National Geographic : 2012 Nov
• Patricia Sutherland spotted it right away: the weird fuzziness of them, so so to the touch. e strands of cordage came from an aban- doned settlement at the northern tip of Canada's Ba n Island, far above the Arctic Circle and north of Hudson Bay. ere indigenous hunt- ers had warmed themselves by seal-oil lamps some 700 years ago. In the 1980s a Roman Catholic missionary had also puzzled over the so strands a er digging hundreds of delicate objects from the same ruins. Made of short hairs plucked from the pelt of an arctic hare, the cord- age bore little resemblance to the sinew that Arc- tic hunters twisted into string. How did it come to be here? e answer eluded the old priest, so he boxed up the strands with the rest of his nds and delivered them to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. Years passed. en one day in 1999 Suther- land, an Arctic archaeologist at the museum, slipped the strands under a microscope and saw that someone had spun the short hairs into so yarn. e prehistoric people of Ba n Is- land, however, were neither spinners nor weav- ers; they stitched their clothing from skins and furs. So where could this spun yarn have come from? Sutherland had an inkling. Years earlier, while helping to excavate a Viking farmhouse in Greenland, she had seen colleagues dig bits of similar yarn from the oor of a weaving room. She promptly got on the phone to an archae- ologist in Denmark. Weeks later an expert on SOMETHING ABOUT THE STRANGE STRANDS DIDN'T FIT.