Davis, Graeme. Vikings in America.

Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2009.

Half a century ago, in They All Discovered America, Michael Boland identified what he called the “NEBC Principle” — “No Europeans Before Columbus.” This is the general attitude of most professional academic historians and they tend to condemn any contrary discussion without even considering the alternatives.

Boland perhaps went somewhat overboard, but since the discovery and excavation of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland by Helge Ingstad in the early 1960s, there has been no question that the Norse were present at least on the coast of North America — and in surprisingly large numbers.

Davis follows the “baby steps” approach, from Norway to Iceland to Greenland to the western continent, which hardly requires that one sail out of sight of land. He examines apparent artifacts found in the Canadian Arctic as well as reconsidering Yale’s “Vinland Map” (which caused riots in New Haven among outraged Hispanics and Italians when it was unveiled), the Kensington Rune Stone (usually dismissed out of hand on the grounds that it must not be real because it “couldn’t” be real), an assortment of Norse coins that have turned up over the years (“obvious plants or fakes,” is the default judgment, because they couldn’t possibly be real, either), and quite a few other types of putative evidence that significant parts of the eastern U.S. and Canada were at least visited and partly explored, if not colonized, several centuries before Columbus sailed.

The author is a “believer,” but not a naïve or uncritical one. There certainly have been fakes and plants and misunderstandings, of which the Newport Tower and “Pattee’s Caves” are the most likely, but there are plenty of other sites and artifacts worthy of consideration. His careful approach and smooth style make this a useful update to the subject.

Published in: on 8 September 2015 at 8:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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