It had often been assumed that the Vikings brought knitting to the people of the Arctic circle. Viking settlers predate Columbus by several hundred years, and they no doubt had a vast impact on the Inuit population.
The origin of the yarn spun from animal hair and sinew had confused Arctic scientists for generations. Most assumed it was a skill picked up from Viking colonists who sailed west from Greenland, establishing a community at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland about 1,000 years ago.
Fragment of ancient Inuit yarn
However, under closer inspection, the ancient yarn studied didn’t appear like any Norse fibres previously found. The problem was the yarn was hard to date. The pieces were full of oil from whales and seals, and anything impregnated with oil from sea mammals has been almost impossible to carbon date.
The research team came up with an innovative way to clean the oil from the yarn, which could then be carbon dated. This resulted in a fascinating discovery. The fibre dated back to around 100AD – roughly 1000 years before the Vikings showed up.
Ancient Inuit parka coat
In fact, the Vikings may have picked up a few tricks from the Inuits. It’s not conclusive, but there’s some evidence to suggest Norse weavers learned how to use hair from bears and foxes, as well as from sheep and goats, from the people they referred to as Skraelings.
The history of knitting remains complex, with the spinning of fibre happening independently in various locations across the Earth.