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. Continue reading
Posts Tagged With: Vikings
Exploring the final frontier has never been easy. For decades, in fits an spurts, we have explored the Solar System and established manned outposts in orbit. We even reached the Moon, which has been so long ago now, that it seems a dream. We can probably blame the tortoise pace of space exploration on it being largely controlled by the government and their ever changing, and short-sighted, whims. In recent years, private companies have taken up the torch. As witnessed by this week’s crash of the spacecraft Galactic, exploration on the edge of frontiers is still fraught with danger.
It always has been and always will be.
When the New World was being rediscovered by Europeans from 1492 on, it was much the same. Driven by politics, economics and the innate desire of humans to explore, not all went well. The early voyages were often about finding wealth and conquering lands. Later, though, it would be about building a better life, improving the human condition. The powerful desire to improve the existence of one’s family and future descendents has long been entwined with that frontier spirit. It’s often difficult to tell them apart. Interestingly enough, we would later learn that 1492 wasn’t the first rediscovery of what would later be named the Americas.
In 1000 A.D., the Vikings arrived in North America. It seemed almost inevitable that these quintessential seafarers and explorers would do just that. For centuries the sagas and rumors attesting to their arrival was largely discarded as myth. Then archaeological remains of a settlement were found in Canada in 1960. Still, the idea of pre-Columbus explorers was seen as unlikely and supposed accounts quickly dismissed.
This was for two reasons: One, the level of required verified evidence is high. Is it too high? The Viking sagas told of exploring America, but were dismissed as legend. Even now, the extent of their exploration is unknown, but it is admitted that they voyaged to the coast for decades, if not longer. Only one settlement? These legendary warriors never ventured far from the beaches?
Two, early attempts to dismiss all natives as not much more than primitive cavemen saw many people ascribe anything of sophistication to foreign visitors. We now know the New World was replete with civilization and we know they arrived here longer ago than originally thought, through multiple paths. That paradigm shift has led many to wonder: Is it reasonable to think that people here for so long remained isolated from the rest world? A world that had many accomplished seafarers? After all, didn’t the natives make it here at one point? Does any civilization live in isolation for over 10,000 years?
Of course, there are those who consider any suggestion of diffusion racist. They are driven by those who have, or still do, see natives as inferior. The other side of the coin are those who believe it did happen, repeatedly, and assert that it’s racist to say it couldn’t have happened.
So much for academic inquiry.
To be certain, the field has been full of fringe writers pushing many a bizarre theory or those motivated by ideology. Not all are so driven. Many are simply looking for the facts, some of which have always hidden in plain sight.
Sometimes it was intention, other times apparent chance, but in either case exploration burned in the souls of many men and women. What resulted wasn’t always good, but the overall condition of man usually improved. Does the fire of exploration still kindle? Are we too busy to see past tomorrow, buried in our televisions and self-created busyness?
Time will tell if humans will quit ignoring the calls to be something greater than what is pushed upon them. Modern steps into space are part of a long legacy that reaches back millennia. The crash of the Galactic won’t extinguish the flame.
It reminds us there are still those in which the fire still burns.
For decades, rumors and sagas of Vikings in America before Columbus were ignored as fantasy. One of these evidences routinely dismissed was the Kensington Rune Stone, found in Minnesota. Even after remains of a Viking settlement in Canada, there was still a fierce reluctance to revisit this and other Viking evidences. Now geologist Scott Wolter has presented a detailed and scientific defense of the Kensington Rune Stone’s authenticity.
A potentially history-changing find.
Not the whimsical, logic-leaping theories of a revisionist, Wolter outlines the flaws in the arguments of hoax-claimers and the very serious and difficult-to-deny evidence of his position. (However, Wolter hurts his cause when he brings in the Templars into his theorizing – which wouldn’t be bad by itself, as they may come into play in all of this – but he includes many of the bizarre, untrue fancies that have been following them in recent years. Please, how many historians have to refute these things before people stop repeating them?)
Will the Viking presence in America continue to be ignored? Will these people, whose exploration skill was legendary, still be left on the Canadian coast?
Or perhaps we will finally let history tell its story.
I’ve discussed here and in books about the Viking voyages to America prior to Columbus. Once thought fanciful, ruins discovered in Canada in the 1960s changed all that. Yet any potential Viking finds other than these ruins are viewed with intense skepticism. True, science needs to weed out frauds. However, historians acknowledge the Norse visited here for centuries, so what’s the possibility of other artifacts?
At Last Kings of Norse America, cases for the authenticity of long-debated runestones found here are presented.
I’ve mentioned before the Newport Tower, which is detailed at length here. Many believe this to have been built by the Norsemen.
So what was their impact and scope in the Americas? Did these accomplished explorers that once traveled much of Europe only build one short-lived settlement and leave?
Someday, perhaps, we’ll know.
For many decades, if not centuries, the whispers of Viking voyages to the New World were met with skepticism. Supposed finds were written off as misidentifications or hoaxes. The old Norse sagas and their documenting of the voyages were considered fanciful legends. Then the ruins were found in Canada that turned the legends into history. Yet there still has been a great reluctance to examine any potential Viking evidences. Why?
Perhaps it’s a response to those who have tried to turn possible pre-Columbus explorers into reasons to explain away any advanced native civilizations (like the mound builders). Or those who would weave tales to support their beliefs at the expense of the original inhabitants of these lands. So these extreme views produce the extreme view at the other end of no significant contact prior to 1492.
A more scholarly approach would be to realize that the likelihood of the people of the Americas remaining isolated for thousands of years is highly improbable. After all, they found their way here, didn’t they? Contact doesn’t mean they didn’t predominately build their societies on their own. However, no peoples of the world go many millennia without outside influence of any sort.
In Rhode Island there is a relic known as the Newport Tower that has stood for centuries. For much of this time Vikings were seen as probable builders. Historians have long tried to attribute the ruin to the first governor of the state, but he never claimed to have built it, only to have owned the land it sits on.
It is also interesting to note that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano located a “Norman Villa” on a 1527 map drawn from his voyages in the region. This inconvenient problem is often overlooked by those hoping the tower doesn’t predate Columbus and has never been adequately explained away by opponents.
For a detailed review of the Newport Tower and its history, go here.
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?