point over neighbouring Inuit communities, for which it was again utilised in the third voyage. In the course of this expedition the English attacked and killed several of the Inuit at a place they named ‘Bloody Point' and a further man, woman and child were abducted and brought back

to England. All four captives soon died following their arrival in England most likely a result of a mixture of European disease and injuries sustained in their capture. A probable amalgamation of the battle at Bloody Point and the 1576 abduction of the five sailors, was depicted as a watercolour by John White (figure 1.2).

The following year a third voyage went ahead; it would prove to be Frobisher's final foray into the Arctic. For this trip a huge armada of fifteen ships set sail, with not only sailors and soldiers but over one hundred miners aboard, as well as mining equipment and supplies for a planned colony (Savours 1999: 8). There were no direct encounters with the Inuit on this voyage, but further mines were opened and more extensive facilities were constructed on the Kodlunarn Island base camp. The crossing from England had been rough however and many of the supplies and provisions for the proposed colony had been lost. It was therefore decided against leaving men behind on the island, but a house was constructed and a number of crops sown in order to test their survival in Arctic conditions (Fitzhugh 1993: 13). A number of supplies including timber, food and iron were also buried for their use in the next year, but this was to prove an optimistic gesture, the ore was worthless, the organisers went bankrupt and investors lost money, there were to be no further voyages to this region for over two centuries.

John Davis voyaged to the neighbouring Cumberland sound in 1585 and again in 1587, where he encountered the Kinggamiut inhabitants, but no further known European expeditions were to venture into Frobisher Bay or come across the Nugumiut until the arrival of whalers in the 19th century. The Frobisher sites were lost to Europeans until the arrival of Charles Francis Hall in 1860. Hall, an American journalist, journeyed to the Arctic on a whaling ship in order to look for survivors of the Franklin expedition, who he believed could be living with Inuit, despite their having been missing for fifteen years. While wintering in Cyrus Field Bay, located between Frobisher Bay and Cumberland Sound, he heard accounts from the local Nugumiut and Kinggamiut Inuit about a time when white men, or qallunaat in Inuktitut, visited the region and further stories that closely mirrored the exploits of the Frobisher expeditions (Rowley 1993: 28-29). Through Inuit oral testimony Hall ‘rediscovered' the Frobisher sites and was the first white man to hear the accounts of the voyages from an Inuit point of view. The use and accuracy of oral history shall be discussed in a later chapter, but Hall was a pioneer in the field, and the first to systematically question Inuit about their memories of past events.

This has only been a very brief overview of the history of European presence in the region of Frobisher Bay from the Elizabethan Period onwards. In the next chapter the possibility of an earlier, Norse presence shall be discussed.

Chapter 2

European Contact in the Eastern Arctic Prior to Frobisher

Following the overview of 16th century contact in Eastern Baffin Island, I will now discuss the evidence for a possible earlier European presence. As previously mentioned, the 1576 voyage of Frobisher was the first documented contact between Europeans and Inuit of the Eastern Canadian Arctic. However there had been contact between the Norse and Eskimos in Greenland from an early stage. It is this that has led to speculation that other locations in the Arctic may also have been influenced by Norse contact. This is an important question as, if this was the case, it would impact on the interpretation of the affect of the later Elizabethan explorers on the Inuit. Had the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut already encountered Europeans, then the material and ideological impacts of 16th century contact presented later in this paper would have to take into account that a precedent of contact had already been set.

The extent and possibilities of Norse-Inuit contact is a topic that would merit a paper solely devoted to its discussion, but I shall attempt to focus on its possible affect on the inhabitants of Frobisher Bay in order to determine whether the Nugumiut encountered Europeans either directly, or indirectly through trade, prior to the arrival of Frobisher.

Norse Presence in North America

The Norse discovery of North America took place around AD 1000, and settlements were established in Greenland. The areas occupied provided food for the settlers in the form of fish and marine mammals, but raw materials such as iron and wood were scarce, the latter found only as driftwood. These were essential items for shipbuilding, making tools and for weapons, and so these raw materials had to be found elsewhere (Seaver 1999: 527). The forested area of central Labrador would have been the ideal location for resupplying their dwindling resources, due to the presence of both wood and, in the Ungava Bay region especially, iron. Labrador and Newfoundland are also relatively close in proximity to the Norse occupied sites of Greenland and they do offer some evidence for a Norse presence, the most palpable being that of the settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. McGhee suggests that the most probable way to have reached these areas would have been to cross the Davis Strait and travel south along the coastlines of Baffin Island and Northern Labrador, regions that would have been inhabited by the Dorset Palaeoeskimos (McGhee 1984: 14). That Norse and Eskimo may have encountered each other on one of the many Norse voyages that must have taken place in search of raw materials therefore seems quite likely. Both Norse accounts and the archaeological evidence would seem to suggest that contact took place in some form; this will now be discussed alongside the possible implications of this on the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut and their encounters with Frobisher. Skraelings in Norse Sagas!

Norse-Eskimo Interaction

The Dorset Palaeoeskimos, who inhabited the coastal regions from Baffin Island to Labrador for the majority of the period of Norse presence in North America, were the predecessors to the Thule Inuit encountered by Frobisher. The Dorset and Thule were distinct peoples; the Thule travelled east across the Arctic from Alaska, eventually displacing the Dorset (citation needed). It is an issue of contention as to whether these two groups of people ever interacted with each other, or if the Dorset decline occurred before the Thule migration meaning there was no opportunity for contact (Park 1993: 203-234). This is therefore a key issue in determining whether there was a precedent for European contact with the Inuit peoples of Frobisher Bay prior to 1576. The known evidence of contact between Eskimo and Norse from the wider Arctic shall now be presented.

Archaeological evidence of Norse contact with Inuit of the Canadian Arctic is somewhat thin, but it does exist and is relatively widespread geographically. The Dorset sites of Richmond Gulf on the East Coast of Hudson Bay and the UNG. 11 site in North Western Ungava Bay both revealed pieces of copper; at the former site the copper had been fashioned into an amulet of typical Dorset form, dated to c. AD 1155. The presence of copper is not unusual in the Arctic, but these particular pieces were found to be of smelted rather than native copper, their chemical compositions closely matching that known from Norse copper in Greenland (McGhee 1984: 14). This therefore suggests there was some form of contact between the Norse and Dorset Palaeoeskimos. McGhee suggests that contact would have occurred along the North Labrador Coast when the Norse sailed southwards for supplies of wood. The materials may have been traded or raided, and then distributed through Dorset trade networks (McGhee 1984: 14). It is possible however that the copper may have been traded through Indian-Eskimo trade links, meaning that no Dorset Eskimo need have encountered a Norseman. As mentioned the Norse accounts of encountering Skraelings have been interpreted as meetings with the Indian occupants of Labrador as opposed to Inuit, and so it is difficult to pinpoint how these copper artefacts came into the possession of the Dorset. Nevertheless the evidence is limited, suggesting that even if the Norse and the Dorset did encounter each other it was only briefly and between small groups of individuals only. It was therefore likely that these copper objects reached the Richmond Gulf site and probably also the UNG. 11 site through trade from those who had encountered Norsemen; whether Indian or Eskimo.

There is slightly more extensive evidence, in terms of the range of Norse objects found, in Thule Inuit contexts in Arctic Canada. At Silumiut on the west coast of Hudson Bay a piece of smelted iron was recovered dating from the 12th or 13th century, it was found along with three fragments of meteoritic iron originating from the Cape York meteorite of northwest Greenland. Three pieces of smelted sheet copper, again alongside meteoritic iron, were also found at the Thule winter village of probable 12th century occupation on Bathurst Island, Central High Arctic (McGhee 1984: 15). Norse artefacts were also recovered by excavation from Skraeling Island, off the east coast of Ellesmere Island. Objects included pieces of chain mail, knife blades, boat rivets, iron and copper pieces and woollen cloth. The nearby site of Eskimobyen also revealed a barrel bottom, box section and copper piece (Schledermann 1980: 454). With perhaps the exception of the woollen cloth, these items all constitute raw materials that already had precedent within Thule culture and in most cases were likely traded from the Greenlandic Eskimo who came into contact with Norse hunting parties. While it is possible that the Skraeling Island finds may be suggestive of a shipwreck due to the range of items recovered, this would only be speculation as there is no evidence to suggest the Norse voyaged so far north by sea; nor can the possibility of trade be ruled out.

thule carving norse.jpg The most likely evidence regarding direct contact between the Norse and Thule Inuit in the Canadian Arctic comes from the South Coast of Baffin Island at the site of Okivilialuk near Lake Harbour. At this site a small wooden carving was found that has been identified as depicting a man wearing European, and in particular Norse, clothing (figure 3.1). It is characteristic of Thule figurines in that it has very short arms and no detail in the face, but the person depicted is wearing a long pleated tunic with a long slit in the front and what appears to be a cross engraved on the chest (Mary-Rousselière 1984: 590, Ingstad and Ingstad 2000: 175). The site has been dated to around the 13th-14th centuries.

It is therefore widely held that the carving is a Thule representation of a Norseman, or according to some, Norsewoman (Seaver 2004 :50). No matter the sex, this suggests that the Thule artist would have had to have come into contact with Norse Greenlanders somewhere in the vicinity of Okivilialuk in order to produce such a rendering. This figurine is thus the most convincing evidence of direct, as opposed to indirect, contact between these two cultures in the Canadian Arctic.

Had a Precedent for Contact been set?

The number of Norse artefacts in Thule contexts remains limited however. The evidence for contact between the two is far stronger than with the Dorset, but still does not suggest prolonged interaction, and for the most part, the nature of contact, whether face to face or through trade remains inconclusive.

Unlike the short term forays into the Arctic of the later European explorers, the Norse Greenlanders were essentially isolated from the rest of Europe for long periods and, as previously discussed, were reliant on the limited resources the Arctic could provide. They would not have had access to supplies of raw materials that were rare, or unknown in the Arctic environment. I would therefore suggest that even if we were to assume that all the evidence presented heretofore indicates direct Norse-Eskimo contact in every case, the impact of material goods alone would have been negligible. On the one hand the Norse did not have enough supplies for their own settlement, let alone for widespread trade, so the artefacts discovered are most likely close to the extent that are going to be found in Canadian Thule contexts. This would not have been enough to alter the balance of trade relations as I argue was the case with Frobisher in the next chapter. On the other hand many of the Norse materials found at Thule sites already had a precedent of use from native sources, and smelted iron and copper pieces would not have looked too different from that of meteoritic origin. Chainmail, large knife blades and barrel sections, while of visibly unusual shape, were still of recognisable material that could be incorporated into existing technology. The material goods themselves would not have produced a change in the Inuit way of life; they were present in too small numbers and were not radical new technologies such as seen with the introduction of the gun to the First Nations Peoples at the start of the fur trade in the 17th century. The most likely impact would have been through direct contact between these two peoples. As already seen, the so called ‘Skraelings' were thought of as strange by the Norse; the Inuit themselves were likely to have had a similar reaction to these newly encountered Europeans. However if direct contact had been more widespread, there would likely have been more material evidence for it, which has just not been found. While it seems that at least one Thule Inuit group, those from Okivilialuk, did encounter Norse of some variety, the piece of evidence that suggests this is so strong that its lack of comparison from sites elsewhere would also seem to suggest that this was likely a rare occurrence. The overall means of contact between Norse and the Inuit of Arctic Canada would therefore seem to have been indirectly through trade. I feel this is also supported by the fact that the Norse, unlike the later Europeans, were there to colonise not explore. Opportunities for contact with indigenous groups of the Canadian Arctic would have been limited beyond their trips south to the Labrador region for resources.

As has already been mentioned, the trade in Norse objects was unlikely to have had that much of an effect on the Inuit who participated in it; also direct contacts were likely to have been so few and so isolated that they were not likely to be remembered after several generations had passed. For these reasons I propose that there was no real precedent of contact between Inuit and European prior to the arrival of Frobisher in 1576. With this in mind, the next chapter will explore the impact of material goods from the Frobisher voyages on the Nugumiut and also other Inuit groups who did not come into direct contact with the Elizabethans.

Chapter 3

Material Impact of the Frobisher Voyages

In the previous chapter we saw that there was no real precedent for direct contact between Europeans and the Nugumiut before Frobisher's arrival in 1576. This therefore means that for the most part, 16th century European goods present in the area of Frobisher Bay and Cumberland Sound can be ascribed to specific contact events- those of Frobisher and Davis. Being so temporally isolated allows for much better analysis of the effect of these commodities on the Inuit populations who came into contact with them.

Climate Change and Resource Competition

Prior to the third of Frobisher's voyages, the Nugumiut had access to European objects only through trade with the Elizabethan explorers. However, following their departure in 1578, the English had left great quantities of European material, especially on Kodlunarn Island, that the Inuit would have quickly begun to scavenge (Fitzhugh 1993: 119). At the time of contact, the Baffin Island Thule Inuit would already have been in the midst of social and cultural change caused by the start of the period known as the Little Ice Age (LIA) (Fossett 2001: 33). Although not reaching its lowest temperatures until the mid 17th century, the climatic cooling that became the LIA most likely had its origins in the 16th century or earlier (Fitzhugh 1993: 95, Andrews et al. 1976: 71). On the one hand this presents us with the problem that any changes to the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut way of life in this period could be attributed to climate change rather than European contact. It is probably more likely that both factors would have contributed to social change, but this shall be discussed in greater detail in the following chapter. Nevertheless it can be argued that it was the changing environmental conditions that would have increased the appeal of these new European items. Decreasing temperatures would have caused the tree line to recede and pack ice to increase, reducing the amount of driftwood which was crucial in the treeless Arctic environment. Coltrain (2009: 773) suggests that Caribou numbers would have declined and there would have been fewer sightings of bowhead whales with the increasing sea ice cover. Whale bone was the main alternative to wood in the Arctic, with it being used to construct houses and make tools, and so with both wood and bone resources dwindling, the Inuit may have been eager to find other sources of raw materials. Access to the material remains of the Frobisher camp may, therefore, have offered advantage to the Nugumiut over other Inuit groups, in a time of increasing resource competition.

Trade and Exchange

The Inuit were reliant on trade and exchange networks in order to have access to various raw materials that were not present in some regions of the Arctic but abundant in others. This can be seen in the presence of iron, at Thule sites throughout the central and eastern Arctic, which is of meteoritic source and has been found to have originated in the Melville Bay region of Greenland (McCartney and Mack 1973: 329). Although found in relatively small amounts, the iron was important enough to have been traded across vast distances of the Arctic, being found in areas as diverse as Northern Labrador, Northwest Hudson Bay, Somerset Island and Baffin Island (McCartney and Mack 1973: 336, McCartney and Kimberlin 1988: 288). The communities controlling this trade would not have become more powerful because of it, but would have depended on it in order to access other items not readily available to them in return for the iron. In the same way, those communities living closest to the tree line would have depended on trading wood for other resources, such as iron or copper, that were perhaps not as abundant in their area (McGhee 1994: 570-1). The influx of European goods to the one particular area would therefore have disrupted this trade network; giving the Nugumiut unparalleled access to supplies of both wood and iron may have changed their status within the hierarchy of trade. Access to these items would have meant not needing to trade as often or for as much as they would have previously done, meaning their trade partners would not receive the usual items in exchange. This leaves the possibility that some communities may have been cut from the exchange network completely, as groups turned to the more accessible resources of Kodlunarn Island. It does seem improbable however that European brought raw material would have been in such large quantity as to entirely fill Nugumiut needs and remove them from trading entirely, but in a society where the economy is based on trade and exchange, outside influence would surely be problematic and disruptive of trading relationships.

Resource Incorporation

Kaplan suggests that in the 17th century the Inuit of Northern Labrador may have sought out European contact due to their prior knowledge of the advantages of metal (Kaplan 1980: 650). European iron and other materials have been found incorporated into traditional Inuit technology but what is often played down is that iron was not new to the Inuit; as mentioned they had access to small quantities of Greenlandic meteoritic iron. What Kaplan is suggesting is that the use of iron was not a new phenomenon, and so the more obvious changes in technology from slate to iron after the arrival of Frobisher are not as important as the economic impact on established trade practices (Kaplan 1980: 650). The European arrival merely increased the amount of raw materials available to the Nugumiut and so allowed for integration into a wider range of implements. The house structures at Kamaiyuk, for instance, included examples of European materials being utilised to complement existing practices. They contained a possible pewter sheet made into an ulu blade (an ulu was a knife associated with women), metal harpoon end blades, a metal fish or seal hook and a tool handle fashioned from hardwood (Auger et al. 1995: 15). This incorporation of European materials into existing Inuit technology is also exemplified by the discovery in Cumberland Sound of two sledges by John Davis in 1585:

‘The one was made of firre, spruse and oken boards; the other was made all of whalebone' (Janes 1589 cited in Savours 1999: 12)

This is a particularly good example as it shows that traditional resources were still in use at the same time as European materials were being incorporated, rather than being replaced by them. It also suggests that either Nugumiut were hunting in Cumberland Sound when the sleds were found, or they had traded oak boards from the Frobisher sites with the Kinggamiut inhabitants of the region. It is almost certain that these boards would have originated from a Frobisher related site as oak would have been unlikely driftwood in the Arctic region, and so would again support the idea that trade was affected by European contact.

Trigger highlights how indigenous peoples have in the past been treated as unprogressive, slow or even unable to advance without European contact and interference (Trigger 1980: 662). To suggest that the Inuit adoption of Frobisher materials demonstrates technological improvement as a result of European influence would again be advancing this outdated view. It is true that the Nugumiut did integrate English wood and iron and other items into their technology, but had they come across these resources naturally, the result would have been the same. Iron is a more effective cutting tool than slate and the Inuit would have realised this and, as we have seen, did realise this without European involvement. That there was a precedent for iron utilisation in the Arctic is useful in this context as it clearly shows that the Inuit were able to independently adapt to new materials; European involvement was in the supply rather than introduction of these resources. Items such as glass would have been new to the Inuit but these were not used in the same way and shall be discussed below. This therefore brings us back to the view that the impact of European material on the Inuit communities of the Eastern Arctic was not in technological change but in altering the balance of the system of trade and exchange.

Interpretation of Inuit Use of European Material

We have therefore seen the impact of raw materials left by the English in the Arctic. These were often used to make or augment items in a way that would not have been unfamiliar to Frobisher's men. But it is also interesting that the most common way to find metal is in amorphous lumps (Auger et al. 1995: 16). Metal was an important and valuable commodity in the Arctic as although there was trade from Greenland, iron, and metal in general was rare. To have kept chunks of it rather than putting it to what Europeans would call ‘practical use' implies it was given a meaning beyond that of just raw material. Other items as well obviously held a status within the Inuit communities that would not have been ascribed to them by Europeans. This can particularly be seen with the so called trinkets, items of supposed little worth that were readily traded with the Inuit. Although of little value to the explorers who traded them, bells, needles, looking glasses and other objects thought of as ‘toys' were eagerly exchanged for bear skins, seal and fish by the Inuit (McGhee 2001: 53). This was not limited to the Inuit and in many other contact situations aboriginal peoples were perceived as acting irrationally by trading for these impractical ‘trinkets'. Even when objects of a particular use were traded they were not necessarily used in that way by the recipients. For example kettles traded with the Native American groups of the Eastern United States were predominantly broken up rather than used in cooking (Miller and Hamell 2000: 177-179). In this respect then European objects may have had new cultural meaning given to them by the Inuit, or they may have been incorporated into existing practices. Miller and Hamell suggest this was the case with Indian-White contact. They propose that European glassware or copper objects may not have been seen as new but were attributed the same value as existing materials of ideological significance and this is what made them so attractive in trade (Miller and Hamell 2000: 180). Their argument was based on these European objects being repeatedly found in ritualistic contexts, such as burials, alongside native items. Ceremonial contexts are harder to find at Inuit sites and burials are rare, but European items are sometimes found with ritual objects such as the ivory and bone figurines recovered from the sod houses at Kamaiyuk along with Elizabethan blue glass beads and bits of iron and copper (Auger et al. 1995: 15). So if a comparison can be drawn between Native American practice and that of the Inuit, these objects would not have been seen as new but as counterparts in meaning and status to existing Inuit artefacts. Similarly to the raw material brought by the Frobisher expeditions these ‘trinkets' complemented rather than altered Inuit practice.

The archaeological and historical evidence would therefore seem to agree that raw materials brought by the English were assimilated by the Inuit into their traditional technology. In some cases European iron or oak did replace stone and whale bone where it was most advantageous or convenient, but this was not unprecedented before the arrival of Frobisher. Thus in this sense European items acted to complement the Inuit way of life. The main disruption caused by the introduction of these materials can be seen in the impact on trade networks. The two extreme possibilities are that either the Nugumiut became the centre of trade with their easy access to European objects, or because of the abundance of new materials in such close proximity they no longer needed to partake in trade. Both extremes are unlikely, the first because of the limited number of objects to trade and the latter due to it being likely that trade involved more than just the exchange of raw materials. The evidence of the sled found in Cumberland Sound, would suggest that the Nugumiut were still practicing trade less than ten years after the departure of Frobisher when the materials were still likely to have been plentiful. As a result it would seem that at a time when climate was already affecting resources, the redistribution of control of raw materials within the Eastern Arctic trade network, may have exacerbated the strain on the availability of essential items. This does create the situation however where those directly impacted by contact with Frobisher and his men, the Nugumiut, benefitted from the experience, while those who had indirect contact or even no contact at all were at a disadvantage.

The role of Frobisher material in relation to other encounters within the wider topic of colonialism will be considered in more detail in the final chapter, but first the impacts of the act of contact itself shall be discussed.

Chapter 4

Non-Material Implications of Contact

In the previous chapter we saw the influence of European brought goods on the Inuit of Arctic Canada in the 16th century. Now the focus shall turn to other implications of contact; particularly whether ideology may have been affected as a result of the European presence, and if infectious disease could have played a role in this early stage of interaction. These impacts are not well represented archaeologically, but there is evidence from oral history and from other early encounters that can be drawn upon.

Ideological Impact

It is likely, as discussed previously, that Frobisher and his men were the first qallunaat, or white men, encountered by the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut Inuit. This is a crucial point to remember about the Frobisher voyages, and is indeed why it was so important to establish in the second chapter whether there had been any precedent for contact prior to his arrival. Did the sudden arrival of so many strange people have an impact on the Inuit and their worldview?

In 1818 John Ross and William Edward Parry, on their expedition to the Arctic, encountered the Inughuit of northwest Greenland. The Inughuit, like the Nugumiut and Kinggamiut, were descended from the Thule Culture peoples who had spread across the Arctic from Alaska, but had become isolated from other Inuit groups. The area they inhabited made them the world's most northerly people and as a result of their isolation they had been cut off from trade networks and social contact beyond their own population of approximately 140 individuals. They believed themselves to be the only living people in a world of ice (Dick 2001: 61, Ross 1819: 84). There perhaps were stories of ‘others' passed down through oral tradition, but these would have been distant histories, experienced by no living person. It is not surprising then that upon sighting the Englishmen and the two ships they were somewhat alarmed, but through the efforts of John Sacheuse, an Eskimo interpreter from Southern Greenland, the two groups managed to converse (Ross 1994: 42). The use of a native interpreter was therefore an advantage that was not open to Frobisher on his voyages, but which obviously aided Ross and Parry greatly in preventing misunderstanding and conflict (figure 5.1).

In his publication of the voyages Ross recorded that the Inughuit they encountered first thought the Englishmen had come to harm them;

He [Sacheuse]... called out to them... to which they answered “No, no- go away,” and other words which he made out to mean that they hoped we were not come to destroy them. The boldest then approached... and drawing from his boot a knife repeated, “Go away, I can kill you.” Sacheuse not intimidated, told them he was also a man and a friend... (John Ross 1819: 83)

The Inughuit hunters responded to the arrival of the Europeans with apparent hostility. It is most likely that they were scared by this intrusion of strangers into a world they thought they knew and understood.

Perhaps the cautious reaction of the Nugumiut when they encountered Frobisher and his men in 1576 was due to similar reasons, but without the aid of an interpreter the initial reactions were not as well understood and in the long term relations did not end as amicably. That neither party had previously encountered the other surely also added to the apprehension, with uncertainty being mistaken for hostility.

The Inughuit had lost many skills in their isolation, including the ability to construct the Umiaks and Kayaks prevalent elsewhere in the Arctic (Oswalt 1999: 135). They were therefore unsure what to make of the two large ships in which the British arrived.

They first pointed to the ships, eagerly asking, “What great creatures those were?” “Do they come from the sun or the moon?” which Sacheuse replied that, they “were houses made of wood.” This they seemed still to discredit, answering, “No, they are alive; we have seen them move their wings.” (Ross 1819: 84)

It can therefore be seen that for the Inughuit, the affect of contact far surpassed a purely material impact; their fundamental beliefs about the world were greatly altered by the mere presence of the Europeans. It is this side of contact that is rarely expanded upon or explored.

The case of the Inughuit is an excellent example of where the ideological effects of contact are better known. This is mainly due to the presence of the interpreter Sacheuse. Being able to speak and understand the language in an initial contact situation is generally rare, and so his presence was not only advantageous to Ross and Parry but also to contemporary study of the connotations of contact. So how can this relate to the 16th century encounters between the Nugumiut and Frobisher? Although inferences can be drawn between the two events, the Inughuit reaction is likely to have been more extreme. The Nugumiut were much more open to the newcomers and approached Frobisher's ship to trade. Seaver (1999: 523-552) believes that the apparent lack of fear shown by the inhabitants of Frobisher Bay and their familiarity with the Gabriel was due to having previously encountered Europeans, most likely in the form of whalers, in similar ships. Whilst this argument is plausible, especially in light of the Inughuit wariness of Ross' ships, there is also another possibility. The Inughuit were somewhat more isolated that the Nugumiut at the time of contact with Europeans, as not only had they never seen a white man, they had also never seen another Inuit. Their raw material resources were dwindling by the time of Ross and Parry's arrival, and they knew nothing beyond their immediate environment of ice and snow. The Nugumiut on the other hand had trading links across the Arctic and therefore knew of the existence of others like them, as well as perhaps knowledge of the Indian groups that lived below the tree-line far to the south. Thus they were familiar with the practice of trade and likely to be more welcoming of strangers than the relatively introverted Inughuit. They also had their own water-craft and so at least had some precedent to relate with the larger vessel. So when Frobisher and his crew arrived, the Nugumiut, after a cautious start, went out in their kayaks to meet and trade with them, as they would with other Inuit encountered while on their seasonal round, and does not observably suggest a familiarity with Europeans.

Oral Tradition

Although the initial encounter in this case had less of an ideological impact than it later did on the Nugumiut for the reasons discussed above, it is still likely to have had some affect on them if not as much ideologically as psychologically. This is best seen in the oral testimony collected in the second half of the 19th century by Charles Francis Hall, and also more contemporary recordings taken from the descendents of the Inuit who encountered Frobisher. The accounts also show that despite being more open to the strangers than the Inughuit, the remembered reactions of the Nugumiut echo theirs to some extent:

During the first meeting, the Inuit were just in awe. The qallunaat came with their huge ship. The Inuit themselves had only sealskin boats...When the ship was spotted, the Inuit took their kayaks and went to meet the ship. They had never seen such a big ship and the people were strange, just different...there was a lot of uncertainty. The Inuit were scared.

Account of Inookie Adamie a native of Iqaluit (Eber 2008: 3)

It is of course possible for oral history to be influenced by later events or embellished through retelling and the passing of time, while time itself can be collapsed or telescoped, bringing certain events forward in time and pushing others back (Rowley 1993: 38). However, the mere fact that Frobisher's arrival was still being recounted in 1861, when Charles Francis Hall first recognised the stories as relating to the Elizabethan voyagers, and that as in the case of Inookie Adamie is still being done so today, must surely mean it had a significant impact on the lives of the Nugumiut. In the previous chapter we saw that the material culture, items traded by the English and also those left behind, did not impact too greatly, in a negative way at least, on the Inuit of Frobisher Bay. It must therefore have been for other reasons that this particular encounter was so well remembered by later generations of the Nugumiut.

Violence and Intimidation


Number of ships that set out on each voyage

Number that reached Frobisher Bay

Number of men who left England













Indeed the legacy of Frobisher's arrival also involved the establishment of a new threat in those that referred to the Inuit as ‘This new prey' (Best 1578 in Collinson 1867: 74). Relations between the two groups often became hostile. To English eyes this was the fault of the Inuit, who were responsible for the disappearance of five sailors on the first of Frobisher's voyages and were later believed to have murdered them (McGhee 2001: 53). Frobisher responded by kidnapping one man in retaliation for the lost sailors in 1576 and a man, woman and child the following year, bringing all four back to England where they shortly died. During the course of the second voyage the English also ambushed sixteen to eighteen inhabitants of an Inuit camp, six of whom were killed in the skirmish at what became known as bloody point (Savours 1999: 5-6). It is not surprising therefore that little contact was made with the Inuit on the third of the voyages; the initial curiosity and relative enthusiasm shown towards the European strangers by the inhabitants of Frobisher Bay must have understandably waned through successive contact.

The size of each expedition was also likely to have impacted on the Nugumiut. The first expedition was relatively small, especially as the thirty-six men recorded as being involved includes those who were on the Michael, the ship that turned back, as well as the Pinnace that sank (table 5.1). This meant that the number encountered by the Inuit was considerably smaller than thirty-six but perhaps still a daunting number in a first contact situation.

The Inuit would have been living in small groups, most likely made up of a few extended families, perhaps gathering into slightly larger groups and semi permanent dwellings in the winter months (Henshaw 1999: 87). This was a common trend throughout the Arctic, as smaller groups increased survival by putting less pressure on resources. It is thought that the entire Inuit population of Baffin Island, of which the Nugumiut were one group, was only 6,000 in early historic times, but even this is believed to be an overestimate (Oswalt 1999: 305). These 6000 people would not have been localised in one place, but were spread out over the more hospitable parts of an island with an area of 507,451 km2, approximately two and a half times the size of Great Britain. The arrival of so many men on the second and particularly third voyage would likely have dwarfed the individual populations encountered (table 5.1). The fourteen ships and huge number of men would have been an intimidating sight for the Inuit and was likely to have impacted greatly upon them. Three years before they had never encountered a white man or seen a ship, now they were faced with an armada. It does not seem strange that these encounters were long remembered through oral tradition.

As we have seen, European goods were incorporated into existing Inuit objects and designs, and in a similar way, the lessons of European contact were integrated into oral history. Oral traditions do not exist purely as a source of interesting stories; they also serve the more practical purpose of being lessons to learn from in order to survive in the Arctic environment. The Frobisher voyages may have been so well remembered in order for other Inuit to know to be wary of the white men who brought bloodshed alongside their quantities of raw materials. It is interesting to note however that when Charles Francis Hall questioned the Inuit about the abduction of the four Nugumiut by Frobisher, they answered that they had never heard of it (Rowley 1993: 31). This would seem to suggest that it wasn't an event that merited remembering and was not connected with the English. Though perhaps the practice was not widespread enough and there may not have been many Inuit witnesses to the actual kidnappings themselves.

This side of contact, the presence of the Europeans themselves, would therefore seem to have far more negative connotations for the Nugumiut than occurred through the presence of European material goods. Further archaeological work needs to be done with this as its major focus, to see if ideological change is reflected in the material culture, but ethnographic comparison and oral history would seem to suggest ideological change was a major consequence of contact.

However I am by no means insinuating that European contact was a major turning point in Inuit history that must surely be represented through culture change; in this case the English were also affected by meeting with the Inuit and preformed ideas they had about the inhabitants, such as that they would only have one leg or be giants, were proved wrong. Whitridge (2008: 291) suggests that far too much emphasis is still being placed on the European role in defining aboriginal societies, especially in the Arctic with the notion of ‘prehistory' as encompassing everything up to the arrival of Europeans when there was this sudden apparent change to ‘history'. It is this notion, of where the Inuit and the Arctic fit into the wider context of culture contact, which shall be discussed in the following chapter.

Chapter 5

Discussion and Conclusion

We have so far seen the material and ideological impact of the Frobisher voyages on the Nugumiut. In this chapter the wider context of these events shall be looked into, within the changing climate of the Little Ice Age (LIA) and also, significantly, within the area of global contact studies. I shall also discuss and analyse my approach to answering my research question as a whole.

I suggest that due to the isolated instances of contact, the interaction between European and Inuit in Frobisher Bay in the 16th century is unique amongst European-Indigenous contact situations.

Summary of Key Issues

The previous chapters have shown that prior to the 1576 voyage of Martin Frobisher, it was unlikely that the Nugumiut of Frobisher Bay had encountered Europeans. There is some evidence for direct Norse-Inuit contact from the south of Baffin Island, but this seems to have been a relatively isolated occurrence. Where Norse artefacts have been found elsewhere, it is most likely they reached these areas through trade with the Greenlandic Eskimo who were in direct contact with the Norse. What this shows is that the believed outcomes of contact, discussed in chapters 4 and 5, were solely in response to the arrival of Frobisher and his men, and that the actions of the Nugumiut had not been influenced by prior encounters with qallunaat. This was particularly important for analysing the possible ideological effects of contact, as if it had not have been a first contact situation the impacts of the encounter would surely have been less.

What is interesting about the Norse presence in the Arctic is that, following recent re-dating of several early Thule sites, they were present in Greenland before the arrival of the Thule, who it seems, only reached Greenland in the early 13th Century (Friesen and Arnold 2008: 527-538). The Thule were distinct from the Dorset who previously occupied the land, and so this provides an interesting situation in which the Thule can actually be seen as a colonising force of sorts against the small Norse population. The Norse were increasingly isolated from the rest of Europe in this period, therefore they would not have been too dissimilar to the Thule in terms of materials they had access to, and also in population numbers at each settlement. Their greatest impact on the Inuit was likely to have been in Greenland, but even here it was probably minimal. It seems extremely unlikely that their influence would have been lasting elsewhere in the Arctic.

It was also seen that the main impact of items traded or left behind by Frobisher and his men was in altering the balance of the Inuit trade network. This meant that the Nugumiut suddenly had access to a relatively large supply of raw materials and so actually benefitted in this way from contact, whereas the negative impact of this was felt more by those groups that did not directly encounter Europeans, but who were removed from the existing trade network as a result of these new sources of material. It is also important to note that European goods found in Inuit contexts were incorporated into existing technologies, or given a cultural meaning that would not have been recognisable to a European when given the same object.

In contrast to the outcomes of material culture impact, the effect of the process of contact itself was felt most negatively by the Nugumiut; this most likely manifested itself as ideological change which is not seen as well archaeologically. A total of four Nugumiut were captured and taken away from their homeland, and a number of others died in skirmishes with the Elizabethan explorers over the course of the three voyages. That the arrival of Frobisher and his men greatly impacted the lives of the Nugumiut who encountered them is a certainty, and is evidenced by the existence of oral accounts remembering the events collected around three hundred years after they occurred. So I think that, similarly to the way in which European goods were adapted into traditional Inuit practice, though Nugumiut ideology was likely altered by Frobisher's arrival, this ideological shift cannot really be seen through culture change, but rather through incorporation of new ideas into traditional means of expression. This does not necessarily mean that this aspect of contact is invisible archaeologically; we have already seen the ‘other' represented through Inuit art in the alleged carving of the Norseman from Okivilialuk, and so it is not unprecedented for non-material impacts to be known from the material record. Similar artistic expressions of the arrival of Frobisher and his men may yet be found in Frobisher Bay, but at present ideological impact can only be known through oral history and analogy with more well understood encounters, such as that between Ross, Parry and the Inughuit. Fitzhugh (1993: 99) highlights that this may also be due in part to the archaeology carried out in this region, which has often focussed on either Inuit culture or the European presence as separate entities, when in fact they are closely linked in the period of contact. The affect of European presence needs to be taken more into account when excavating contact era Inuit sites, while in the same way excavation of European sites in the Arctic cannot be considered in isolation and must be moved clear of Eurocentric tendencies. The Nugumiut culture was not static or unchanging, before or after 1576, but the arrival of Europeans was not a sudden driver of this change. European influence was, at most, a contributing factor among many, including the changing climate of the LIA, that lead to the longer term change from ‘Thule' culture to that of ‘Historic' Inuit. It is the use of this term ‘historic' that is the main problem, inferring that changes resulting in this new Inuit culture were solely due to the arrival of Europeans.

In some places however, archaeological sites have been lost altogether through rising sea levels (Fitzhugh 1993: 133). Thule sites were generally located in coastal locations, as sealing and whaling were important aspects of their subsistence. Many are therefore extremely vulnerable to glacial melt induced sea level rise and coastal erosion. Evidence of both material and ideological impact may have been lost in this way and it is one of the main difficulties of Arctic archaeology. So despite there having been a relatively large amount of excavation, in Arctic terms, in the area of Frobisher Bay, the full extent of contact may never be known.

The furthest reaching impact of European-Nugumiut contact can be seen to have been through the affect of material goods; mainly because they had a far more permanent presence in the Arctic than the men who brought them. It is this area that is also the most visible archaeologically and it is therefore understandable why so much more attention has been devoted to this aspect of contact. The oral histories still being recounted today however, do show that in some respects the memories of these encounters have outlasted even the practical use of the Frobisher relics.

The Frobisher Voyages in the Context of Global Contact

Throughout this work I have focussed on the European impact on the native inhabitants of the Arctic, but I do not mention how contact with the Inuit may have had an effect on the Europeans themselves. I do not wish to suggest that the outdated notion of acculturation best describes the nature of Frobisher-Nugumiut contact, but neither do I believe that the notion of hybridity fully applies to this situation. I propose that due to the brief interaction between the two groups the cultural exchange was perhaps slightly more asymmetric than in other contact situations, making this a unique event which cannot be made to adequately fit into the standing theories of colonial encounters.


A major point that will first need to be established is whether the Frobisher expeditions can in fact be classed as ‘colonial' events. After all the original aim of the voyages was to find a northwest passage to Cathay, the Arctic itself was only a means to this end until the finding of the black rock; the supposed gold ore. This discovery made the previously unknown and uninviting Arctic far more attractive to the English and was the main motivation for the succeeding two voyages.

The Arctic grew in worth and became a place in its own right, one which, the English hoped, would provide them with riches to rival those plundered by Spain in South America. Efforts were made to claim the land, with the black ore and the Inuit captives being taken as ‘tokens of possession' (Best 1578 in Collinson 1867: 75). In the course of the 1576 venture, land encountered by the English had been named in honour of the queen and other notable backers of the voyage, but it was not until the second voyage, and the discovery of large deposits of the black rock, that sovereignty was declared (McGhee 2001: 44-45, 67).

There was initially no attempt to set up a colony, though on the third voyage a number of men were chosen to over-winter on Kodlunarn Island. A house was constructed, but many of the provisions intended for the colonists had sunk on the outgoing voyage, and it was decided against leaving a colony behind. So although a colony was not established in the sense that there was not a permanent presence of European men in the Arctic, I feel this contact is still comparable to other colonial encounters. Although not constant, the European presence was continuous for three years at approximately the same time of year and in roughly the same geographical area. Alexander defines colonialism as:

...the process by which a city or nation state exerts control over people -termed indigenous- and territories outside of its geographical boundaries. This exertion of sovereignty is frequently but not always accomplished through colonisation... (Alexander in Silliman 2005: 58)

Though the men departed for the final time in 1578, the house, mining facilities and material goods left a lasting legacy of Elizabethan involvement in the Eastern Arctic. I would not describe this as exerting control per se, but rather maintaining a continuing influence even if it was not done so consciously. The mining venture can therefore be seen to have made the Frobisher expeditions far more like colonial undertakings than any of the succeeding voyages to the high Arctic by the English or British navy. Having said this however, it was also the failure of these mining activities that again reduced the Arctic, in the minds of the English, to a barren and unprofitable land that was merely an obstacle to overcome.

Apart from trading posts and whaling stations there was never really any attempt to establish a permanent European presence in the Arctic. Only recently, with the extensive melting of sea ice opening up the Northwest Passage, has the issue of Arctic sovereignty really resurfaced, becoming an issue of political contention. The question of who owns the Arctic, and in particular the lucrative shipping lane and possible oil and gas reserves, has gradually gained importance as the ice has melted, making past claims of ownership and the history of European involvement increasingly relevant. British expeditions from Frobisher onwards are particularly relevant to Canadian sovereignty claims, as British ownership of the islands of the Arctic Archipelago was passed to Canada in 1880 (Pharand and Legault 1984:38). As a result there has been a re-emergence of interest in the study of this particular area of English and Canadian history over recent years. In light of Russian attempts to claim ownership over the North Pole through planting the Russian flag, a declaration of sovereignty that would not have been unfamiliar to Frobisher, on the ocean floor beneath the pole, this interest may yet increase still (Reynolds 2007). It should be noted that Canada's claim to areas of the Arctic is also based on the ancestral lands of its native inhabitants, and that European discovery is not the sole basis of its assertions of sovereignty over formerly or presently inhabited areas.

The Arctic has seemingly regained the status of ‘place' in its own right, but again only as one to be exploited, likely at the expense of its inhabitants. The issue of whether Frobisher's voyages constitute colonial endeavours is therefore somewhat politically charged, but in my opinion, although atypical, this is exactly what they were. More precisely they can be seen as forerunners to a full colonial venture, that would likely have been attempted had the black rock not been worthless, and further voyages sanctioned. So how do they compare or differ to other colonial encounters in terms of adhering to the general theories of cultural interaction?

Context within Colonial Encounters

Again this is a topic that could merit its own dedicated study, and I do it injustice by devoting so little room to its discussion. It would be impossible to discuss every aspect of colonial theory, but it is important that Elizabethan-Nugumiut contact be established in a global setting. Of course, every culture is different, and colonial interaction did not follow a set pattern that is always identifiable. However there are some traits of contact that are recognisable as being general processes of these inter-cultural relations. The main aspect that I wish to discuss is the notion of hybridity.

Hybridity is a relatively recent term relating to the changes brought about by colonial encounters. Closely linked with creolization, it is an attempt to move away from the 19th century ideas of acculturation and the domination of European colonisers over indigenous cultures. Creolization:

...offers a context for understanding culture contact as a process of exchange and interaction wherein both dominant and subordinate groups are affected and changed. (Singleton 1998: 178)

It is a term most often used in relation to Plantation archaeology and the cultures that arose out of the African slave trade, but is a uniting theme particularly of British imperialism (Gilchrist 2005: 331-2). Hybridity however, is not a process limited to European colonial ventures, and arguably can occur in any situation where two or more distinct cultures are, for lack of a better term, thrown together. Gosden (2004: 87) provides the example of the c. 500 Hurons, who joined the Seneca after their population declined and territory was lost through a combination of European disease and Iroquois attacks in the 17th century. This resulted in a new ‘hybrid' culture, making it impossible to differentiate between the two tribes in the material remains; traditional elements of both Huron and Seneca societies had been adopted and integrated to form a new variant culture. While this of course was quite a different amount of interaction compared to that between the Nugumiut and Europeans, it can still be seen that, in a similar way these were both affected by contact.

This work has focussed on the European impact on the Nugumiut of Frobisher Bay, and as has been shown there was some adoption of European materials into Nugumiut society, even if they were not used for the recognised European purpose. So far I have not made reference as to how the English were altered by contact, but not to do so would be presenting an unfairly simplified view of a far more complex contact situation, where materials and knowledge were exchanged both ways. There is not enough scope within the confines of this work to fully go into detail as to how the English themselves affected by contact, but it needs to be acknowledged that contact was not a one sided process. The English were amazed that people actually lived so far north, but it may have been equally surprising that it was in fact people they encountered and not twelve foot tall Cyclopes or other mythical creatures; the believed perils of sailing into an unknown region (McGhee 2001: 5-9). The four Inuit taken back to England had the greatest affect on the Elizabethan public, who were amazed at how civil and caring they were for ‘savages'. This behaviour, as well as the autopsy carried out on the Inuk man, proved to the English that they were of the same species. After Frobisher and his men departed Baffin Island for the last time in 1578, interest in the Arctic was still quite high with the publication of the accounts of Dionyse Settle and George Best among others. However with the failure of the mining operation, John Davis' later attempt to locate the Northwest Passage, and then preoccupation with war against Spain amongst other things, the events of the Arctic voyages and the Inuit people moved out of public consciousness. The Frobisher sites themselves were forgotten until their rediscovery by Charles Francis Hall in the 19th century. As we have previously seen though, the Inuit themselves were still making use of the cache of European materials even at the time of Hall's arrival.

Even though two way interaction can definitely be seen to have taken place, this was rather more asymmetrical than in other contact situations, due to the brief nature of the European presence. No shared creolized culture emerged as with the Hurons and Seneca, but the contact was not of a nature that allowed for this. Nevertheless aspects of the encounter with the other, has been seen to have had an impact on both cultures. The Nugumiut however experienced a greater impact both materially and ideologically, due to the longevity of the European goods and absence of further contact in this region until the arrival of whalers, around two hundred years later. The Europeans themselves would likely have adopted further Inuit elements, either consciously or subconsciously, had they attempted to stay for extended periods in the Arctic. As it were though, the transitory character of the Frobisher Voyages, the worthlessness of the black rock and the deaths of the Inuit captives, meant that there was no lasting link between the English and the peoples and culture of Baffin Island. New lands were discovered, and Inuit influence waned as they lost their place in the English social memory to be replaced by other, newly encountered people. I therefore suggest that