It's cold and wet and it isn't a dog's nose.
June 6, 2006 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga is a Smithsonian webpage (with a pretty cool Flash intro) about the Norse in North America. Along with highlights of the exhibit, there's also an interactive map of the Viking voyages. (Although L'Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the only confirmed Viking colony in N.A.). The Saga of Eric the Red contains the story of the voyages and discovery, but there are other primary sources as well. The Viking Ship Museum has information on the famous longboats that made the voyages, which were as much a matter of luck as navigation. To mark the millenium, some crazy Icelanders sailed a longboat back to Norway (NPR story).
posted by OmieWise (27 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My longboat and I are enjoying this post immensely.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:44 AM on June 6, 2006

Good post. Coincidentaly I just received "The Lords of the North" by Bernard Cornwall this morning, though the Vikings had just moved on then (c.886). Maybe we should have talk like a Viking day.
posted by adamvasco at 8:57 AM on June 6, 2006

Papa Neutrino made it from the Hudson river at the end of my street here to Ireland in his rickety raft.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:03 AM on June 6, 2006

Crap, that's out already, adamvasco? Here in the US, we don't get it until Feb of 2007!

There was a pretty interesting documentary on Vikings on HDNet last night. Vikings are the new Pirates!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:04 AM on June 6, 2006

As someone of Portuguese/Italian extraction, I have a cultural bias towards this sort of thing and generally look at it with suppressed derision.

But one thing is abundantly clear: Those guys can sail.



And in atrocious conditions.

I wouldn't go out in seas like that in a destroyer, let alone a boat made of wood and open to The Elements.

No way, no how.

Good for them.
posted by Relay at 9:09 AM on June 6, 2006

Every baby Viking needs a hat.
posted by Floydd at 9:32 AM on June 6, 2006

My wife and I took an epic road trip up to L'Anse aux Meadows from New Hampshire a few years back. It's about a twelve hour drive from our house to the tip of Cape Breton, then an overnight car ferry trip to Newfoundland, and THEN -- and this was almost the best part -- about a 14 hour drive north to the Viking site. Beautiful and austere countryside. Anyone with the slightest interest in this kind of thing ought to get up there.
(By the way, the locals pronounce it "Lancy Meadows").
posted by Toecutter at 9:46 AM on June 6, 2006

Extra points for use of the newfoundland tag, me ol' trout.

Had a friend who worked as a summer-student archaeologist on a dig at a 16th-century Basque whaling station in Red Bay, Labrador, not that far from L'Anse aux Meadows (but you'd need to take a ferry to get to Red Bay).
posted by hangashore at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2006

It apears that the Basques where very active in the North Atlantic - there's a Basque-Icelandic pidgin dictionary from that era, and some scholars argue for the existence of a Basque-Micmac pidgin language, too.
posted by Jos Bleau at 10:02 AM on June 6, 2006

Great post. The rest of the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center is fascinating too (the Ainu exhibition was discussed here.)
posted by homunculus at 10:02 AM on June 6, 2006

Sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!

See also this and this from an earlier FPP.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:16 AM on June 6, 2006

Thanks, OmieWise!
posted by safetyfork at 10:48 AM on June 6, 2006

If you think you may be a descendant of Vikings, it's important to know that Norway is one of the very few European countries to allow you to search their parish records for your ancestors at absolutely no cost. They've even made an English version of their site. Sure, you can find some of that information on FamilySearch, but this is the authority.

That's in stark contrast to Scotland and Sweden. The bastards.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:56 AM on June 6, 2006

OK, friends, I have a bombshell. I was on a history conference panel last week with Alice Kehoe, a huge name in North American archaeology. She gave a paper that argued that the Kensington Rune Stone is in fact authentic!

The Kensington Rune Stone was discovered in Minnesota in 1898. The translated test reads "8 Goths and 22 Norwegians on exploration journey from Vinland over the west. We camp by 2 skerries one day-journey from this stone. We were and fished one day. After we came home, 10 men red with blood and tortured. Hail Virgin Mary, save from evil. Have 10 men by the sea to look after our ship, 14 day -journeys from this island year 1362."

The stone has been largely dismissed as a fraud for the last century. But according to Kehoe, new research proves it is authentic. From memory, her argument went like this: 1)
The writing is authentic for the period. Old arguments that the writing was too modern were based on sloppy transcriptions and a poor understanding of medieval Norse. In fact, every single word and character on the stone can be found in period Norse documents, 2) Recent research reveals the Norse fur trade was much greater and more widespread than we used to think, with evidence of North American furs entering the European market by the 1200s, 3) Microscopic analysis of the stone reveals weathering that is consistent with a 1300s date, as well as chisel marks that match medieval chisels but not 19th century ones. There was other evidence as well.

Here is a newspaper article about the new evidence.

So there you have it, Norseman in Minnesota in 1362!
posted by LarryC at 10:59 AM on June 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

As skeptical as I am of many claims about early North American exploration, this stuff fascinates me nonetheless. I so want it all to be true.

And I'll second Toecutter on visiting L'Anse aux Meadows. The site itself is a wonderful place to spend a day. Where else can you find "Vikings" speaking with the broadest Newfoundland accents ever? (SCA events don't count, OK?) And if you do make it up there, you may find a little roadside restaurant near the gates that makes wonderful homecooked food, which is especially welcome after that very long drive.

(Recommended: come over by ferry from Cape Breton, then spend a day or so Gros Morne and use that as base camp to explore L'Anse aux Meadows and environs.)
posted by rosemere at 11:08 AM on June 6, 2006

Awesome. I still have a ton of relatives over there and hope to visit real soon. Thanks for the links and the geneology database. I found a few of my peeps there.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:21 AM on June 6, 2006

LarryC - I've always thought that one of the most compelling arguments for the Kensington Rune Stone is that the supposed perpetrator of the hoax, a local farmer, wouldn't have had the time to carve the stone in period norse. Of course people who make that argument don't realize that Norwegian farmers free up their time by simply not speaking.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2006

Larry, that's awesome. I deliberately didn't include any of the Minn stuff in the links, but now wish I had.
posted by OmieWise at 11:23 AM on June 6, 2006

Thanks for the great post, OmieWise. Vikings are awesome! (But let's not mention Odinists.)

While I definitely have no genealogical interest in the Vikings, I was spurred to seek out sagas like Snorri Sturluson's King Harald's Saga after reading in an essay by Jorge Luis Borges a wonderful description of the "six feet of English soil" scene that occurred between Harald Hardrada, Earl Tostig, and King Harold Godwinson. As it turns out, the essay, "The Modesty of History," is available online.
posted by cobra libre at 12:18 PM on June 6, 2006

Excellent post, Omniwise.

When you see some of the boats that these Norsemen used on the high seas of the North Atlantic, you can't help but hold them in some respect. They might have been murderous, bloodthirsty bastards (and they were), but they were also some hardy, seafaring motherfuckers.
posted by three blind mice at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2006

Don't forget Njorl's Saga, in which they possibly may have invaded maybe south London too, remember.
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2006

some crazy Icelanders

As if there's another kind, bless their mad hearts.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2006

I believe the correct term is berzerkers . . .
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:40 PM on June 6, 2006

FPP nitpick: The Atlantic journeys weren't conducted by longships, but by knarrs, which were much better suited to distance voyages and an emphasis on cargo haulage.

LarryC: The Rune Stone may be real? Amazing--thanks for the link. Oh ya, you betcha, it might explain some things there, don'tcha know.
posted by trigonometry at 3:29 PM on June 6, 2006

Yay vikes, boo 666. Thanks. I like the UNESCO sites. U.Va, who'd a thunk.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 8:44 PM on June 6, 2006

I still don't buy that the Kensington Rune Stone could be real. And it is way, way too early to be crowing about it.

Besides, they weren't really Vikings anymore by the 1300s. Christianity took the ginger out of 'em.
posted by QIbHom at 6:24 AM on June 7, 2006

Just a slight clarification on an interesting post. Leifur EirĂ­ksson, the first European actually believed to have set foot on the American continent, was not Norwegian. The man was born in Iceland and although the Smithsonian exhibition, sponsored by Norway, claims him to be Norwegian, he actually was Icelandic.

But, unlike Columbus, he had the good fortune of loosing America again.
posted by nucleus at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2006

« Older Mmm ... pelletized nutritionally complete food.   |   Tulse Luper knew that without a God, the Universe... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments