Vikings in North America: Considered a fringe theory before 1960?

Inspired by an earlier thread, I’d like to present this question to the learned community. At present, there are all sorts of theories concerning pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contacts. Most, if not all of them, are rejected by mainstream academia. There is simply no way these theories can be verified.

There is, however, hard evidence for the presence of Viking/Norse settlers in Newfoundland around the year 1000 since the discovery of the site at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960.

But before that, there were only Icelandic sagas which suggested that the Vikings may have reached North America. I was wondering how historians viewed this issue before 1960: Was the Viking presence in North America considered likely, but not verified/verifiable? Or was this seen as just another fringe theory, like the legend of Madoc?

My memory is that most pre-1960 historians accepted that Vikings from Iceland and Greenland had certainly ventured farther West (and South) and that Vinland was an actual discovery. Grapes are found in Newfoundland, (supporting the naming of the location), and the explorations were consistent with movement among the Vikings.

What was generally disregarded were claims that the Vikings ever established a colony (as opposed to a single summer’s encampment).
L’Anse aux Meadows changed the views on those issues.

Unfortunately, a lot of publications on such issues were clouded by the silly Kensington Runestone claims and by efforts to refute or defend the hoax.

My dad pursued that theory for his dissertation for a year or so, but was unable to find enough evidence to proceed. He then changed topics to something less interesting but more solid, and was awarded his doctorate in 1968.

I have to disagree with Tom. Before 1960, anyone suggesting any pre-Columbian contact was considered a fringie at best.

I am also of the belief that the KRS may not be a fraud. It’s doubtful, true, but there’s none of the hallmarks of being a fraud.

Having been around in the 50s, I agree with Tom. The sagas were regarded as indicating possible explorations, but were not confirmed. They were not dismissed out of hand, and I recall learning about Leif Ericsson’s voyage in school.

It’s pretty unequivocally a fraud, and has many hallmarks of being so. Belief that it’s not a fraud is fringe.

There are many hallmarks it’s not genuine. But it has none of the hallmarks of being a fraud. He didn’t try to make money off it, no death bed confessions, etc.

If you are talking about Ohman, money isn’t the only motivation for fraud. He was Swedish, and as Wiki says:

National pride could easily have motivated any fraud, whether by Ohman himself or someone else who might possibly have planted the stone.

This is, by the way, something that I always wondered with regards to the discovery in L’Anse aux Meadows: The scientist who found this ancient Viking settlement happened to be Norwegian. After all, the site is located in Canada and the area would certainly have been of interest to archaeologists from Canada and the US - or would have simply been discovered by local people.

There is no evidence to take any such theory seriously except for the Newfoundland journeys. Just about every small town in the U.S. has a (wink) “mysterious stone” and a good number of them are (yawn) “possible Viking origin”. It’s mostly fetishism, kind of like those party bores who proclaim their pure Viking descent even though they come from suspiciously non-Scandinavian places.

I think North American archeologists looked too far south for such settlements. They figured “Vinland” meant grapes, and grapes don’t grow naturally as far north as L’Anse aux Meadows.

Which begs the question why it took a scientist from Norway to come to this conclusion. On the other hand, an archaeologist from Scandinavia who specializes in Vikings might have had a better idea of what to look for (i. e. certain patterns in the landscape).

Or knowledge of currents and prevailing winds from Greenland.

Ohman could be completely innocent. (One of the stories mentions him using the stone as a paving stone near his barn, for a while.) On the other hand, the combination of multiple linguists noting that the inscription was not in actual fourteenth century Scandinavian in conjunction with the desire for Scandinavian immigrants to assert the prowess of their ancestors as explorers, identifying them separately as cooperative Swedes and Norwegians, at a time when the primary Scandinavian immigrants, (Swedes and Norwegians), were wrestling with their own social demons, strongly suggests a deliberate plant.

Except for, there’s like almost no Runic stones in fourteenth century Scandinavian, and each linguist has said more or less that same thing “it’s mostly Ok, except for this bit…” and in each case they had a different bit. Also, one said that if one of the rune has a little mark on it, that would show it was authentic, and when they found that mark… retracted his statement… or then claimed it could have been a slip of the chisel. :dubious:

Actual real scientists, aka “geologists” have examined the stone and said the carving looks like it was done around the 14th Century and not recently. Linguistics, esp when we have so little to compare with, is more art than science, more opinion that fact.

Not to mention some linguists, among them Robert Hall, have said it appears genuine.

The general consensus, however, is that it’s a fake.

Vikings had certainly reached North America by the 1920’s, or else my parents have been lying to me about my family tree.

What we consider usable commercial grapes are likely very different from wiild grapes; plus, the climate was somewhat different in the era when the Vikings were expanding into Greenland.

IIRC the general consensus from the 60’s when I learned about this in school was - “the Vikings most likely travelled to North America one or more times based on the Vinland description; but we don’t know exactly where they landed, and they obviously didn’t stay long, probably because of the hostile natives.” Yes, speculation included Newfoundland and also Nova Scotia where grapes probably grew better.

I assume that in general, natives probably had better bows than Greenlanders based on available material. As long as they avoided hand-to-hand combat against metal swords they probably out-“gunned” and likely outmanned the Vikings. later Europeans with firearms had a tough enough time getting a foothold in North America in more climate-friendly locations with much larger boatloads of supplies.

As a child of the 40s, I can assure you that there was a fair amount of speculation about Norse exploration of the east coast of North America before 1960 and the uncovering of the settlement in Newfoundland. Most of the speculation centered on Cape Cod and the off shore islands base on the wild grapes reports. The examination of the Newfoundland settlement allowed a fair number of people in Northeast Iowa to get in their “I told you so.” This is of course in a town with a Leif Erickson bridge and the common exclamation is “Uf Dah!”

I remember learning as a kid in the 1980’s or early 90’s about the Erik the Red and his son and their voyages and discoveries, specifically covering Iceland, Greenland, and “Vinland”. Iceland and Greenland were taken for granted as being the islands that are called that today, but it was admitted that we weren’t exactly sure where “Vinland” was, but it might have been in Canada, specifically Newfoundland.

In later years, I read stories of supposedly blue-eyed Eskimos in Atlantic Canada who were hypothesized to be descendants of Vikings who had settled in Canada and assimilated via intermarriage with Eskimos, probably because there were’t enough surviving Vikings to survive separately.

Among linguists, yes. Not among geologists.

Since you’re a biologist, which science do you think works on more “hard knowledge” and is more testable- Linguistics or Geology?