What is the nature of knowledge? Does the search for knowledge have limits? Can we really “know” anything at all, or are we just guessing? These questions belong properly to the study of knowledge, epistemology. While I will not even try to answer any of these questions, nor discuss the depths of epistemology, all these questions become relevant as I try to bring my “Midwest Vikings” series to a close. They are also relevant for future posts. Epistemology covers topic such as “truth” and “belief”, and both are important concepts when we consider the idea of Midwest Vikings, is it a matter of truth, or one of belief? Is it one of both?
Perhaps the latter is the most accurate description. For while it is true that Vikings surely made it as far as North America (Newfoundland), we know next to nothing about how far they might have come inland. It can be said with some certainty that they sailed farther south that Newfoundland. Here is quote from the PBS website, from a show on the Vikings: ” (Speaking previously of Vinland) NARRATOR: But no grapes grow anywhere near L’Anse-Aux-Meadows, nor did they in Viking times. The nearest wild grapes are found in New Brunswick, several hundred miles to the south. Archeologists did uncover evidence that the Vikings may have gathered some exotic foods in the south, and shipped them back to the base camp at L’Anse-Aux-Meadows.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: With the Norse objects found in a bog here, we found nuts, butternuts, also called white walnuts, that don’t grow north or northeast of New Brunswick and the Valley of St. Lawrence. And what is really interesting about this is that those nuts grow precisely in the same areas as you can find wild grapes. So the concept of Vinland, meaning “Wineland,” is probably really based on the finding of grapes.”
So possibly as far south as New Brunswick and the St. Lawrence. But what about the other 2,000 plus miles up the St. Lawrence to Michigan and beyond? It certainly would not have been done overnight, or even in one winter. How long was L’Anse aux Meadows occupied? According to about.com; “L’Anse aux Meadows is the name of an archaeological site that represents a failed Vikingcolony of Norse adventurers from Iceland, located in Newfoundland, Canada and occupied for somewhere between three and ten years.” How far could one travel in three to ten years? As Greenland was the more-permanent and larger Viking settlement, it should be considered as well. According to Wikipedia, Greenland was occupied by Norse settlers from about 986 until the 15th century. How much of North America could be explored with a “home base” nearby that lasted probably 400 years? The short answer is that we just don’t know.
Thus calls into question the limits of our own knowledge concerning early Norse exploration/settlement of North America. Much could be done in three to ten years, and even more with 400. But if the Vikings got as far as Michigan and the Great Lakes region, the best we can hope for is better evidence to be discovered in the future. The best we have now is littered with hoaxes, half-truths and a variety of interpretations. But even such sketchy evidence by scientific standards does not deny the numerous people who believe the Vikings made it into the Great Lakes. But where do we draw the line? Is belief truth? Is truth nothing more than belief? I think the jury is out on this one.
Perhaps Fox Mulder says it best.
“I want to believe.”
For further reading: