When The Inuit Met The Basques Image Credit: Archaeology
When The Inuit Met The Basques Image Credit: Archaeology

When The Inuit Met The Basques

A site in southeastern Canada bears evidence of surprising 17th-century interactions between peoples from disparate parts of the world

Daniel Weiss

THE NARROW ENTRANCE to Hare Harbor, on the eastern side of Petit Mécatina Island, just off Quebec’s Lower North Shore, is obscured by cliffs and hills and therefore easy to miss. Inside, a mile-long bay protected by high hills on both sides leads to a deep-water cove abutting a raised beach, above which looms a thousand-foothigh cliff. In August 2001, as a storm raged in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the cove provided a welcome refuge for a team led by archaeologist William Fitzhugh, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Arctic Studies Center. They were making their way up a 350-mile stretch of the Lower North Shore in a research vessel, searching for potential excavation sites. In particular, they hoped to find the southernmost settlements of the Inuit, the Arctic native people who were known to have been present in the region from the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries. After holing up for the better part of a day in the cove, Fitzhugh headed toward the shore to investigate the beach, the only spot that looked like a promising campsite. “As soon as we pulled up, I saw roof tiles eroding out of the bank,” he says. “I knew exactly what that meant: We had a Basque site. They were the only ones in the history of the area who used roof tiles.”

Since making landfall at Hare Harbor, Fitzhugh has led extensive excavations there, establishing it as one of the most significant Basque sites in the area. He has also exca

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