Monday, August 03, 2015

Old World people in the New World before Columbus?

Old World people in the New World before Columbus?

In posing the question ... it is claims that people from Europe crossed the Atlantic Ocean before 1492 that I want to examine. It’s a huge area, with claims ranging from Magdalenian hunter-gatherers to late medieval fishermen from Bristol (England), and supported by a variety of evidence, from artefacts to inscriptions.
 by Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

I suggest anyone interested in archaeology go take a look at Keith's blog 'Bad Archaeology'.
After you have read the (excellent) source article - come back for my few comments...


If I might correct a small factual error?
Keith said :
"In the short-lived site at L’Anse Aux Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada), iron ring-headed pins and typical Viking houses were found: truly exotic material that confirmed the Vinland Sagas."
The actual Ring Headed Pin found at LAM
There are a chain of small objects which can narrow down the cultural group which are responsible for the occupation of highest interest at L'Anse aux Meadows :
• Both iron rivets and smelting furnace remains, a technology used by Europeans, but unknown to First Nations.
• Turf wall remains - of a layout and construction style typical to Iceland / Greenland
• A soapstone spindle whorl - most likely to be found in an Early Medieval (European) context.
• That cast *bronze* ring headed pin, of a type common to Iceland in the late Viking Age.

There is not all that much garbage (unfortunately) :
• A couple of small wood plank pieces made of species found in Europe (and not North America)
• A lot of wood chips showing cutting with iron tools.
• Some broken pieces of wooden objects, suggesting possible European techniques or Norse designs.

All this backed up by carbon 14 that puts those timber fragments roughly 1000 AD.

The general lack of mounds of rubbish at L'Anse aux Meadows is likely due to its location right on the ocean beach. The simplest way to dispose of any organic trash is just to toss it in the water, one tide shift later it is simply washed away. (We observed this directly during a living history presentation on the site in 2010. Yesterday's pot washing of discarded soup bones were gone the next morning!)
As 'Lief's Houses' were never intended as a colony / long term occupation, the Norse simply took everything away with them when they left.

The current interpretation of the use cycle of the buildings at L'Anse aux Meadows by the Norse is a series of several short (over winter) stays, with gaps between uses. This roughly estimated by taking the volume of trash found and placing it against the number of bodies likely to have occupied the houses. (One other obvious wiggle factor is assuming that the massive work of creating the houses would not be undertaken without need.) Total use period for the buildings estimated by placing normal life cycle of the construction type against no visible repairs.
This all works out to most likely four or five use cycles over a likely period of 20 - 25 years.

on the Kensington Stone & Related:

Most damning for me - people who insist the Norse travelled to central USA have complete ignorance of the actual geography involved for such a voyage - against the real ship construction used by the Norse.

The Lachine Rapids at Montreal formed a natural barrier well past the European settlement of Ontario - the Lachine Canal bypassing them not opening until 1825.
What about Niagara Falls? (No passage there until the original Welland Canal in 1829.)

*Theoretically* a Norse explorer could have sailed a large, deep hulled (and extremely heavy) ocean going knarr (freight ship) over from Europe and down the St Lawrence (or into the bottom of James Bay).
Norse 'Knarr' - The LARGE ocean going ships that crossed the North Atlantic *
Then got out, *built a new ship* - only this time a smaller, light framed 'river boat', on the other side of the Montreal rapids (or at the river system at James Bay).
*Theoretically* you *might* be able to drag that smaller boat around Niagara. Its only 12 - 15 kilometers (look at a map). Through the virgin bush (6 foot diameter trees).
And then *walk* from the top end of Lake Superior....
The route south from James Bay is a bit better - no Niagara to contend with. You still have a second boat to construct (and no suitable trees at James Bay by the way.) Even in a smaller boat than a Norse river trader, there is excessive portage required.

But why on earth would you be so crazy to even attempt this?

Keith also did reference the Peterborough Petroglyphs.
I grew up just by those. Forget even getting a Norse river boat up into that area. Before the Trent Canal was installed (later 1800's) it was enough work even using a canoe. And then only 'close'. When I was a kid (in the late 60's) it was a half day walk from the nearest road to the actual Petroglyphs. The nearest connected waterway is even further.
Over my own life, I have seen the Petroglyphs 'atributed' to : Space Aliens, Phoenicans, Egyptians, Celts, Norse... Virtually everyone BUT the people who have actually lived there (for like the last 5000 plus years!

This piece slightly expanded and with additions from a comment I placed on Keith's original blog posting.

* Image scanned from 'Vikings - North Atlantic Saga' by Fitzhugh & Ward

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