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Anyone can make a cheese with holes in it and Anyone can make a cheese with holes in it and call it Swiss. Sealskin and woollen clothes covered him. A knife lay beside him, curved, the blade worn by years of use and sharpening. At the feet of these astonished sailors he rested there in the long inertia of the dead - they the last European visitors to Greenland's Viking colony, he the last Greenland Viking anyone would ever see.
Did the Greenland Vikings simply fade away, or was there more to their story and more to the Viking Sagas in addition? It would seem that there was far more. In fact sufficient evidence exists to suggest that the last Vikings triumphed over the hardships of the Northwest Passage, and that the legendary lands of the Viking Sagas - Helluland, Markland and Vinland - are located on the West Coast of North America, not the East.
The immediacy arises naturally enough from the medium itself since the vast majority of internet papers are readable in situ on reception. But perhaps more importantly, even in their hypertext form the majority of internet papers are also searchable via the "Find" functions of most browsers live links included , or more widely--where installed--though local computer versions of more powerful search engines.
The latter considerations have some bearing on the present series of essays and most previous essays for that matter , for rather than drastically summarizing the works of others I have let the writers basically speak for themselves. This is not from idleness, verbosity, or fear of misunderstanding, but rather to present their thoughts and observations in an unmodified and readily available form. For the same reason references also follow most quotations, thus aligned with each presentation and at the same time searchable under the author's name and subject under consideration.
The intent throughout has been to keep the information level high, but still general with further technical details and material available via embedded links. In this sense the essays are a hybrid form somewhere between a survey and a technical paper. Intended for a wide audience, the format generally leans more towards the former than the latter.
O n a technical note, the immediacy and impact of graphical representations are useful for Internet presentations, but in the present case the number of detailed maps and figures has necessitated a small trade-off between quality of presentation and downloading speed. As in previous essays, the text is also condensed; once again the result is a relatively wide-ranging outline for general readers rather than a tight, academic treatment for specialists alone.
To have proceeded otherwise, however, would almost certainly have entailed a lengthy expansion beyond the present introductory treatment into what Theodore M. Andersson w as wont to call appropriately enough "The perils and pitfalls of Islandica. Mostly along the Northwest Passage itself, my work locations ranged from the Yukon coast to Cape Parry at the western entrance, various locations above the Arctic Circle in the Central and Eastern Arctic, both west and east coasts of Baffin Island, and also both sides of Hudson Bay.
I was in fact at Cape Parry in when the "Manhattan" super-tanker came through the Passage, and at Cambridge Bay in the Central Arctic in when the "Lindblad Explorer" the first luxury vessel to complete the transit paid a short visit. And "Final" it assuredly was, for the transit took place south of the Distant Early Warning Line , and thus for the "Cold Warriors" of this venerable system the "War" was indeed truly over. Between lengthy stints in the Arctic I was also fortunate enough to attend University on a full-time basis, obtaining a B.
The last mentioned are, however, minor qualifications and not necessary pre-requisites for the present subject itself. What does seem to be required, I would suggest, is practical acquaintance with not only the Pacific Northwest, but also the Arctic environment, and not least of all, an awareness of the seasonal round--the latter best understood by experiencing two arctic winters in succession the first to know what it is like, and the second to know what is coming.
One also needs to experience just how long, hard, dark and cold such winters really are, and how glorious though all too short are the summers; and likewise understand how tenuous life must have been for those who subsisted off the land, the sea and the ice. Life is simply too hard in such regions, the social units too thin, and in addition, it is also a fundamental insult to suggest that the Inuit ever harboured such a debased and warlike outlook.
Nor, knowing the hardships and the severity of the living conditions in the Arctic, it is easy to accept without question the prevalent notion that "about a thousand years ago" Alaskan Inuit swept swiftly across the top of North America as far as Greenland, and in doing so, completely replaced the Dorset Culture.
Here, no doubt, I follow the minority view of Canadian historian Tryggi J. But in doing so, it is at least based on a relatively widespread acquaintance with the region in question, its climate, and further experiences that includes daily weather observations and seasonal ice-reports, especially in the Dease Strait section of the Northwest Passage itself. As for the feasibility of Viking transits, as it turns out especially after the relatively ice-free voyage through the Northwest Passage by the St.
Roche II in there is little that truly mitigates against it, while arguments can certainly be cited in support, even before the information-rich Pacific Northwest is reached. Map 6c. Pacific Northwest First Nations after Ashwell with additions and locations of special interest. The premise itself is, of course, a difficult and complex one that embraces a wide number of disciplines.
Nevertheless, as will be shown in the following series of essays, there is literally no place on Earth that meets the many requirement of Norse "Vinland" as well as the final choice suggested here, namely the Cowichan Valley in the southeast corner of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Lastly, a lthough this is a stand-alone section that confines itself almost entirely to the period CE, it nevertheless remains a component of something far larger and more complex.
This is partly why the suggestion that the Vikings voyaged through the Northwest Passage did not result from studying Viking Sagas, Ancient Maps or Runes, nor was it influenced by any previous research on the subject. Rather, the occurrence of complex symbols on a global basis appeared to require a reevaluation of early maritime exploration in general and a rethinking about the process of diffusion in particular, especially in the context of the Americas.
The reevaluation itself did not commence with the Vikings either, nor initially was the Northwest Passage an early factor. In some respects this may be understandable, if only because of deeply entrenched negative viewpoints concerning Viking exploration in general.
Even where it is granted that the Vikings reached the shores of North America it is usually a grudging and often largely minimized admission. Yet from the accepted time of the establishment of the Greenland Colony to that of the last Greenland Viking almost five hundred years had elapsed. Moreover, the Viking Sagas reputedly took place during the very earliest part of this same timespan, and even confined to the first few decades it is difficult to ascertain how far the Vikings may or may not have traveled.
Furthermore, expanding the interval of activity over centuries -- two or three at least -- hardly negates the possibilities, if anything it extends them dramatically. Nor can the latter suggestion be immediately dismissed. It is generally accepted that the Sagas were written centuries after the "fact" and also, that contradictions and uncertainties exist concerning their contents.
To which must also be added further complications that arise from the strong religious polarities already evident at the time of the Sagas themselves. The Annals of the learned Bishop Isle Odds-on for the year , which are based on old sources, say about ' The inhabitants of Greenland voluntarily left the Christian faith and turned to the American people.
The Icelandic Annals for the year record the fate of the ship from Greenland that had been to Markland Labrador and was driven by storms to Iceland. Around the year the deputy bishop of Greenland, Ivar Bfirdarson, ' journeyed to the Western Settlement in order to drive out the 'Skraelings'. When he arrived he found the entire settlement deserted of people, and only ownerless horses and cattle. There is no mention of any traces of a struggle with the Eskimoes, and it is also obvious that the latter in such a case would have slaughtered the horses and the livestock for the sake of the meat.
There seems little doubt that the people who lived in the Western Settlement had emigrated and had only left behind them the animals for which there was no room in the ships. But where did the people of the Western Settlement go? If their destination was Norway or Iceland, it is probable that their first stop would have been the Eastern Settlement. If so, the leader of the Church, Ivar Bfirdarson, and the rest of the people would have known about this exodus, and his own voyage northward to the Western Settlement would never have been undertaken.
The most likely explanation is that the people of the Western Settlement emigrated to North America. For the year there is recorded an expedition which was quite extraordinary in many ways and which was initiated by Magnus Eiriksson, king of Norway and Sweden. He authorized Paul Knutsson of Onarheim to fit out an expedition to Greenland. This was only a few years after the ship mentioned above had come to Bergen from Markland and it is possible that it had a valuable cargo on board.
But that is all the information we have about the Paul Knutsson expedition. We can only conjecture that its objectives may also have included a visit to the shores of North America. In the Norwegian archbishop Erik Valkendorf planned an expedition to Greenland, and for that purpose he took steps to collect information about conditions in that far-away land. In his notes we are told that there were black bear and marten in that country. A similar and quite independent piece of information appears in a work by Absalon Pedersen Beyers in He relates that in Greenland there were sable, marten, deer, and huge forests; but none of these are, in fact, found in Greenland, and the black bear is not even to be found in Norway.
In the same vein, in spite of the odd runic discovery e.
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It is further suggested that the Vikings did not come to change, tithe and terrify, but brought with them something more fundamental in terms of an unswerving world view that was increasingly at odds with Christianity. Thus if the Vikings did leave Greenland en masse it was at least in part because little choice remained if they were to maintain their fundamental freedoms and their own religious beliefs, as indeed outlined by Charles W. Moore in The Mystery of the Mandans : Eric Thorwaldsson, better known as "The Red," founded two separate colonies of expatriate Icelanders on Greenland's southwest coast in The larger and more southerly, "Eastern," settlement eventually numbered some 3, souls c.
Lief Ericsson's introduction of Christianity to Greenland in resulted in 16 churches eventually being built throughout the two settlements. The cathedral at Gardar was said to have been a fine edifice; its surviving foundation shows that it was 84' long and 60' wide. The bishop's residence, built after a resident bishop was appointed in " Bishop of Greenland and Vinland in partibus infidelum" , was even larger than the cathedral. By , nearly all of the Western Settlement's farms had been expropriated by the Church in lieu of payments for indulgences, special masses for the departed, etc.
The once free and independent Greenlanders were reduced to the status of serfs and tenant farmers on their own former holdings. In the Western Settlement apparently decided en masse to clear out for parts unknown An ancient account says: "The inhabitants of Greenland fell voluntarily away from the true faith and the Christian religion, and after having given up all the good manners and true virtues, turned to the people of America 'ad Americae populos se converteunt' Some say that Greenland lies away near the western lands of the world.
In , King Magnus donated a large sum of money the Greenland Cathedral, and was less than enchanted when, a year later, a ship with 17 Greenlanders arrived in Bergen bearing news of the Western Settlement's disappearance. In Magnus commissioned Paul Knutson, a judge and member of the Royal Council, to mount an expedition to search for the fugitive Greenlanders and restore them to the true Christian faith.
Knutson chose an elite cohort of men, Norse and Swedes, and set sail to the west in a knarr royal trading vessel. Some speculate that Bishop Gislrikt of Bergen, an Englishman, may have recommended Nicholas of Lynn, an English Franciscan friar famous as an astronomer, to Knutson as a navigator. Surviving members of the Knutson expedition returned to England and Norway in or with Ivar Bardson, a priest from Greenland. Nicholas of Lynn presented himself to the kings of England and Norway with a written account of a voyage to the northern seas entitled Inventio Fortunata.
At which point it seems relevant to return to the question at hand, i. But these are undoubtedly complex issues, for in essence there are three parts to the story--the first commencing around CE with the arrival of the Vikings on the west coast of Greenland and L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
The second concerns the intervening three hundred and fifty years or so of settlement, the end of which happens to coincide with the end of the Medieval Warm Period and the onset of the Little Ice Age , and the last from about CE the time of disappearance of the Vikings from the Western Settlemen t until the end of Norse occupation ca. The writings of Ivar Barteson, an emissary from Norway, may provide some clues. He tells of traveling to the colony only to find its homesteads abandoned and wild farm animals wandering the streets.
What had happened to the Vikings who had farmed this harsh land for nearly four hundred years? Excavations of bones from the cemeteries and clothing found preserved in permafrost hint that the settlers may have met a terrible end.. Pathological analysis of their remains shows that many Vikings suffered from middle ear disease, a sign of declining health. An overpopulation of young adult females in cemeteries points to a famine or plague in the community. But there are even more troubling signs of what led to the colony's demise. Butchered hunting dog remains suggest the settlers suffered from desperate hunger; fossilized flies show that many died at home.
Now polar ice core samples and tooth enamel analysis have led some scientists to a startling new theory. Did this lost colony of Vikings succumb to a mini-Ice Age? Towards the end of the program the study concluded: From the stones, ice and meadows of Greenland the tragic story of the lost Vikings has finally come to light. Scientists have pieced together an amazing tale of failure. It seems the trigger for the Vikings' downfall was a deterioration of the climate.
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Ice core samples that the mini-ice age enveloped them, ultimately causing their crops to fail and their cattle to starve. In the cold the peoples' health began to falter. Malnourished and weakened by ear and upper respiratory infections, young women and children began to die. The bleak history investigators have constructed tells that in desperation Viking elders finally did try to follow the hunting and fishing techniques of the Inuit, but through ignorance or the dictates of an all-powerful Church, they learned too little too late Amplification on the last aspect was provided by anthropologist Thomas McGovern and historian Judith Jesche who explained further that: We can easily see scenarios where the Church's interest in limiting contact between these two cultures and regulating strongly could have had a really chilling effect in terms of effective interaction and effective learning between these two different cultures.
There certainly was a barrier maintained between them, it wasn't accidental, it had to have been maintained at some considerable trouble and expense on somebodies' part for a long time. There is some evidence that the Church in Greenland held a very fierce grip on the people there in the 14th century. As well as collecting tithes from farms, the church also imposed an export tax, which may have lead to a decline in incomes from farming. We also know that many of the hunting rights in Greenland belonged to the Church, so although there was abundant whales, reindeer and polar bear, people could only hunt these creatures with the permission of the bishop.
Judith Jesche, Director of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham These factors necessarily have a bearing on the crucial question of why the Greenland Vikings failed so completely to adapt to the changing climate, a situation that was perhaps exacerbated by the monopoly over the Greenland trade imposed by the Christian king of Norway after i. But given that the Norse were supposedly Christianized centuries earlier and the Greenlanders were becoming increasingly more isolated, it is surprising to learn that Viking opposition to the Catholic church remained strong well into the twelfth century.
In fact, even when the Greenlanders' own voyages eastward from Greenland underwent a period of decline, those into the Mediterranean were a different matter altogether, i. Thus there appears to have been continuing conflict between the old and the new, while surprising snippets of information like the above suggest that a few hidden factors may also have contributed to the eventual demise of the Greenland Vikings.
All of which is difficult to embrace, let alone track down, again largely because we have only one side of the story from a self-absorbed Church that for centuries would brook neither opposition nor freedom of opinion. As for the Vikings themselves, they seem to have adopted a far more benevolent and adaptable attitude towards others--almost to the point of immersing themselves in whatever cultures they came in contact with.
But perhaps this was part of the problem. One of the possibilities concerning the demise of the Greenland Vikings was that they had periodically come under attack from pirates and slavers. Here, as James Robert Enterline has suggested, there lies the darker possibility that such piracy, while not outrightly encouraged, was at least tacitly permitted, although here he differentiates between the populations of the Eastern and Western Greenland Settlements and what became of them.
As the early Renaissance gave way to more sinister eras and slavery again came to be fashionable, there was just as much demand for blond-haired slaves as black-faced ones. The only important qualifications of a potential slave beyond strength were that he be a non-Christian and have no strong national government to protect him. The many claims that the Greenlanders had drifted away from Christianity into heathendom may have given many a pirate courage to capture and sell them, and the population of the Eastern Settlement could soon have been consumed.
This process would have had no direct effect, however, on the dispersed people from the Western Settlement or any such from the Eastern. Central to the question is, of course, the degree of interdependence and the degree of separateness that existed between the two cultures. The acquisition of this knowledge, naturally, will come only after much further field work and excavation.
If only as a stimulus for further comment, I can conceive of three theoretically plausible outcomes: 1 that because the Norsemen had to share sea mammal hunting with the Eskimos to supplement an unhealthy all-caribou diet, when changes of whale populations caused difficulties for the Eskimos the Norsemen could no longer be sustained; or 2 that the Norsemen continued westward, eventually passing into the real Asia and ultimately back to Scandinavia; or 3 that the Norsemen became absorbed into the Eskimo race somewhere in the central Arctic and into the Indian race somewhere in the Great Lakes neighborhood.
The latter seems to me the more likely. In any case, the settlements themselves probably had no more European visitors, even pirates, after the s. From that time on, all European interest in the Western Hemisphere was directed farther south, and from then on dispersal into hunting grounds of anyone remaining in the settlements would have been inevitable. And in a dispersed state they could not possibly hope to maintain their Norse identity. They became simply Americans. But the European movement to America which they had started has lived on.
They deserve credit for it.
Andy Saur's Vikings quest
Certainly time appears to have been on their side while the imperatives to attempt such a voyage or series of voyages also appear to have been both strong and enduring. Nevertheless this remains a tenuous supposition at this stage. But while the Lost Vikings of Greenland study indicated that the climate was indeed a major factor in the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings, it also added that: " there are still some loose ends, some crucial questions the scientists cannot fully explain.
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The program finally closed with the following summation: Scientists suspect that in the face of fierce adversity the last of the Viking colonists in Greenland opted to take refuge on warmer, more comfortable and friendlier shores. They may have tried to return to Norway, their ancestors' original homeland; they may even have struck out for America.
Erik the Red
But whatever their intended destination, they first had treacherous seas to cross. Whether the last of the Greenland Vikings drowned at sea, ventured all the way to the American continent or successfully returned to Norway, it is clear that their legacy here is one of failed adaptation. These Vikings depended on a social system that lacked flexibility--one that worked at a certain place at a certain time, but could not change.
Instead of adapting and surviving the face of a deteriorating climate and an environment that no longer supported the population, it appears the Greenland Vikings succumbed to their own rigidity and disappeared from History. Whether the final disappearance around CE was entirely the result of their own rigidity or a combination of factors beyond their control is not entirely clear, as the study takes pains to point out.
But in any case, there is also the lengthy interval leading up to the disappearance starting from time of Eirik the Red around CE when the issue of religious freedom had perhaps already been hardened by the latter's outright rejection of Christianity. Not that there was much choice, given that "Convert of Die" were the only options available in Scandinavia, Iceland and shortly thereafter, Greenland itself.
But there was one other option available albeit a bold and drastic one for those with the will, the way and the means-- to move to a new place beyond the controls and strictures of the Church itself. But was there something else in addition, for how strong were the Vikings' own convictions and beliefs, and how long had their opposition to Christianity endured?
And, crucially, just how much of the information concerning the Vikings and their voyages to Iceland and Greenland have come down to us as the impartial truth, given that from about CE onwards the Church exerted a strong controlling influence over just about all subsequent written Viking history? Thus it unfortunately follows that it would be unwise to take the Icelandic Sagas entirely at their face value. Nor, for the same reason would it be wise to treat them as error-free references when it comes to such matters as sailing directions, exact times en route , or the location of specific buildings and sites per se.
Accordingly, it appears necessary to use the information in the Sagas with due caution, adopt a general approach, and apply as many references as possible--the flora and fauna especially--to reduce the long arm of coincidence until one ecological niche emerges as the best logical choice for the location of "Vinland.
It is against this background that the early Norse voyages to "Greenland" and "Vinland" around the end of the First Millennium begin to raise the suspicion that something more than mere settlement may have been involved.
In particular, that even at this early date the religious question may have become acute enough for definite action on the part of Vikings who had neither reason nor wish to embrace the unwanted trammels of Christianity. Whither the Greenland Vikings then? Once having reached the west coast of Greenland, it would not have been that great a voyage to cross Baffin Bay, nor would it have been a major task to set up a settlement or two on either the northern coast of Labrador or Ungava Bay before moving progressively further west.
Or on into Hudson Bay and the rivers that led into the Interior. Or on down the Eastern Seaboard to who knows where? And why not? They had two or three centuries in which to explore, fine ships, nothing to lose and nothing return to, while ahead lay the greatest adventure anyone could hope to encounter--truly the stuff of Sagas--if not the Last and Greatest of them all. And also, perhaps, the last true diaspora But as far as the Canadian Arctic is concerned, once details concerning Vikings ships are understood it will be suggested here that "iron men in wooden ships" under oar and sail would in fact have been well suited to tackle the more tortuous coastal sections of the Northwest Passage.
Even so there can be no discounting the difficulties or the hardships involved, nor is any attempt made here to diminish them. This suggestion is neither unreasonable nor doubtful; even in the present day critical parts of High Arctic passages have been found to be relatively ice-free during the summer months, as a voyage through the Northwest Passage by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessel the St. Roche II captained by Ken Burton has crossed through the fabled Northwest Passage — an area that has stranded mariners of the past in its icy grip for years at a time — in just three weeks, going for days on end without seeing any ice at all With more time on their hands, they journeyed as far north as 75 degrees — about kilometres further north than planned, and within 1, nautical miles of the north pole.
North of Lancaster Sound and also near the upper Jones Sound route shown on Map 2c below, which perhaps also serves to emphasize the significance of Viking activities further north on eastern Ellesmere Island -- the Bache and Knud Peninsula regions especially. Moreover, the continuing warming trends have already had a profound effect on the Northwest Passage, i.