We’re all taught that Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492, with the caveat that the Vikings arrived centuries earlier circa 1000 A.D. This is always added as a bit of a footnote, as if it’s not all that important. Sure, it didn’t have the impact of the Spanish-backed Columbus voyages, but the Viking voyages have always been begrudgingly admitted to existing. Even before ruins were found in the 1960s, the Viking Sagas and other accounts were largely written off as myth. Even after the finds, the story went like this, “Yes, they came here, probably over a couple centuries, but these infamous explorers never did much of anything.” Doesn’t really make much sense, does it? Why the reluctance to give the Vikings their due? In light of the discovery of a new Viking site in Canada, perhaps our prejudices in studying our own history need re-examined.
Here’s the whole story: After decades of Native Americans and their culture being destroyed and made to look like cavemen who could do nothing, any potential interference by other cultures was seen as not being politically correct. There were those who tried to make anything remotely sophisticated (Mound Builders, Mesoamerican empires, etc.) look like they had to have influence from the Old World.
I get it. The decimation of the natives of the New World — both intentional and unintentional — is a blight on history. There has also been many fringe writers who have agendas or very poor reasoning skills in their research into Ancient America. But those who dismiss all pre-Columbus contacts are just as bad. This is a classic example of the excluded middle fallacy: Two sides who take extreme positions, largely in response to each other, to the exclusion of reason somewhere in the middle. The Viking discoveries proved decades ago the fallacy of these sides — sides who rather call each other racists than practice sound research. Yet the positive proof of Viking settlements was not enough to break the impasse and no doubt has prevented discoveries. Maybe this time will be different, if the reasonable voices can grab the microphone.
You see, the winds of change have swept through the studies of Ancient America in recent years. We know the cultures were more advanced and here longer than previously thought. They also most likely came to the Americas through multiple routes. Add to this the fact that no civilization lives in isolation for multiple millennia, pre-Columbus contacts should no longer be a fringe idea. It is a very reasonable — and proven — possibility. It is not unreasonable to suggest influence on native cultures, this does not erase their originality, but shows they are very much part of humanity. No culture exists in a vacuum. I have to wonder how many hints of interaction with the Old World have always been in plain sight, ignored because they didn’t fit the paradigm or fear of “fringe thinkers.”
So why discuss this? These glimpses of our past play a little part in the historical fantasy I’m about to release. But more importantly consider this:
This is a lesson in clear thinking, not listening to extremes and not letting others define reality for us. It’s about testing what we are taught, not being afraid to ask questions and understanding why history is important.
It’s utterly amazing, if not frightening, how easily people are convinced of ideas or “causes” or “movements.” Throw out a catchphrase or slogan and some emotion and before you know it we have instant obedience. It’s a dangerous world we live in.
And we let it become that way.
[If you’re interested in Viking history in the Americas, check out these books:]