Midwest Vikings? Part 2

So I got the Sodder’s books, Michigan’s Prehistory Mysteries I and II. However, I am not quite ready to do a post on these sources yet. As I was reading through them, I noticed there was a lot of references to other Scandinavian related topics. This being this case, I feel it necessary to create a bit of a primer, so that readers of this blog will have a better understanding of the Scandinavian culture heritage in the Great Lakes Region.

So, as a bit of an introduction, here are some passages from a paper I wrote from one of my classes. I have included the abstract to provide some greater context to the paper as a whole. These are selections only, so keep that in mind.

Abstract

            Much has been said concerning the authenticity of artifacts. Is it a hoax, is it not a hoax? The debates seem to be endless. Also there has been much discussion concerning the motives behind forgeries, often money or fame. However, through all my studies I have found that there is often little discussion concerning ethnic or cultural heritage. When such things are discussed, they are often under negative connotations such as “nationalist” or “ethnocentric” practices. I offer a new look deeper into the true nature of selected artifacts that examines what the artifacts mean to people, as opposed to simply whether or not they are “authentic”. This paper is concerned with the connections between artifacts and identity, people and objects, regardless of authenticity.

Pseudoarchaeology and Identity

A Study in North American Vikings (Selections)

            Numerous Viking artifacts have surfaced in North America over the years. Outside of the area of L’anse Aux Meadows, very few (if any) have ever been confirmed as authentic. The authenticity of such finds is often not the motivation behind such finds. There are several motives behind the “discovery” of false artifacts, the most prominent of which are fame and money. In this work, I want to examine another kind of motive that often goes unmentioned. It is my purpose to look at the motivation of identity, and how people, especially immigrants, use artifacts to connect with their past.

To further refine my topic, I must set certain boundaries on my research. I will be focusing exclusively on alleged Viking artifacts in North America. I will turn my lens on the Northeast and Great Lakes region of North America. This region stretches from L’anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, down the St. Laurence River and into the Great Lakes. The area of the Great Lakes region will be considered in my analysis, and this area includes Michigan,Wisconsin,Minnesota,Illinois,Ohio,Indiana,Pennsylvania,New York and Ontario.

Where does the story of Vikings in North America begin? It begins with the sagas of Erik the Red and the Greenlander’s Saga. Both of these sagas are thought to have been written in the 12th and 13th centuries. (Gathorne-Hardy, xviii.) In these sagas are detailed the stories of Erik the Red and his sons, the first Europeans (to our knowledge) to have landed upon North America. To briefly summarize the tale, Erik comes to Greenland as he had been exiled from Iceland for murder. Here, he and his followers create new settlements. A man named Bjarni, in his attempt to get to Erik’s Greenland, was blown off course. He eventually made his way back to Greenland, although he never actually landed in America. His details of the lands he saw would influence the later voyage of Leif Ericson. Leif actually landed in America, and is largely considered the first to have done so. There were several other voyages after Leif, notably Thorvald Ericson, who was killed in America. We also have information concerning a man named Karlsefni and a woman named Freydis, who was Eric’s daughter. It should be noted that the story itself is much more detailed, but at this point the above summary must suffice. (Gathorne-Hardy, 16-17.)

Aside from the sagas that detail the voyages of the Vikings, there is also one archaeological site that connects North America to Scandinavia, L’anse Aux Meadows. L’anse Aux Meadows lies at the northern point of Newfoundland and dates from about the tenth century C.E. The site was discovered in 1960 by a Norwegian husband and wife team, Helge and Anne Instad. They had studied the sagas of Greenland and Erik the Red, and they met with success. (Parks Canada.) The discovery of the site was an important step forward in the study of Vikings in North America. To this date it remains the only authenticated Nordic find on the continent. The site itself consists of eight buildings and hundreds of Viking Age artifacts. Small workshops and a forge were part of the site, suggesting it was a small settlement that repaired ships. (The Canadian Encyclopedia.) The site was only occupied for a short time due to conflicts with Native Americans. The area is a hotspot for all kinds of Norse themed attractions, including a recreated Viking trading port, where you can engage in all types of Nordic games. L’anse Aux Meadows is also at the end of the Newfoundland Viking Trail. (Viking Trail.)

From the 16th to the 18th century America was colonized by Europeans and became and independent nation. There is no doubt that many people of Scandinavian decent (most by the way of England) came to America in this time, but the most significant Scandinavian immigration to America occurred in the middle of the 19th century. (Davidson, 1-7.) A large majority of these immigrants settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there are also smaller populations in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region as well as in Canada. It is no small coincidence that in the middle of the 19th century is when one of the most well known “Viking” artifacts comes into view, the Kensington Rune Stone. (Next post, Great Lakes S.C.H Part 3)

Sources:

– Gathorne-Hardy, G.M. The Norse Discoverers of America.Oxford University Press. 1970

– Davidson, Clifford. Norwegians in Michigan. Michigan State University Press. 2010

– Viking Trail: http://vikingtrail.org/welcome.html

– Parks Canada: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/progs/spm-whs/itm2/site1.aspx

– The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004527

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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