Helge Ingstad grew up in Bergen, Norway, trained to become a lawyer and did, but luckily for us, he gave it up after only four years. Ingstad loved the outdoors and the call of the wild was too strong to resist – in 1926, he sold his practice and took off for Canada. He spent the next three years in the Northwest Territories as a trapper, living much of the time with Native Americans known as the Caribou Eaters.
When he returned to Norway he wrote about his adventures in a book called Trapper Life and thus a pattern was set – he would take off for little-known parts of the world and write about it when he got back home. He married archeologist Anne Stine and together they traveled and explored – Greenland, Alaska, Mexico and again to Canada.
In 1960, Helge and Anne Ingstad discovered and explored L’Anse aux Meadows (Jellyfish Cove), still the only known pre-Colombian trans-oceanic settlement in North America and the only North American Viking settlement ever found. The Ingstads conducted seven excavations of the site, reburying it each time to protect it. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But perhaps even more important was what took place after WWII, when Helge spent time in the Brooks Range of Alaska with the Nunamiut Eskimos. He collected cultural data – enough to write Nunamiut – Inland Eskimos of Alaska – but he also took photos and sound recordings of 141 songs. When he got the material ready for publication in the late Nineties, its value was clear – much of the music he had collected forty years earlier had been lost to the tribe.
Ingstad, who was born on this date in 1899, died in 2001. Five years later, at the request of the Nunamiut, a peak in the Brooks Range was designated Ingstad Mountain by the US Government.