Monthly Archives: July 2011

Midwest Vikings? Part 1

The title is certainly a mouthful, and to be frank there is a lot I want to say with this blog. Thus I am breaking it up into several parts. The reason for this is because I have done a fair bit of research in this area, and I want to share what I have done. I will start by talking about Viking lore associated with my home state of Michigan, and the broadening to include the Great Lakes region. I wrote a paper on the topic during my undergrad days, and I will be sharing parts of that paper, tailored of course to fit into my wider theme.

When writing the previously mentioned paper, I came across an interesting post that lead me to a lot of Michigan Viking lore. It is found here:—White-Indians&id=1511207

Needless to say this article whetted my appetite for more Michigan related Viking lore, so I quickly began hunting down the books mentioned in the article. I had to be careful though, because there is a lot of unverified claims in the article, and very few sources to back up some of the claims. A critical, skeptical eye would be needed as I move forward with my research. . The question is then, are there any facts in these tales, or are they just tales?

The first printed work available to me was “Viking Mettles” by Johan Baner, though the above mentioned article refers to him as Bauer. The work itself is a collection of poems, probably written by Baner, though I am not for certain on this point. The most interesting part to me was the foreword. After a brief introduction by the auther (Baner), follows an article written by Kendrick Kimball, who worked for the Detroit Daily News. Baner claims the article appeared in the Detroit Daily News, then in the Escanaba Daily Press and other publications as well. The date is December 28th, 1930. I am hoping to be able to locate a copy of this article when I get the chance.

In summary of the article, as posted in Baner’s book “Viking Mettles”:

* Baner claims to have found and translated a runestone from Helsingland, Sweden that detailed a saga of Vidar Viking and his voyage to Vinland (North America). It should be said that the location of Vinland has been speculated to be anywhere from Martha’s Vineyard to Newfoundland, and sometimes even further south or north. In short, Vinland is a very ambiguous location. The only professionally verified Viking settlement (to the best of my knowledge) is at L’anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

*Baner moved to America, first to Minnesota and then to Ashland, Wisconsin, where he edited a Swedish newspaper. Here he claims to have met a Native American who knew broken Swedish and who had the same name as one of Vidar’s companions mentioned on the Helsingland runestone. The Native American said the Swedish words were “magic” and used by their ancestors many years before. These “ancestors” were men who dressed in “ice” (assumed to be armor, by Baner) came from somewhere in a boat and had eagle’s wings on their heads.

* Baner claims (in the article, reported by Kimball) that there are other evidences of Viking visits to Lake Superior in the 11th century such as a runic inscription (never says where) and a Norse weapon discovered in Minnesota. Both were “authenticated by scientists.”

*The article then details the story of Leif’s Ericcson’s journey to North America. According to the article, sometime after Leif Vidar and his companions sailed up the St. Lawrence in search of a prophet.

*A last point of interest in the article is the part about Fred Dustin of Saginaw, who was an archaeologist went to Isle Royal with an expedition from the University of Michigan. The goal of the expedition was to try an discover the identity of the original copper miners of the area. Nothing else is said of Dustin, and I will have to look into this further.

* Near the end of the article, a quote is attributed to Baner, and he states: “I believe the Vikings instructed the Indians how to extract copper from the ground. It seems doubtful that the savages would recognize the value of copper without inspiration from some other people.” This quote can be dismissed as part of the thinking of the time. It was widely held that Native peoples could not have come up with many of their innovations on their own (because they were not as “sophisticated” as Europeans) and thus they had to be “helped” by some outside source, namely white Europeans. Europeans though of themselves as the peak of human society. Such ideas have largely been discredited. I will not detail that part of intellectual history at this time.

It is an interesting idea at least, that Vikings managed to sail up the St.Lawrence and find their way into Lake Superior. However, we must not be so quick to take all that has been said, primarily by Baner himself, at face value. There is very little outside verification of these ideas, and those that are mentioned are vague (i.e. the “scientists” that verified his claims.) Can we say anything for certain at the moment? The answer is a resounding no, and the only thing we do know is that more research is needed. So when I have more information to present, I will continue this work.

P.S If anyone has any additional information on this subject, could you please let me know or send it to me? I have copies of “Michigan Prehistory Mysteries I and II” by Sanders on the way and other sources as well, just have to write it up.

On Anthropology

What is Anthropology? This question is often asked, and is not a simple one to answer. When faced with this question, some answer with “Anthropology is the study of humanity.” But this not the whole story, and the reason lies with the object of study, humanity. Anthropology as as discipline is divided into numerous sub-fields, that cover aspects of humanity in the past and the present. The American school (different from the European School) of Anthropology is traditionally divided into four fields, going back to Franz Boas, in many ways the father of American Anthropology. This is often referred to as the “four field” approach to anthropology. The four fields are archaeology, sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology and physical anthropology. To complicate things further, sometimes medical anthropology and applied anthropology are added, and each sub-field is further subdivided into categories like zoo-archaeology (specializes in culturally associated animal remains) ethno-archaeology, and just about every geographic focus you can imagine.

But the complexity of the Anthropology largely comes from humanity itself. With all the languages, cultures and religions of people throughout the world, a field that studies the complex human mosaic must, in some ways, be as diverse as the peoples the field focuses on. This is both the blessing and the curse of Anthropology. Unlike the hard sciences (such as biology or physics), there is no one method that works across all fields. Archaeology and Physical Anthropology have a definite scientific bend, whereas Linguistic and Sociocultural Anthropology are often much more humanistic. Clifford Geertz once said that Anthropology “…is the most scientific of the humanities, and most humanistic of the sciences…” Anthropology is  in between two worlds, somewhere between a science and humanities.

Where do I fit into all of this? I have interests in archaeology and sociocultural anthropology for sure, and have dabbled a little in the linguistic field. I also have interests in cultural heritage, which, according to the Missouri State University webiste, is a field of applied anthropology . To quote the website “Cultural Heritage refers to the cultural legacy inherited from previous generations, a legacy which we often want to identify and preserve because it reinforces our cultural identity or sense of who we are as a people.  Cultural Heritage is typically associated with a particular people or group.  It includes, for example, the French, German, Scotch-Irish, Amish-Mennonite, African American, Hispanic, and Native American heritages of Missouri.

Cultural heritage may be tangible and include archaeological sites, artifacts, buildings, historic sites, monuments, graves, and culturally significant landscapes such as sacred places.  It may also be intangible, as in language, oral histories, beliefs, practices, rituals, ceremonies, customs, traditions, music, dance, crafts, and other arts ”

As mentioned, cultural heritage is usually associated with a cultural group. It could be said that my primary research interests are Scandinavia archaeology/Cultural heritage, on both sides of the Atlantic. I am interested in this area because it is my own cultural heritage, well at least many generations ago on my father’s side. My ancestors were Scandinavian, in addition to the fact that Scandinavian archaeology and cultural heritage is an exciting field. So, going forward with this blog, expect to see a lot more focused writings. I look forward to diving into issues of more interest to me, and less general, broad posts such as this one.