TURTLE ISLAND – Norse Viking settlements have been discovered and reported, and then quickly forgotten about, several times over the past 500 years since Columbus supposedly “discovered” America in 1492.
Of course, the indigenous populations of the “New World” knew very well they were not lost and needed no one to “find” them, but such is Whiteman’s history. To those who actually met the strange, ironclad beings with funny hats more than 1,000 years ago, this was something to remember.
North American history, especially among the Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French and British explorers, begins when Columbus accidentally sailed into a whole new world, much different from his own.
But in the years that followed, as European and American Indian populations began to intermingle more, stories of strange man-beasts invading their shores hundreds of years earlier began to circulate. For political reasons and the intrinsic arrogance of Europeans, many of these stories were rejected and never even mentioned again in history books, at least until this past few decades.
Many of these accounts that were not destroyed, were ignored, but with modern electronics, better surveying techniques and archaeological monitoring, some of these stories have been given new life and are being looked at more seriously by today’s broader thinking historical investigators.
With today’s technologies, infrared images can now be captured from more than 400 miles into space, which has opened new doors into a distant past. They reveal scars of ancient well-used roads, pathways and potential village sites, which have called into question favourite old pet assumptions.
Sarah Parcak, a space archaeologist at the University of Alabama, pioneered the use of satellite imaging for archaeology.
“She carefully looks over maps of vast areas signs of discoloured soil and changes in vegetation, which are some features that indicate something may be hiding underneath the Earth’s surface,” writes historian/author, Robert Cahill.
Until recently, evidence uncovered on the east cost of what is now the United States, have been dismissed by the scholars and archaeologists as “interesting anomalies” but nothing to take too seriously. After all, Columbus “discovered” America in 1492 right?
In Canada, however, the notion of Vikings co-habiting with local native tribes has been embraced and a replica Viking Village known as L’Anse aux Meadows (UNESCO World Heritage Site). It is promoted as the only known Viking settlement in North America.
Either way, it is pretty safe to say today that Columbus certainly was not the first to “discover” North America. There has been scattered evidence unearthed across the east coast of the continent that proves, beyond any shadow of doubt that the inhabitants of Turtle Island, as the Haudenosaunee called North America, were visited by Asian, Middle Eastern as well as Viking explorers and travellers.
Remnants and traces of messages carved in stone, and even linguistic links have tied the North American invasion of Europeans to words found within certain east coast tribes.
If the writings of Norse adventurers can be trusted, there are many references that could easily and most likely describe several points along the coastline.
A rather obscure book called New England’s Viking and Indian Wars was dedicated to the topic and written in the 1980s by former Massachusetts representative Robert Ellis Cahill.
In it he quotes from Norse folk literature and ancient first hand accounts and maps of voyages taken by Leif Ericson and other Viking travellers from the Norwegian archives and museum.
In a series of land hops over several years, first to what is now Iceland and then the southern tip of Greenland, were known to have been made and well documented by those who settled there. From Greenland it would have been a short journey farther to the southeast for skilled mariners to navigate the north Atlantic and reach Labrador and Newfoundland.
Spoken history and casual mentions of odd visitors from beyond the great waters have been kept by the elders of many eastern coastal tribes.
But the Norse themselves were prolific writers of their journeys in a series of ancient hand written sagas. Lavish with colourful and sometimes exaggerated tales, these sagas contain shreds of evidence about a war between the native people of Vineland, as North America was known to the Vikings, and the Biothuc, Mi’kmaq and Abenaki of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and others as they tried to make their way inland.
In a Norse saga, it records that there were around 2,000 Icelanders who went with Eric the Red and his sons to build a colony at Greenland in the year 999 A.D.
Greenland was almost devoid of trees, which the settlers needed for home building and fuel. Hearing of fishermen blown off course describing three large islands, two covered in trees and one barren rock, Lief Ericson put a crew together to find the resources his colony needed.
According to three different sagas, “The Flatey Book”, “Hauksbok” and Vinland NorseSaga,”all written 100-years after the events, Eric left Greenland on an 80-foot “knorr” with 36 Vikings to explore to the south.
It is believed the village known in Norse tales as “Helluland” may have been Labrador or the tip of Newfoundland since the word in Norwegian means “land of rocks”.
Further south they found “a flat forested land.” Critics argue about where that landfall was, but many believe it was in the Boston, or Cape Cod.
The Vikings called the timid, tribesmen and women they encountered from time to time as “Skraelings” a derogatory work for “inferior people.”
Always enterprising, the Vikings decided that these “Skraelings” would bring a pretty penny in Europe, and plotted to kidnap a few of them before they left the New England shores back to Greenland. After several volleys, the warriors’ arrows ran out and they turned back towards land.
One tale speaks of a group of Vikings exploring inland coming across nine Natives sleeping under their canoes. They pounced upon them and record that one ran off into the woods while the others stood and fought. All of them were killed by the Vikings iron broad axes and swords.
After a few days, the Vikings packed up without their Native booty to head home when a large contingent of Warriors surrounded the Viking vessel, launching volleys of arrows until they ran out and turned back to shore. Eric’s brother Thorvald was killed in the attack.
In 1010, another expedition of 158 was sent from Greenland to establish a permanent colony on this “newly found land.” It was named Hop (Hope). At first the interaction and trade between the Vikings and the Natives was good and mutually beneficial, until a Native man was killed by Viking merchant who accused him of steeling an axe head.
Weeks later, a war party of canoes loaded with angry warriors descended on the village. The Norse Saga says, of the battle that ensued, “They lifted up on a pole a black round object, the size of a sheep’s belly, and let it fly making a terrible noise when it hit the ground.” This so frightened the Viking men that they ran away in terror.
But Freydis, daughter of Eric the Red, was shocked at the retreat of the Viking men, that she picked up a sward from the side of a dead Viking, “she let fall her shift and slapped her breasts with the sword”.
The sight stopped the advance of the warriors in their tracks, thinking her to be demented. Freydis became a cultural hero after the battle which cost two Viking lives and four Native lives and as many as thirty other Vikings were wounded in the clash.
In 1341, 350 years later, as many as 9,000 Vikings divided into in two colonies called Greenland home. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to believe many other voyages and contacts with indigenous inhabitants likely occurred.
Remains of Norman style stone structures dot the coast from Florida to Nova Scotia.
What became of the Vikings? It is believed they abandoned their colonial efforts in North America due to the hostile weather and fear of the native populations, most going home to Greenland, Iceland or Norway. But others stayed and mixed with the native tribes, leaving genetic traces in the form of facial hair, red hair and fair skin. Several Mi’kmaq words are strikingly similar to ancient Norwegian maritime words. Old mariner maps from well before 1492 have shown Vineland to be a separate large island to the west of the European mainland.
More evidence is being uncovered every year by archaeologists and treasure hunters I recent years to give anew year to old voices left in stone carved messages and markers written in an ancient, obsolete Norwegian script detailing who had passed that way, when and why.
Although our understanding of history changes with new information, the truth about it remains the same.