For centuries the Viking sagas told of voyages to the New World. Yet for generations, these voyages were discounted as Viking legend until ruins of a settlement were found in Canada in the 1960s. Yet the idea of pre-Columbus voyages is still not widely accepted, even the Viking explorations are thought to be limited and of leaving no lasting impression. But is there more to the story?
Was the knowledge of Viking settlements really lost all those centuries? After all, the Vatican sent clergy to minister in the far-flung Viking frontier. Some suggest Columbus knew. Early American settlers and historians didn’t seem to shy away from the Norse explanation. Native legends may have been influenced by Viking encounters. These native legends were certainly inspiration for the wild story tellers of the 1800s like Josiah Priest and Joseph Smith, the writer of the Book of Mormon. The native stories, along with pervasive belief at the time that Indians weren’t advanced enough to have been the mound builders, contributed to those books about lost civilizations and vast battles. It’s taken generations to chip away at the misconceptions and fiction.
So do the Indian accounts contain whispers of the Norse? Will debates about the origins of the Newport Tower or the Kenningston Rune Stone ever end? What about the old European-like furnaces of Ohio? The Vikings were but a blip on the many millenia of history of the Western Hemisphere, but given their past, would we expect them to do nothing but make a small settlement on the Canadian coast? It’s likely that what marks they did leave are overlooked because it doesn’t fit into the normal history and we are trained to explain away little anomalies. Some fear that finding the Vikings will somehow slight the natives. In reality, no civilizations live in isolation. Did the Americas lay forgotten for 30,000 years?
For more see Vikings in America and Mound Builders.
An excellent book, although somewhat dated, is “In Northern Mists” by Carl Sauer. The Vikings are discussed,
but also the Irish. They were here before the Vikings and called the St. Lawrence Valley “Greater Hvitramaland.”
When the French arrived there, they noted that the Indians held a celebration where they hung a dog on a cross and mached as a procession. Sounds very Christian. Apparently the Irish monks were assimilated into the indian culture, or simply died out, leaving their Christian tradition behind them.