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Authors: Graeme Davis

Vikings in America

BOOK: Vikings in America
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Vikings in America

Dr Graeme Davis
is a specialist in the mediaeval North Atlantic, its languages, literature and culture. Recent books include studies of mediaeval Germanic languages, of Early English settlement of Orkney and Shetland, and dictionaries of English dialects. He is lecturer in English Linguistics at the Open University and previously a British Academy researcher at the University of Iceland.

VIKINGS
IN
AMERICA

Graeme Davis

 

This eBook edition published in 2011 by
Birlinn Limited
West Newington House
Newington Road
Edinburgh
EH9 1QS
www.birlinn.co.uk

First published in 2009 by Birlinn Ltd

Copyright © Graeme Davis 2009

The moral right of Graeme Davis to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 .

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-065-4

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Contents

List of Maps

List of Illustrations

1    Vikings to America

2    Stepping Stones to America

3    The Greenland Base

4    Vikings to Vinland

5    Viking Exploration of the High Arctic

6    Viking Hudson Bay

7    Vikings and Inuit

8    Memories of Vikings in America

9    Legacy of the Vikings in America

Appendix 1
A Note on Methodology

Appendix 2
Bishops of Greenland

Appendix 3
Mediaeval Kings of Norway

Bibliography

References

Index

Maps

Map 1       The Viking World

Map 2       North Atlantic Stepping Stones

Map 3       Viking Greenland

Map 4       Viking Vinland

Map 5       Viking High Arctic

Map 6       Viking Hudson Bay

Illustrations

The Gokstad Ship

Replica of a Viking Figurehead from Unst Boat Haven, Shetland

Viking Ship's Rivet

The Althing in Session

King Harald I Fairhair receiving the Shetlands

Summer in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

L'Anse aux Meadows

The Skalholt Map

The Vinland Map

Narwhals

A Unicorn

The Kensington Runestone

A Viking Strap End

Hans Egede

The Greenland or Whale Fishery

Magna Britannia
(Petrus Bertius)

Newport Tower

Sun Voyager (Gunnar Arnason)

1. T
HE
V
IKING
W
ORLD

2. N
ORTH
A
TLANTIC
S
TEPPING
S
TONES

3. V
IKING
G
REENLAND

4. V
IKING
V
INLAND

5. V
IKING
H
IGH
A
RCTIC

6. V
IKING
H
UDSON
B
AY

Vikings in America

1
Vikings to America

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain:

He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

S
O
goes the school-room jingle, and so most people today perceive the dawn of European exploration and settlement of America. Yet it is not Columbus but the Vikings who should be credited with the first significant European exploration and settlement of America.

Around five centuries before Columbus, the Vikings both explored and settled in America. The archaeological remains at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland leave no doubt that they established a substantial presence on the American east coast. Today we know for sure that the Vikings were there. Yet in popular perception the story of the Vikings in America remains at the margins of history. As a result the Vikings and their exploration of what they called Vinland is now presented as little more than a footnote in world history. The implicit assumption is that their remarkable achievement had no lasting impact on the history of either Europe or America.

The picture is changing. In recent years academics working in many different disciplines have been finding fragments of evidence which taken together tell a far bigger story of the Vikings in America. This is the story presented here.

For the Vikings did a lot more than just visit a few places in Newfoundland or elsewhere on the American east coast. From their base in the Viking colony of Greenland – itself strictly part of the American continent – we now know that the Vikings explored in three different directions. A thousand miles south from Greenland is the archaeological site of L'Anse aux Meadows, a staging post on the journey to what they called Vinland, east-coast America. A thousand miles north from Greenland the Vikings reached
the High Arctic. Here Viking archaeological remains have been found in some of the most unlikely locations, in lands no-one would have dreamed the Vikings could ever have reached. Today we must accept the evidence of that the Vikings, against all expectations, in fact reached the High Arctic. Furthermore, 1,000 miles west from Greenland in Hudson Bay and its vicinity we have evidence of Viking presence, and can place the Vikings at the centre of the North American continent. Viking Greenland emerges as the starting point for exploration of three widely separated areas of the American continent: the east coast, the far north and Hudson Bay.

BOOK: Vikings in America
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