Monthly Archives: September 2011

Midwest Vikings? Part 4

This part of my ongoing series has taken a little longer to write out than the others. I was hoping to get some comments from one of my former professors, but as I am still waiting to here back from him, I have decided to write the piece anyway. I can hope that I will here back from him soon and will post an updated piece if/whenI do.

This post is concerned with the book Michigan Prehistory Mysteries II by Betty Sodders. Within this book, Sodders argues the case that Vikings penetrated deep into North America, perhaps as far as the Mississippi and North Dakota. In past posts I have touched upon many of the evidences presented in the book, such as the Kensington stone and the supposed Norse-Indian connection. I invite readers to look over my previous posts concerning these items.

The two chapters of interest are Chapters 10 “A Striking Norse-Amerindian Relationship” and 11 “Norse Intrusion into Great Lakes Country.” Chapter ten largely reiterates what is in Viking Mettles and the evidences associated with it, as such I will be skipping the chapter and moving to 11.

Chapter eleven begins with a short tale about a Viking king by the name of Woden-lithi, who crossed the Atlantic and sailed up the St. Lawrence to a trading post in the area of Modern Toronto. The site was called Peterborough according to Sodders. Woden-lithi remained here for five months and left behind some petroglyph writing. The trading post may have been a religious center as well, and according to Sodders; “Modern scholars agree these glyphs record the king’s visit as well as a standard of measures for cordage and woven material, along with an astronomical observatory for estimating the Nordic calender year.” (Sodders, 171) I wish she had named the scholars.

Sodders claims that; “these petroglyphs, along with others discovered in the Great Lake’s territory, supply well documented evidence to support the theory the Nordic travelers migrated to Michigan as well as the surrounding states, oftentimes intermingling with local Amerindians. Please bear in mind, all this trading-exploring took place during the world’s bronze-age, thousands of years before Christopher Columbus sailed to discover America.” (Sodders, 171)

The so called Peterborough petroglyphs are an interesting case indeed. A quick search of the internet has this to say;”

After being lost for centuries, the Peterborough Petroglyphs was rediscovered by historian Charles Kingam in 1924.

The limestone at Peterborough is generally believed to have been carved by the Algonkian people between 900 and 1400 AD. Today, the First Nations people of Ontario call the carvings Kinomagewapkong, meaning “the rocks that teach.”

However, there are several other theories of the date and authors of the remarkable petroglyphs:

  • Retired Harvard professor Barry Fell believes the petroglyphs are inscriptions by a Norse king named Woden-lithi (Servant of Odin), who was said to have sailed from Norway up the St. Lawrence River in about 1700 BC.
  • Mayanologist David H. Kelley viewed the petroglyphs and declared that some of the symbols were European, dating perhaps to ca. 1000 BC
  • According to Andis Kaulins and Megaliths.co.uk, the petroglyphs are a sky map of the heavens from c.3117 BC based on European tradition; they have nothing to do with Native American traditions.

The area surrounding the petroglyphs was established as Petroglyphs Provincial Park in 1976.” (Sacred Destinations)

Some images of the stones can be seen on the mentioned website, as well as others. What is important to note is that there are several interpretations for the petroglyphs, though even the Sacred Destinations website does offer some support of Sodders’ conclusion on some of the boats images, which she thinks are Norse longships; ” The Peterborough Petroglyphs consist of more than 900 individual images, which are carved into a slab of crystalline limestone 180 feet (55 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide. About 300 of these are discipherable shapes, including humans, shamans, animals, solar symbols, geometric shapes and boats.

The boat drawings among the petroglyphs do not resemble the traditional boat of the Native Americans. One solar boat — a stylized shaman vessel with a long mast surmounted by the sun — is typical of petroglyphs found in northern Russia and Scandanavia.” (Sacred Destinations)

Another piece of evidence presented in Sodders’ book is a story told by Earl Sergeants’ wife Dorothy. On a Saturday in October of 1969 Earl was out hunting with five friends in Lake County Michigan, near Baldwin. Earl got lost while he was hunting and ended up falling through a roof of a room he describes as about “eight feet square with just enough headroom to stand up in.” (Sodders, 176) The was a fire ring at his feet, made of stones and filled with carbon. He thought it was a Viking shelter, because it did not look like an Indian shelter to him. He found his way back eventually, but further attempts to find the shelter again failed.

Several other types of evidence are presented in Sodder’s book. However, I will not continue to recount them all for space reasons. If the reader is curious, I advise acquiring a copy. Viking lore is fascinating, but the question is, how much of this is true? It seems to me that each piece of evidence presented has multiple interpretations and multiple explanations on how it came to be associated with it. Is it possible to know which is true? I am not fond of ambiguous endings, but the fact is in this case I just do not know.  However, my promise is that I will continue to search. I will seek out other views on the issue and there is certainly more material to search through.

If my readers have any more information on the topic, please let me know. Also, I am more than happy to discuss the topics in the comments section. Also, keep an eye out for the next section of this series!

Sources:

Sodders, Betty. Michigan Prehistory Mysteries II. 1991

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/canada/peterborough-petroglyphs.htm

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Genetics, Genealogy, and the search for Identity.

It is my opinion that identity has as much of a biological basis as it does social, cultural and historical. My facial structure, the color of my eyes, these are all parts of my identity as much as my beliefs and ideology. When you consider that some beliefs (a family tradition, if you will), are passed on through the generations, it becomes clear that who we are is both inherited and innovated. We, as humans, are one part the inherited past of our ancestors, and the unique innovations in personality and worldview that makes us individuals.

These thoughts are what set me on the path of genealogy. I knew very little about my family and our history before I began. I had asked my parents where my ancestors came from. “I don’t know. Someone said we came from Ireland once.” Imagine my confusion, how is information like that forgotten? Well, my search for my ancestors, and my inherited identity, had started with zilch. I got a little information about my grandparents, and even less about my great-grandparents, but nothing after that. After that, it became years of research (still on going) and interviews with my living relatives and slowly a picture emerged.

I traced my line back to 1758, with a man named William Haney, who was born in Bedford County, Virginia. But it was here the paper work ended. I had hit a brick wall. No more names. No more ancestors. I walked in the dark for many years, trying to find anything to go on, with no avail. Finally I turned to genetic testing. It took many months to get the tests back, but finally I had more information as to my origins. Most of my genetic matches come from Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden, then Denmark, Germany and England. A semi-clear picture then emerged. At some time in the past my ancestors left Scandinavia (perhaps first for England), and came to America, probably Virginia. I will grant much of this is just speculation, but it gave me leads on which to follow up. Leads I still pursue to this day.

I was amazed how much information was contained in my genes. Genetics is a fascinating field, though it is not my strength. It helped to augment my documentary research. What amazed me most is how my identity took on new forms the more I discovered. I brushed up on my history of all these countries. My ideas changed, my understanding of history changed, and most of all, my sense of self changed. It turned out I was not Irish at all, but Scandinavian.

Not only did I take on new identities, I was forced to reject old ones. This was the hardest part, losing a piece of yourself. It is not an easy process, allowing old cherished beliefs fall away. Even stranger, the feelings as new and different parts of your self form. Genealogy is very much a journey of self-discovery as much as a process of self-destruction. As new facts and data surface, reevaluations take place, sometimes an entire reinvention of the self.


Language, Runes and Writing

As a writer, language has always been a bit of a fascination. A simple word can change feelings, ideas and beliefs. A word can bring about reconciliation, or retribution. Human history is littered with examples. Adolf Hitler’s speeches would set in motion events that would lead the world to war. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke words that inspired great changes in society and the civil rights movement. Words have power, and the depth and variety of our language is one of the things that make us human.

Spoken language has been with humanity for a long, long time, and it could be said that unspoken language has been around for even longer. Language is not solely a human trait, as many animals communicate in some form of language. Writing is a whole different case however. Humanity is the only species on the planet that can claim literacy. Sure, we have tried to teach it to others (primates, ect), but only humans have mastered the craft.

Writing brought about great changes in learning and knowledge, in poetry and art, and yes, even religion. Many cultures across time have claimed that writing was the gift of the gods. In Norse mythology, writing is the gift of Odin in the form of runes. Many writers have elaborated upon the magical nature of written language. However, I do not think written magic was the reason writing came into being. It had a much more practical value, and was later adopted into a wider range of social functions, from creative to religious.

In Mesopotamia, the Sumerian civilization is the first known invention of writing. Sumerian society was complex culturally, politically and economically during the years 3000-2350 B.C.E, a period known archaeologically as the Early Dynastic Period. In the book Patterns of Prehistory the authors have this to say; “The role of writing in early Mesopotamian societies seems largely economic. Simple pictographs and spoken language cannot efficiently meet the requirements of a society that has surpluses to be stored and redistributed, water to allocated, lands rights to adjudicated, ritual prayers to be said, and all other tasks we find in complex cultures.” (Wenke,  Pg 350) This quote illustrated why writing was needed and invented, to effectively run a complex society. Now, I will point out that ritual and religion was a large part of Sumerian society, and the various writings that have survived do attest to this. However, the point that must be emphasized is the economic nature of most writing from the time.

But what about runes? Runes as much as Latin or Greek, represent an alphabet, a series of symbols that represent single phonetic sounds, instead of whole words or ideas. Runes are often mentioned for their magical or religious nature, but like that of Sumeria the runes were first of economic importance and then adopted to religious functions. Now, by the time the Germanic people forged and used the runes, writing had long been in existence. It is thought by some that runes were created with inspiration from southern alphabets such as Latin and Greek.

Runes came into existence sometime around the second century C.E, and perhaps a little sooner. The question is why did they come into existence? Erik Moltke has this to say; “All talk about the priesthood needing writing for secret, magical purposes is nonsense, partly because we know nothing about a Germanic “priesthood” and partly because application of writing comes into being when it is needed, whether it serves to maintain the complex correspondences and accounts of state administration or to help a merchant keep track of his clients and stock at home and abroad.” (Moltke, Pg 69) It is important to  note at this point that runes, the Germanic system of writing, came into being during the time of Imperial Rome. Roman goods and culture were consistently traded in Germany and Scandinavia, which is at least one reason a writing system would be needed. Terje Spurkland supports this line of thought by saying; “Today, most scholars agree that the script (runes) came about as a result of a compelling need for a means of written communication due to an expanding economy and growing administrative structure. When administration, management, trade and travel become so complex that human memory is no longer equal to the task,  administrators and traders need a way to record their transactions. It is in this context we must seek the origin of runic writing. There is every reason to believe that some time around the the first century AD, trade and cultural contacts between northern Europe and the Roman Empire began to grow. This gave the Germanic peoples a practical, everyday need for written communication. ” (Spurkland, pgs 3-4.)

Now it seems we have a plausible reason for the invention of the runes. A practical need for written communication. I have hinted briefly upon the magical nature of language and the runes, but to detail such a complex cultural system would be another post entirely. And who knows, it just might be.

 

Spurkland, Terje. Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions. 2005

Moltke, Erik. Runes and Their Origin: Denmark and Elsewhere. 1985

Wenke, Robert and Olszewski, Deborah. Patterns In Prehistory. 2007


Culture and Identity

Anthropology as a discipline takes culture as its central aspect of study. I must say, what a complex and difficult concept “culture” is! Culture is many things, and encompasses beliefs, ideas, practices and a whole host of other social phenomenon. The philosophical implications of the word alone are immense, and I frequently get a headache when I try and grasp the idea. It is that awesome feeling of profound insignificance one gets when try to contemplate the great mysteries of the universe (or the multiverse if your prefer).

One of the central pieces of the culture puzzle is the question of “who am I?” It asks what an individual’s relation is to… well everything, including their own mind and those of other people and to culture. In some sense it is how we think of ourselves, and how others think of us. But this is not an exhaustive definition by any means, in fact it is hardly the tip of the iceberg!

To explain this idea further, let me detail my own philosophical beliefs. I believe the mind, my sense of self, is firmly rooted in at least two “worlds”, the worlds of ontology and epistemology. Now it should be said that I am not a philosopher in the academic sense, but as one of my most respected teachers once said “as a student of anthropology, you pick up a few things.” Probably not an exact quote, but moving on. Wikipedia defines ontology as “the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality” and epistemology as “the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge.” I like to think of them another way, ontology being “the world as it is” (reality) and epistemology as “the world as we see it.”(perception of reality)

Are you still with me? I hope so, I understand how immense this may all seem. But put it this way, it seems to me the world has a reality, a existence that is outside of our minds, that can be measured and tested. This is the realm of natural sciences, of objectivity, geology, physics, chemistry, the whole works. There is another world, the world of the mind. Our individual minds take in all the information of the “real world” and order it to construct our sociocultural reality, our sense of place in the grand order of things. This is one way I think of both culture and identity, as the two are deeply intertwined. My culture and my identity are how I perceive my place in the world.

This is the realm of social science, where objectivity is at best a grand ideal. Even as observers, we are part of the social matrix, and by observing it, we change it. Thus, it happens that our subjective selves, our identities and biases become part of the object of study.

If that was not complicated enough, it gets even more complex when we consider that no person has one identity or culture, but multiples. As an example from my own life, I could be said to have the various identities of “writer”, “student”, “male”, “20-30 years of age”, “educated”, “anthropology major” and a wide variety of other identities. I think of it like a Venn diagram, where I am in the dead center of a series of overlapping circles. This is my “identity”, and all the things I use to identify myself, and perhaps just as importantly, distinguish myself from others, to define myself as a unique individual. Same goes for culture, and I would certainly admit I am at the center of many overlapping cultures, as is true of identity.

To connect this all together, my various cultures and identities all inform my perception of the world in some way or another. At the intersection of various identities and cultures exists my sense of self, my mind, my person. Somewhere, in this grand complex that is the cosmos, in the sweeping complexity of reality, is me. And it is through me, through the reality that passes through my senses and into my mind, is my perception of the world and my place within it. The various intersecting spheres of culture and identity are my giant cosmic arrow that says “You are here.” These are the things that give my world meaning, that makes me feel significant in a reality that by it immensity alone, can make one feel small and unimportant.