Last Sunday Dr. William Fitzhugh gave a lecture entitled “Basque Whalers and Southern Inuit: Worlds in Collision? – or Collaboration?” The lecture was given at Wagner College campus in Staten Island overlooking the Verrazano Bridge and sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America in conjunction with the Archaeological Society of Staten Island.
In his lecture which lasted approximately an hour and a half Dr. Fitzhugh spoke at length about the Basque presence in Atlantic Canada during the 16th Century, how they lived and what vestiges he left behind, the relationship between the Basques and the Inuit –which he posits may have been in many instances collaborative- and about his own experiences leading teams of archaeologists at Quebec’s Hare Harbor and elsewhere.
His findings at Hare Harbor of abundant red tile, Basque ceramic and stoneware, iron, clay pipes and more were especially notable in that amongst these relics were also soapstone and Inuit fishing implements. Taken together what these findings indicate is that at this Basque site there also lived an Inuit family. This type of cooperation between Inuit and Basque is significant in that almost chronicles of early contact between Europeans and Native Americans in Atlantic Canada indicate hostile relations.
He also made mention of another interesting phenomenon we were not previously aware of. His team excavated Basque sites from the 17th Century, well after the heyday of Basque whalers in Canada. These sites show that Basques returned much later to this land, though in this second wave, instead of hunting whales they mostly fished cod.
William Fitzhugh is Director of the Arctic Studies Center and Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and holds his degrees from Harvard (Ph.D. and M.A.) and Dartmouth (B.A.). Dr. Fitzhugh’s areas of specialization are arctic archaeology, circumpolar cultures, Mongolia, and Vikings (especially in the Western Atlantic). He has done fieldwork in the North Atlantic regions and arctic Russia, and in Mongolia, and has been recognized for his work in exhibits, documentaries, and research.
Mr. Fitzhugh will also be presenting his work at The Smithsonian Folkife Festival this summer. Here’s an article on Mr. Fitzhugh’s work from The Smithsonian that explains in detail his research at Hare Harbor.