Blond Eskimos

Blond Eskimos

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Blond Eskimos is a term first applied to sightings and encounters of light haired indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle
Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

 region from the early 20th century, particularly around the Coronation Gulf
Coronation Gulf
Coronation Gulf lies between Victoria Island and mainland Nunavut in Canada. To the northwest it connects with Dolphin and Union Strait and thence the Beaufort Sea and Arctic Ocean; to the northeast it connects with Dease Strait and thence Queen Maud Gulf. To the southeast lies Bathurst...

 between mainland Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and Victoria Island. Sightings of light haired natives of the Arctic however stretch back to written accounts from the 17th century.

Origin of the term


Christian Klengenberg
Christian Klengenberg
Christian Klengenberg Jorgensen , was a Danish whaler, trapper, and trader, active for 34 years in Alaska and Northern Canada . He is notable for opening trade routes to the Copper Inuit territory...

 is first credited to have introduced the term "Blonde Eskimo" to Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist.-Early life:Stefansson, born William Stephenson, was born at Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, in 1879. His parents had emigrated from Iceland to Manitoba two years earlier...

 just prior to Steffansson's visit to the Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 inhabiting southwestern Victoria Island, Canada, in 1910. Stefansson though preferred the term Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in Nunavut's Kitikmeot Region and the Northwest Territories's Inuvik Region. Most historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.Their western boundary was Wise Point,...

. Adolphus Greely
Adolphus Greely
Adolphus Washington Greely , was an American Polar explorer, a United States Army officer and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.-Early military career:...

 in 1912 first compiled the sightings recorded in earlier literature of blonde or fair haired Arctic natives and in 1912 published them in the National Geographic Magazine entitled "The Origin of Stepefansson's Blonde Eskimo". Newspapers subsequently popularised the term "Blonde Eskimo", which caught more readers attention despite Stefansson's preference for Copper Inuit. Stefansson later referenced Greely's work in his writings and the term "Blonde Eskimo" became applied to sightings of light haired Eskimos from as early as the 17th century.

Early history of sightings


The first sighting of blonde haired Arctic natives Greely traced to 1656, when a Dutch trading vessel traveled west from Greenland across the Davis Strait
Davis Strait
Davis Strait is a northern arm of the Labrador Sea. It lies between mid-western Greenland and Nunavut, Canada's Baffin Island. The strait was named for the English explorer John Davis , who explored the area while seeking a Northwest Passage....

 towards Baffin Island
Baffin Island
Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut is the largest island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world. Its area is and its population is about 11,000...

. Nicholas Tunes the captain of the vessel claimed sighting two distinct races, the first being the brownish skinned Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

, but the second a tall fair skinned people. Greely also published the eye-witness account of the Lutheran missionary Hans Egede
Hans Egede
Hans Poulsen Egede was a Norwegian-Danish Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland, which led him to be styled the Apostle of Greenland. He established a successful mission among the Inuit and is credited with revitalizing Dano-Norwegian interest in the island after contact...

 who wrote in 1721 of a blonde "quite handsome and white" indigenous tribe he had discovered in Greenland.

Later sightings include William Edward Parry
William Edward Parry
Sir William Edward Parry was an English rear-admiral and Arctic explorer, who in 1827 attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole...

, who wrote of native inhabitants across Qikiqtaaluk Region, Canada, as having physical features of Europeans (e.g. blonde hair and light complexions) and later Captain Graah of the Danish Royal Navy, who in 1821 reported eskimos he met with "complexions scarcely less fair then that of Danish peasantry". British navy officer John Franklin
John Franklin
Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin KCH FRGS RN was a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer. Franklin also served as governor of Tasmania for several years. In his last expedition, he disappeared while attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic...

 in 1824 also claimed he had come close in contact and even spoken with a "Blonde Eskimo" who had strong European facial features. Greenlandic polar explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1903 further claimed to have found blonde haired eskimos "of a different race" in Greenland and parts of Canada.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson


In 1910 Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist.-Early life:Stefansson, born William Stephenson, was born at Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, in 1879. His parents had emigrated from Iceland to Manitoba two years earlier...

 visited the Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in Nunavut's Kitikmeot Region and the Northwest Territories's Inuvik Region. Most historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.Their western boundary was Wise Point,...

 inhabiting southwestern Victoria Island (Prince Albert Sound
Prince Albert Sound
Prince Albert Sound is a Northern Canadian body of water located in the Inuvik Region of southwestern Victoria Island, Northwest Territories. It is an inlet of Amundsen Gulf. The sound separates the Wollaston Peninsula from the island’s central areas.Prince Albert Sound is long and ...

). He described meeting many men whose beards and hair were blonde and "who looked like typical Scandinavians". In his book My Life with the Eskimos, Stefánsson proposed several explanations for these physical features:
  • Early mixture with Norse
    Norsemen
    Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

     colonists from Greenland
    Greenland
    Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

    ;
  • Mixture with Europe
    Europe
    Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

    an whalers
    Whaling
    Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

    ;
  • Ancient migration of European-like people from across the Bering Strait
    Bering Strait
    The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

    ;


He rejected the second explanation because "if the mixing of races is so recent, it would appear that it should be most conspicuous farther east where the whalers had their headquarters, fading away as one goes westward. The opposite is the case".

Scientific investigation


As early as 1922, anthropologists investigated Stefansson claims but could not come up with an answer to explain the high amount of blondeness in Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit
Copper Inuit are a Canadian Inuit group who live north of the tree line, in Nunavut's Kitikmeot Region and the Northwest Territories's Inuvik Region. Most historically lived in the area around Coronation Gulf, on Victoria Island, and southern Banks Island.Their western boundary was Wise Point,...

's inhabiting southwestern Victoria Island.

In 2003, two Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

ic scientists, the geneticist
Geneticist
A geneticist is a biologist who studies genetics, the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organisms. A geneticist can be employed as a researcher or lecturer. Some geneticists perform experiments and analyze data to interpret the inheritance of skills. A geneticist is also a Consultant or...

 and anthropologists
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 Agnar Helgason
Agnar Helgason
Agnar Helgason is an Icelandic scientist working with genetic anthropology. PhD in Biological Anthropology, University of Oxford, 2001. He is best known for his research on the origin of Icelandic population. He is a brother of Ásgeir Helgason, the son of Helgi Valdimarsson and a brother-in-law of...

 and Gisli Palsson
Gísli Pálsson
Gísli Pálsson is a professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of several books, including Writing on Ice: The Ethnographic Notebooks of V. Stefansson , The Textual Life of Savants: Ethnography, Iceland, and the Linguistic Turn , and Nature and...

 announced the results of their research comparing DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 from 100 Cambridge Bay
Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Cambridge Bay, named for Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, is a hamlet located in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, Canada...

 Inuit
Inuit
The Inuit are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada , Denmark , Russia and the United States . Inuit means “the people” in the Inuktitut language...

 with DNA from Icelanders, and concluded that there was no match.

In 2008, in an article in Current Anthropology
Current Anthropology
Current Anthropology is a peer-reviewed anthropology academic journal published by the University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Founded in 1959 by the anthropologist Sol Tax...

,
Palsson concludes that recent work "refutes Stefansson’s speculations on the
Copper Inuit".

Further reading

  • Stefánsson, My Life with the Eskimo, (New York, 1912)
  • Helgason et al., mtDNA variation in Inuit populations of Greenland and Canada: Migration history and population structure; American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 130, Issue 1, pp. 123–134. Abstract