Beardmore: The Viking Hoax That Rewrote History. By Douglas Hunter. McGill-Queen’s University Press | Part of the Carleton Library Series (no. 246) | 520 Pages | 6 x 9 | 18 photos, 2 maps | ISBN 9780773554665 | September 2018 | Formats: Cloth | $34.95
FINALIST FOR THE 2018 WILSON BOOK PRIZE
Read the excerpt in the Toronto Star, September 16
Listen to my interview on the Archaeological Fantasies podcast.
Listen to my interview at York University on the Active History podcast
Listen to my interview on the New Books Network podcast
Read my blog post “‘Beardmore’ revisited: Jens Bloch’s dark Norwegian past”
In 1936, the Royal Ontario Museum made a sensational acquisition: the contents of a Viking grave that a part-time prospector named Eddy Dodd said he had found on his mining claim east of Lake Nipigon, in northern Ontario. The relics—a broken sword, an axe head, and what was said to be a shield handle—remained on display for some twenty years, changing our understanding of when and where Europeans first reached the Americas. Only in 1956 was the discovery exposed as an unquestionable hoax, tarnishing the reputation of the celebrated museum director, Charles Trick Currelly, who had acquired the relics and insisted on their authenticity.
Drawing on an array of archival sources, historian Douglas Hunter for the first time reconstructs the notorious hoax and its many players. Beardmore unfolds as a detective story, as the author sifts the voluminous evidence and follows the efforts of two unlikely debunkers, the high-school teacher Teddy Elliott and the government geologist T.L. Tanton, who find themselves up against Currelly and his scholarly allies. Along the way, the controversy draws in a Who’s Who of international figures in archaeology, Scandinavian studies, and the museum world, including anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, whose crusade against the find in the mid-1950s finally causes the authenticity case to collapse
Beardmore offers an unparalleled view inside a major scholarly controversy, shedding light on museum practices and the state of the historical and archaeological professions in the mid-twentieth century. It also shows how power can be exercised across professional networks, hampering efforts to arrive at the truth.
A Hill Times “best of 2018” choice
“A fascinating story about the alleged discovery of a Viking grave near Beardmore, Ontario, in the 1930s, and the ongoing controversy over its authenticity. Douglas Hunter uses the whole story as an entry point into thinking about disciplinary power, about what stories matter, whose voices count, and to whom.” – Christopher Dummitt, Trent University, and author of Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life
“Douglas Hunter gives voice to a large, international cast of characters – both the supporters who believed a Viking grave had been found in Beardmore in 1931 and the naysayers who warned of a hoax. Eye-witness testimony, expert opinions, hearsay, and more, preserved in an extensive evidentiary record, cast light on the ins and outs and possible motives animating a coup-turned-scandal that threatened professionals’ reputations and attracted scrutiny into the 1950s.” – Barnett Richling, University of Winnipeg, and author of In Twilight and in Dawn: A Biography of Diamond Jenness
“Reads like a detective novel. A definitive treatment of the story and the story in the story.” – Ken Feder, Connecticut archaeologist, professor, author, and host of Archaeological Fantasies podcast.
“A magnificent piece of scholarship, written in exceedingly clear prose.” – Gordon Campbell, Fellow in Renaissance Studies, University of Leicester
“The twists and turns in the story are almost unbelievable…What makes Beardmore truly intriguing is Hunter’s focus on big-picture issues, including toxically deferential academia and the history of museum culture. Hunter describes his focus as being on ‘the history of history, or of the ideas in history’ – Beardmore is a testament to how that approach, together with a factual retelling of events, can make for a richer reading experience…Hunter has written an excellent book that is engrossing from beginning to end, while also engaging with critical issues that were in play at a time in which Canadian history was very nearly rewritten.” –Megan Moore Burns, Quill & Quire (starred review).
“Beardmore: The Viking Hoax that Rewrote History could be a Nordic saga; it is a tale of intrigue, power, and conflicts, of heroes and villains…Hunter is not sensationalist in his writing or his judgements. He is an experienced writer, one of Canada’s solid non-academic historians whose works fill important spaces in painting the canvas of our past. The book’s extensive details build a case that unfolds slowly, methodically, with twists of personalities, conflicting recollections, social circumstances, and institutional hubris…The Beardmore saga should generate discussions on challenges that preoccupy today’s curators, writers, and readers.” -Victor Rabinovitch, Literary Review of Canada“The book is fascinating; ‘a good read’ in the very best sense of the phrase, it will appeal strongly to those who want to know whether the Norse did indeed make their way into North America. But Hunter has written a far more important story than that, one which should be read by anybody interested in the presentation and propagation of ‘history,’ whether or not they are interested in the Norse or the Hoax…The tale is both sordid and riveting, a story of the abuse of power in an academic context…The Beardmore Find ranks with the Piltdown Man and the Yale Vinland map in the archeologist’s Hall of Shame. Hunter’s Beardmore is both fascinating and important. It is a wonderful tale of the courage and intellectual honesty of Elliott and Tanton, and the affirmation of a truth over a falsehood.”—Edward Roberts, Newfoundland Quarterly Read full review
Reviewers, bloggers and podcasters: To secure a review copy, contact Jacqueline Davis at McGill-Queen’s University Press.