New Evidence Suggests The Vikings Didn't Teach The Ancient Inuit How To Spin Yarn

Rachel Tsoumbakos

There has been a long-held belief that the Vikings taught the ancestors of modern-day Inuit how to spin yarn. This was based on assumptions made about the traveling patterns of the Vikings and their visits to Arctic regions during their expeditions. However, a new dating technique now suggests that these people knew how to spin yarn well before the Vikings turned up.

According to CBC News, the ancient Dorset and Thule people who populated L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland already knew how to spin yarn well before the Vikings turned up there approximately 1,000 years ago. This has come about after new techniques in dating fibers imbibed with oil have been developed.

Originally, researchers had been unable to effectively date fibers found in this region because of a high content of oil belonging to whales and seals. As a result, it was impossible to carbon date these fibers. Now, a new technique which, effectively, shampoos the oil out of these ancient fibers now allows for them to be carbon dated.

And, what researchers found was that these yarns predated Viking involvement with the area by more than 500 years.

"They clustered into a period from about 100 AD to about 600-800 AD – roughly 1,000 years to 500 years before the Vikings ever showed up," Kevin Smith of Brown University explained in his paper on the new findings. "[The Dorset] are manipulating the kinds of fibers you find in your environment at least as early as 100 BC."

The new shampoo method was developed by another co-author of the paper, Gorill Nilsen at Tromso University in Norway.

Thanks to this new method of being able to shampoo the oil out of fibers, archaeologists may have to rethink other details of Arctic history. Hayeur Smith, who is an expert in ancient textiles, suspects this new method will lead to more discoveries about Arctic history.

"There's a lot of questions like that in the Arctic – getting the subtleties of when people moved into certain areas," Smith said. "How did they move? What are the migration patterns? Until we get good dating methods, we can't even begin to deal with that."

Many of these questions have remained unanswered merely because good carbon dating methods for oil-laden items were not yet available. And it is not just textiles that were filled with oil in the Arctic. Because of a prevalence of sea mammal oil, many historical sites also contain residue of the substance. Now, researchers should be able to discover more about the lifestyle of ancient Arctic communities.