Dorset 'longhouses'

Dorset 'longhouses'

In a series of still running threads Inger mentions, or is
referring to, "the so called Late Dorset buildings in
Labrador", longhouses with stonework ("mortal", "mortar").
She claimes they are similar to buildings in Scandinavia and
therefore must have been built by Scandinavians or at least
the locals were copying norse settlers (Maybe that is
what she means with "diffusion"). This is not the first time
she writes about that.

It is all about rectangular stone structures along the NW
coast of Ungaya Bay. (Covering 621,000 and only
ice-free in summer, is in the north-east of the Labrador
peninsula, opening onto the Hudson Strait. The many
large rivers flowing into the bay include the George,
Koksoak, Leaf, Payne and Whale)

See the map
with the locations of the 'longhouses' and the cairns
interpreted as 'stone beacons'.

For photo's of the 'longhouses' see:
Callum Thomson (1982), "Maritime archaic longhouses
and other survey results from outer Saglek Bay, northern
and the Late Dorset page on the site of the Dansk
and this photo gallery

In his article "Contact between Native North Americans
and the Medieval Norse: A Review of the Evidence" (Am.
Antiquity 49(1984)1:4-26), Robert McGee deals with the
arguments which have been used to support the idea of
a Norse presence in Ungava. Here is what he wrote
(p 18-19) about the 'longhouses' (without his references)

" 2. Claim: The large rectangular boulder structures found in
the region, generally known as "long­houses," resemble
structures from the Viking period in Scandinavia and the
eastern Atlantic islands occupied by the Norse. Eskimos or
Palaeoeskimos would not have had an incentive to build
such structures, nor the means to roof them. Therefore the
Ungava longhouses were probably built and occupied by the
Norse, who imported roofing timbers by ship.
Dorset artifacts recovered from these structures represent
reoccupation by Dorset people after Norse abandonment, or
are evidence of intermarriage between Norse men and
Dorset women.

Comment: The Ungava "longhouses" are semi-subterranean
or surface structures up to 35 m long and 7 m wide, with
parallel side walls and slightly convex end walls constructed
of large boulders which appear to have been piled to a height
of up to 1 m or more. Interior features are generally limited to
a line of hearth areas. No evidence of roofing has been
found, and the only post molds associated with a structure
represented small posts along interior walls, suggested to
have supported an insulating curtain of skin.

Although in size and outline form, these structures bear a
general resemblance to certain Norse buildings, they bear a
much more specific resemblance to structures known from
several regions of Arctic Canada and attributed to the later
phases of the Dorset culture. One such structure, 32 m long
and 7 m wide, is reported from the west coast of Victoria
Island in the western Canadian Arctic, far from any
possibility of Norse influence.
Similar but some­what smaller structures have been found in
southern Victoria Island and on Bathurst Island where a
longhouse with a central row of hearths is reminiscent of the
Ungava structures. From eastern Ellesmere Island a
structure is described measuring 45 m long and 5 m wide,
as well as similar smaller features; this longhouse site has
received five radiocarbon dates ranging between 1180 ± 70
years (AD. 770) and 1080 ± 120 years (AD. 870), which
places it considerably earlier than the possible existence of
Norse influence.

All of these structures, including those from Ungava, are
associated with assemblages relating to a late phase of
Dorset culture. One of the Ungava buildings produced a
radiocarbon date on wood charcoal of 900 years (A.D.
1050). Eight other dates on carbonized fat associated with
Ungava longhouses range between 1680 ± 90 years (A.D.
270) and 1170 ± 110 years (A.D. 780) with a mean date of
A.D. 571. The charred fat is almost certainly that of sea
mammals, and it has been noted that dates on Arctic sea
mammal material are almost invariably several centuries
older than dates on associated terrestrial material considers
that the Ungava structures were most likely constructed
within one or two centuries of AD. 1000, consistent with
other Dorset sites in the area which are dated on charcoal to
1090 ± 90 years (AD. 860) and 920 ± 90 years (A.D. 1030).
It would appear most economical to attribute the
construction and occupation of longhouse structures
throughout Arctic Canada to the Dorset Pa­laeoeskimos.

It seems possible that the structures were not roofed, but
served simply as enclosures within which individual family
tents were erected; it has been suggested that the
longhouses may have been used for temporary ceremonial
purposes, perhaps as festival structures analogous to those
of the Thule and Recent Eskimos of Arctic Canada. If this
were the case, one need not postulate the use of ships to
carry timbers for the construction of permanent roofs. "

Warning: This subject can lead to a
thread like this: