The story of the Viking expansion west across the North Atlantic between AD. 800 and 1000, the settlement of Iceland and Greenland, and the exploration of northeastern North America, is a chapter of history that deserves to be more widely known.Norse discoveries in the North Atlantic are the first step in the process whereby human populations became connected into a single global system. The Norse, and their Viking ancestors, are little known, misunderstood, and almost invisible on the American landscape. Although Norse voyages were known since the early 1800’s, the near absence of physical evidence of Vikings in the New World has rendered the information, and the possibility that Norse explorers reached the North American mainland five hundred years before Columbus, speculative, at best. Yet, discovery of a Viking site in Newfoundland in 1960 confirmed a pre-Columbian European presence in the Americas, and Norse artifacts found in archaeological sites scattered throughout the eastern Canadian arctic and sub-arctic, raise the issue of how far south of Newfoundland the Norse did explore, and what impact their contacts had on Native Americans. The term “Viking” is indelibly associated with seafaring warriors. Carpentry, and especially boat building, were skills known to all Viking men, and along with maritime skill, was the characteristic upon which Viking expansion and influence depended. Viking craft had an advantage over all other watercraft of their day in speed, shallow draft, weight, capacity, maneuverability, and seaworthiness, giving Vikings the ability to trade, make war, carry animals, and cross open oceans safely.The territorial expansion of the Vikings from their Scandinavian homelands began in the last decades of the eighth century, and started as seasonal raids on the British Isles. Those Vikings who ventured west settled the islands of the North Atlantic. Many theories attempt to explain what propelled Vikings outward from their northern homelands: developments in ship construction and seafaring skills; internal stress from population growth and scarce land; loss of personal freedom as political and economic centralization progressed; but the overriding factor seemed to be an awareness of the opportunities for advancement. By taking on lives as soldiers of fortune, Vikings could dramatically alter their prospects: becoming wealthy, reaping glory and fame in battle, and achieving high status as leaders and heroes based on their own abilities and deeds.Although there is reason for speculation about how far the Norse traveled south of Newfoundland, recent archaeological research provides a solid basis for understanding more about Norse explorations and contacts in the north. Archaeologists found Norse artifacts in early Inuit (Eskimo) sites in the Canadian arctic and Greenland. That people of the Dorset culture had begun to replace their stone blades with metal after AD. 1000 seemed curious, although understood when both late Dorset and Early Thule sites began to produce not only Norse iron and copper, but a host of other Norse materials. Soon Norse materials were reported from many eastern Canadian arctic and northwest Greenland sites dating to the Norse period. These finds suggest that Native Americans interacted with the Norse in a variety of ways: by casual contacts, scavenging Norse wrecks, or outright skirmishes This volume celebrates the Vikings’ epic voyages, which brought the first Europeans to the New World. In doing so, the ring of humanity that had been spread in different directions around the globe for hundreds of thousands of years, was finally closed. Even though Leif Eriksson’s was not the first—nor the last—voyage of Viking exploration, nor did it lead to permanent settlement in the Americas, his voyage achieved an important and highly symbolic goal that made the world an infinitely smaller placeAmazon.com Review
In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and thepromise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Viking people explodedout of Scandinavia and set about conquering parts of England, Ireland,France, Russia, and even Turkey. Emboldened by their successes, theVikings pushed ever farther outward, eventually crossing the NorthAtlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and easternCanada.
In The Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, some three dozenscholars examine the growing archaeological evidence of the Vikingpresence in the New World--including such items as a Norse coinexcavated in Maine, runic stones from the Canadian Arctic, and farmingimplements found in Newfoundland. The contributors consider thesometimes friendly, sometimes warlike history of Viking interactionswith the native peoples of northeastern North America (whom the Norsecalled skraelings, or "screamers"); compare the archaeologicalrecord with contemporary sagas and other records of exploration; andargue for the need to better document the Viking contribution to NewWorld history.
"As an historical and cultural achievement," write the editors, "theViking Age and its North American medieval extension stand out as oneof the most remarkable periods in human history." This oversized,heavily illustrated volume celebrates that little-understoodtime. --Gregory McNamee ... Read more
Customer Reviews (11)
A wealth of info on the medieval Norse reach across the ocean
This sumptuous and lavishly illustrated volume of 432 large pages, was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 2000 to coincide with the thousandth year, as close as we can reckon, of Leif Erikson's pioneering voyage to North America where he founded an outpost in "Vinland" that was used by subsequent expeditions until finally being abandoned after several skirmishes with the native inhabitants -- this according to the two pertinent surviving sagas.
The book is an impressive compendium of scholarship by 40 writers in 32 different articles, naturally from often different viewpoints. It gets a five-star rating not because I don't have disagreements with certain conclusions of a number of articles, but because of the wealth of information it contains on Viking/Norse life and legacies for anyone seriously interested in the topic. It's divided into seven sections, titled Viking Homelands, Viking Raiders (in Europe), Vikings in the North Atlantic (including Iceland), Viking America, Norse Greenland, and Viking Legacy. (The term "Viking" is ill-used as applied to Iceland and the farther lands -- or for that matter in Europe after about 1100 -- but the label seems irresistible to publishers in titles, even to the Smithsonian. At least Greenland gets a proper "Norse" label.)
Obviously it's not a work to be read cover to cover in one gulp. Since there are too many topics and regions covered in detail to look at closely in a review of any reasonable length, I'll focus briefly here on "Viking America," which presents eight major articles. Their topics range from Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic where Norse artifacts have been found, to, of course, Vinland in the far south (just how far south a matter of complex disputes often passionately held.) Too, it explores what the lore and the sagas tell us on one hand, to hard archeological digs on the other, both subject to interpretation. An interesting wrap-up article in this section is intriguingly titled "Unanswered Questions." The Canadian archeologist Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, who wrote two articles and collaborated on another, has been in charge of the famous L'Anse aux Meadows site at the northern tip of Newfoundland since its discoverers Helge and Anne Ingstad finished their work there in the late 1960s. With the Ingstads she believes the site is in fact the remains of Leif's settlement of Leifsbudir -- although others, including Carl Sauer, Erik Wahlgren and myself, have strong doubts on that score. But even if we're right, this in no way diminishes the importance of the site, as this is the first thoroughly, physically confirmed site of Norse occupation found in America. If I may register a guess, it might have been a strategically placed "way station" occupied for a few years by some other unrecorded Norse voyagers presumably from Greenland, which would open other intriguing questions. There's a good possibility that we'll never know.
Another engrossing article deals with the native peoples of these regions: the Innu, Dorset, and Thule Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland (it was the Thule"Eskimos"who remained after the Dorset and Norse were gone), plus the now-extinct Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland; a panel of four maps shows their respective areas of occupancy from AD 900 to 1500. Several articles in the America and Greenland sections look at contacts and relations between the Norse and "natives" (remembering that the Norse Greenlanders were no less "native" than the Thule, having lived in southwest Greenland for over 300 years before the Thule ever arrived in that region). One article includes a recounting of an Inuit folk tale as told to the Danish Greenland official H.J. Rink in 1858, of a bloody incident and reprisals between a group of Inuit and Norse hundreds of years before, complete with color illustrations drawn for Rink by an Inuit artist.
The above comments scarcely touch the surface of the riches to be found in this volume. The general tone is scholarly and carefully conservative in most respects (sometimes too conservative and one-sided in my view, as if the writers/editors were reluctant to delve much into matters subject to heated controversies except to dispose of them as quickly as possible). Nevertheless, all in all it's a most impressive compendium of fascinating information not obtainable elsewhere, and the editors and writers are to be congratulated for that.
A Great Resource!!!
For those interested in:
the history of an ancient people, the Vikings
the history of a people's travels and explorations
the history of a people's art, storytelling, and craftsmanship
the history of a people's society and everyday living
This book is for you. I constantly use references from this book in my writings, as it contains such detail that is just begging to be acknowledged. The images are fantastic, and continues to inspire! Historical enthusiasts, novice and veterans alike are sure to enjoy this book.
A great start
This great book takes you from western Europe and Russia to L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland in a gigantic arc of detail and archaeology. Many areas of great intrest such as the Isle of Man and the Shetland Isles are often overlooked in OTHER books but not this one. If you want to start learning about the Vikings disembark from here.
If you know only a little about Vikings, and want to know a lot more, this is the book to get. Lavishly illustrated, although, as another reader pointed out, a little big for bedtime reading or the train. I really liked the way the book recalls the entire Norse history -- from the 700s right up to the Minnesota Vikings. By the way, I got to sail for a couple days on the very ship depicted on the cover.
This gorgeous Viking book ranks with the best
What a complete package! Absolutely loaded with huge beautiful pictures of everything from ancient maps to medieval Scandinavian jewelry to charts of what individual experts think the Vikings dubbed "Vinland", this book has it all. Someone familiar with the subject will find it gorgeously re-introduced in this extremely professional layout, and yet anyone new to the subject will find this book to be inviting, informative, and fun to read. While this book doesn't dig quite as deep as either Jones' textbook-format "A History of The Vikings" or Haywood's geographically well-documented "The Penguin Historical Atlas of The Vikings", this is still like a huge compilation of every other Viking book I've seen yet, giving the subject the spotlight that it needs after so many recent discoveries. A very professional complete package for everyone.
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