Tag Archives: vikings in america

Sop’s Arm is also not Vinland — ‘America’s Lost Vikings’ Episode 2

The official title of America’s Lost Vikings episode 2 is “Mystery of the Sea Raiders,” never mind that the Norse weren’t raiding the coast here, they were exploring and settling. Regardless, this episode isn’t actually looking at any particular mystery, it’s supposedly looking to see if there’s any way to connect Newfoundland with Vinland. Since the last episode, Blue Nelson and Mike Arbuthnot agreed that L’Anse aux Meadows wasn’t Vinland, so they’re on the hunt for a new location, and they get a tip that there might be a potential site near the community of Sop’s Arm.

What’s of interest here are several long pits dug into the landscape that appear to be man-made. These have been examined in the ’60s by first Helge Ingstad and later by Helen Devereux. Both seem to agree that these were pitfall traps, a type of hunting trap recorded all over the world, characterized by deep pits dug into the ground, into which large game were driven by hunters. Ingstad believed the pits were Norse in nature, but Deveraux argued they could have been for mineral exploration, and attributes the pits to the Indigenous people of the area.

Nelson and Arbuthnot are looking at the pits to see if they can find any evidence they’re connected to L’Anse aux Meadows and/or are Norse in origin. They seem to be drawing from the article Falling Into Vinland: Newfoundland Hunting Pitfalls at the Edge of the Viking World , which is co-authored by Bjarni F. Einarsson, mentioned in the first episode and credited with suggesting that L’Anse aux Meadows was inhabited for hundreds of years, and Kevin McAleese, who we’ll meet later in the show.

They spend some time looking at the pitfalls, and Nelson takes some measurements and uses a tablet in the field. It’s nice to see the tech in use because there is a slight push to start using more digital tablets in the field and move away from paper. Archaeology is trying to go high-tech.

While Nelson takes notes, Arbuthnot talks to McAleese, who says there’s no evidence that the Indigenous people were using pitfall traps to hunt. I’m a little confused, because there are several references I can find that state that Indigenous peoples used pitfall traps. Even in the Kristjánsson et al paper, the authors refer to the 1966 excavation led by Devereux that suggested the pitfalls were of indigenous use for hunting, although the authors do point out there seem to be no other occurrences of pitfall hunting in Canada. So Norse or not, if these are pitfalls at Sop’s Arm, then this site is significant for that reason alone.

Unfortunately, Kristjánsson et al found no artifacts at all in the pits, Norse, Indigenous or otherwise. They attempted to take radiocarbon dates but got mixed results. Not that the radiocarbon dates would have proven a Norse presence, but it would have given a time period for the possible construction of the pits. Even with these results, the authors, including McAleese, chose to argue that the pits are probably Norse in origin, since pitfall traps like these are not known to the Indigenous people in the area. Again, a confusing statement, but I can’t find any definitive papers that counter that.

So what does all this get us? Inconclusive results leaning heavily towards Indigenous origins due to lack of anything saying otherwise. The show adds nothing to this really; Nelson and Arbuthnot were not able to excavate or investigate the pitfalls beyond taking some notes and measurements. So, other than being interesting, there’s no hard evidence to tie these pitfalls to the Norse.

Nelson goes back to his Found roots and goes to look at the Viking Museum curated by the late Kent Budden. In his museum, Budden kept many objects he collected over the years, thinking they were Norse in origin. He’s even published a paper on his explorations and conclusions into Norse occupation of Sop’s Arm. With Budden’s death, the museum’s collection has passed into the care of a committee of some kind, and Nelson managed to get permission from them to see it. When the camera pans over the collection, it’s clear to me that the objects Budden has collected are historical in origin.

Nelson is fascinated with a few of the objects, giving the misleading comment of, “This could be a thousand years old, or just a hundred.” Which — no, just, no. Nelson gets oddly obsessed over a nail from the collection. It looks identical to a square cut nail seen on pretty much every historical site in America that foraged its own nails. Nelson seems to think it has a good chance to be Norse in origin and goes about trying to convince the current keepers of the museum to let him take it to be tested.

Which leads to a scene that is confusing on several levels. Nelson eventuality gets his nail in the mail and takes it out with a pair of gloves, saying he doesn’t want to contaminate the sample, even though he’s already been shown handling the nail bare-handed. Then he takes out a portable PXRF machine, which, 1) is actually really cool, and 2) why didn’t he just take the PXRF machine to the museum and test all the things there? It’s portable, and he’s doing this test in what looks like his hotel room. If it could have gone there, why all the drama of getting the museum to part with the artifact for testing?

Anyway, the nail comes back as being made of nearly pure iron. Nelson did a good job of telling us that if it had been made from bog iron, he’d expect a lot of impurities. The nail didn’t demonstrate that. It would have been even more impactful if he had also done a sample of the bog iron for comparison, but we’re left with just the nail. This is a neat thing, more tech in the field, but this is also not a common tool in a field kit. It also doesn’t help prove that Sop’s Arm is connected to the Norse, and to Nelson’s credit, he doesn’t try to shoehorn it into fitting.

And that wraps up the more traditional archaeology for the show, with Nelson and Arbuthnot saying they’ve pretty much done all they can at Sop’s Arm. Nelson says something about him discovering that the sea winds would have been stronger on one side of Newfoundland than the other. I’m not really sure what that was meant to do other than segue to the second half of the show, where Nelson and Arbuthnot are looking at Norse ships in a Viking shipyard in Copenhagen, Denmark, and then sailing one for a speed test.

Yes, this entire segment is neat and fun and Norse ships are impressive. If you ever get a chance to go see one up close, especially one of the reproductions, I highly recommend it. Aside from just showing off these awesome ships, and having Arista Holden, the captain of the Polaris, demonstrate how a Norse Sunstone works, there’s no real point to this bit.

What it does do is feed a fear of mine that I expressed for the last episode, that America’s Lost Vikings is going to devolve into two dudes doing stuff and then saying things like, “Well if we can do it, the Viking’s could have, too!” Which is not the point. Lots of culture groups had the ability to do things like voyage to new lands. The point is, there’s no evidence they did.

Still, Arbuthnot says, “It [the ship’s speed] could mean the Vikings made landfall in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts,” and, “I think we’ve demonstrated conclusively that they had the technology and the capability.” Again, this is currently irrelevant because there’s no evidence to support the claim that they did do it.

Overall, this episode was better than the first, especially with the presentation of negative evidence. The show demonstrated archaeology more and even showed some tech in use in the field. Nelson and Arbuthnot seem to accept their lack of evidence with aplomb, but they do try to make it sound like there’s still possibly something out there.

Arbuthnot: “We’re still lacking the physical archaeological evidence.”

Nelson: “It just means you haven’t found it yet.”

I mean, guys, sometimes the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology : 
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

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America’s Not-Lost Vikings, or Picking Fights with The Science Channel.

When AiPT! asked me to review the new six-part Science Channel series, America’s Lost Vikings, I was apprehensive, but a little hopeful. First, it was on the Science Channel; that’s safe, right? Also, it’s headed by two archaeologists, Blue Nelson and Mike Arbuthnot.

I don’t know either man, so I did a little digging. Blue Nelson is an archaeologist, who appears to work in Cultural Resource Management and has been on a TV show prior to this on the History Channel, called Found. I dug a little into that show, and despite being on the History Channel (with everything that brings), Found seems to be a pretty solid show about archaeologists looking at the weird stuff people find in their yards and helping them accurately identify the items. I’ve seen one episode and was pretty pleased with it.

Nelson played a very small part in the first episode of Found, but I’m sure he’ll pop up more as I go through it. Most importantly to me was that Nelson didn’t seem to be playing into any weird pseudoarchaeology ideas like Minoans in America or Transoceanic Travelers or the European-First claims that tend to go hand in hand with “Vikings” in America.

Michael Arbuthnot is another story altogether. Arbuthnot is an archaeologist who specializes in underwater archaeology and used to run a company called Team Atlantis, which he described as, “A multidisciplinary research outfit whose mission is to explore archaeological mysteries with an emphasis on those enigmas associated with underwater contexts.”

In a 2013 reprint of a 2005 publication, The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Aliens, Lost Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology, and Hidden History,Arbuthnot acknowledges the possibility that Atlantis could be a real place on Earth, but stated it wasn’t his primary focus of research. No, his work was to discover how the Americas were really populated. Arbuthnot then proceeds to argue for completely unsupported ideas of cultural diffusion to the Americas via prehistoric European migration by boat or raft.

I do not have the space here to explain why this is not an accepted archaeological theory, other than there is no evidence to support it and the implications of such a theory are problematic, to say the least.

So, with this unfortunate information now in my head, I watched the first episode of  America’s Lost Vikings.

Right off the bat, I’m struck with how this show will be following the format of others like Unearthed America, The Curse of Oak Island, and Legends of the Lostby using splashy graphics, epic music, and choppy editing to create a narrative that supports the show’s premises. I’m also struck with how Vikings‘ chosen audience is clearly men, given how far it went to not mention women at all.

The main focus of the first episode is the well-researched and documented site of L’Anse aux Meadows, the only confirmed Norse settlement site in the Americas. L’Anse aux Meadows was investigated in the 1960s by archaeologists Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband Helge Ingstad. The majority of what we know about L’Anse aux Meadows is because of the Ingstads, and continuing work in the 1970s by Birgitta Wallace, archaeologist emerita for Parks Canada.

Not that Nelson or Arbuthnot mention any of that. They attribute everything to only Helge Ingstad, effectively erasing Anne Stine Ingstad and Wallace from the picture. (There’s literally a monument at L’Anse aux Meadows for both of the Ingstads. They have to walk past it to see the site.)

Anyway. The rest of the first segment is Nelson and Arbuthnot walking around the site, looking at the reproduction of one of the longhouses, and in general talking about the particulars of the site.

There’s evidence that  L’Anse aux Meadows was home to somewhere between 60 -180 people, including women. Again, this is blatantly ignored. Why? Maybe they just didn’t have time to add in the word “woman” between Nelson making observations like, “This place must have just reeked of Man” (said of the longhouse), and, “This here, this is the Man’s room” (said of the sleeping closet).

Arbuthnot does spend about 30 seconds explaining that the Norse get a bad reputation as being Vikings, and really were mostly merchants, craftsmen, and farmers. The show follows this up with images of violent Vikings and passive women. So, way to clear up that misconception.

Arbuthnot also brings up the relatively short habitation period at L’Anse aux Meadows. It’s thought, via the Ingstads’ and Wallace’s research, that the site was only occupied for 3-5 years. In the long scheme of things, that is rather short, but Arbuthnot’s question of, “Why would they build so much for such a short stay?” is misleading. There are only eight structures identified at the site. Only three are housing. Eight buildings between 60-180 people doesn’t seem like “so much” to me.

It’s another subtle way the show is trying to build up the mystery of the site. Calling the houses “monumental” when they are not, saying it would have taken a long time to build, when it wouldn’t have, claiming there’s a huge number of structures when there isn’t. It’s exaggerating the facts to make it seem like more than it is.

L’Anse aux Meadows is an amazing site, but it’s not a wonder of the world or the most mysterious place in America. Pretending that it is takes away from the importance of the site, and the actually interesting things we’ve learned about it.

Arbuthnot touches on some of that a little by bringing up the controversial idea from Bjarni Einarsson that the site was used for hundreds of years, not just five. It’s the first big idea the show latches onto, and here we get to see some actual archaeology, however briefly.

Arbuthnot brings out a drone that he uses to take images of the site so he can then stitch them together into a 3D model of the footprints of the structures at the site. He makes a neat map out of the images and uses them to check the elevations of the footprints.

Not to be mean here, but honestly, as cool as it was to see this all in use, it was unnecessary. The building footprints are clear to the naked eye, and these are hardly the first aerial photographs of the site. You can find many online by simply Googling them.

Arbuthnot then compares the footprints of the buildings from L’Anse aux Meadows to other sites in Iceland. He’s doing this because he thinks he can “age” the buildings on the site this way.  The major problem with this is there are radiocarbon dates for the L’Anse aux Meadows site, and those are slightly more accurate than the stylistic footprints of buildings that could vary for any reason, from regional variation to the purpose of use. It’s interesting, and a neat trick, but not really hard evidence.

From here we kind of abandon “traditional” archaeology and start doing things that might generously be called “experimental archaeology.” There’s merit in doing experimental archaeology, but some of this I think is just an excuse for Nelson to dress up like a Norseman.

They go to Toronto’s Climate Lab, where there’s a giant freezer that can reach extreme temperatures, and they dress Nelson up in the best reproduction of Norse clothes they can find. Then they stick him in and monitor his vitals as the freezer drops to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or -13.9 Celsius. Nelson says he was not too uncomfortable while in the freezer, and that’s nice and all. What this was proving, I don’t know. We already knew the Norse could live through the winters at L’Anse aux Meadows. They did so for about five years.

We then go to Reykjavik, Iceland to the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies. Nelson and Arbuthnot get access to early written-down sagas, and they want to see if L’Anse aux Meadows is possibly mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas. You see, there’s an argument that L’Anse aux Meadows is actually Vinland, mentioned in the Vinland sagas, but it in no ways matches the description of Vinland.  The researcher they talk with mentions it might be Leif’s camp, also mentioned in the Vinland saga, but there’s really no way to know or prove that. So, fun idea, but not really helpful.

We then take a detour to go to the apparent childhood home of Leif Erikson. Honestly, I have no idea why we’re here, other than to let Nelson and Arbuthnot have a moment to be wowed that they’re standing in the same spot as the first European to set foot in America, which is important for some reason.

Lastly, we head back to L’Anse aux Meadows to figure out why anyone would want to live there. L’Anse aux Meadows is a little strange in that there is apparently no evidence of agriculture or animal husbandry beyond foodstuffs. Even the food that is found there appears to be brought in from other places. We do know there was an iron smithy there, and that the people at L’Anse aux Meadows were harvesting bog iron and working it.

Nelson again decides he’s going to be the one to go learn how to harvest bog iron and drops the wonderful gem as he’s scraping mud barehanded from the creek bank, “While the Indigenous people of America were still using stone, the Vikings were extracting iron ore.”

Three things:

  • Seriously, Blue Nelson?
  • The Indigenous people of America were also mining and working copper, lead, and gold, harvesting oil, carving stone, crafting pottery, weaving, and building earthworks, among other things.
  • Am I really supposed to believe that people that figured out how to cross an ocean, work iron, and cut sod for houses, hadn’t figured out how to make and use a shovel? I think the guide was just screwing with Nelson here.

It’s possible this was not a typical settlement colony and more of a resource colony. Eleanor Barraclough at Durham University has even suggested that the site was a stop-over for ships, a place to possibly build and repair them. This idea is one Arbuthnot appears to repeat, commenting on the number of nails found at L’Anse aux Meadows, and comparing that number to known shipyards in Iceland. Honestly, that’s the first convincing thing I’ve heard all episode, and the originator of that idea isn’t even mentioned.

Nelson and Arbuthnot wrap up the episode with some stirring dialogue about how they’ve only just begun to investigate the Viking presence in America. But before they go off to chase wild geese, they have to have a drinking party with people dressed up as Vikings.

Overall, this episode didn’t really say anything flashing-red-lights “wrong.” The premise of the whole show, though, is an issue because of the loaded implications in the idea that Europeans were in the Americas in prehistoric times. That’s often used as a way to deny Indigenous culture and land rights, usually by claiming something is not actually Indigenous and assigning it to a different group. In this case, for example, Vikings.

L’Anse aux Meadows is the only verified Norse site in the Americans, and it’s not like people aren’t looking. I really hope that America’s Lost Vikings follows the pattern of Found, where they go and examine Viking claims, then effectively debunk them. I have this bad feeling it’s going to be six episodes of two guys doing wacky crap, then saying something like, “Well if we could do it, then Vikings could too!” And the problem there is the same problem with all Vikings-in-America claims — there’s no evidence.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology : 
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

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The Beardmore Relics with Douglas Hunter – Archaeological Fantasies Episode 100

 

Today we talk with Douglas Hunter about his new book Beardmore: The Viking Hoax that Rewrote History.  We talk about what the interesting history of the Beardmore relics, how they affected Canadian history, and what lessons we can learn from the hubris of our past.

Show notes:

Douglass Hunter Website

Beardmore: The Viking Hoax that Rewrote History

The Beardmore Relics

The Kensington Runestone

Kensington Runestone Podcast Episode

Archaeological Fantasies: Where the Vikings Weren’t


Thank You for listening.

If you’d like to support the Podcast, consider donating to us on Patreon:  https://www.patreon.com/Archyfantasies or buy us a  Ko-Fi : https://ko-fi.com/A8833HAS . Either option helps us out.

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog at www.ArchyFantasies.com and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @Archyfantsies or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com

Theme Music was provided by ArcheoSoup Productions

This episode was produced and edited by Sara Head.

Contact us below or leave a comment.

Where the Vikings Weren’t – Wisconsin Viking Horse Skull

So here is an interesting puzzle for us to consider. Not because there is any evidence that the artifact was left by Vikings, but because of the controversy over if the artifact is the real fake one or not.

A little background is required here:

Back in 1935 and 1936, Ralph Linton and W.C. McKern, from the University of Wisconsin, led summer excavations at Spencer Lake Mound (Hirst). Their team of college students those years was a who’s-who of soon-to-be well recognized Archaeologists of the 1940’s. From all accounts they used good recovery and recording procedures of the time and published their findings in peer reviewed journals (McKern 1942, 1964, P. 1964, Ritzenthaler 1964).

During the excavation they encountered several burials and recovered several artifacts, one of which was a horse skull missing its lower jaw (McKern 1964:120). The skull was removed, noted, and later identified by the Milwaukee Public Museum’s Mammologist as being a Western Mustang, a breed of horse introduced to the Wisconsin area in the early 20th century (Ritzenthaler 1964:121). McKern mentions the skull in his article in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 1942 along with the other artifacts found, suggesting the skull as evidence of western influence during the time the mounds were built (McKern 1942:157). He further supports his idea of western influence with a piece of charred wood, apparently found along with the skull, demonstrated evidence of being cut by a steel ax (McKern 1942:157).

Now, at no point did anyone ever think the skull was evidence of anyone other than Native Americans, specifically the Chippewa (McKern 1942:157), and 20th century Europeans were involved in this situation. There is no suggestion or evidence that anyone other than the above mentioned groups were involved.

But let’s beat this dead horse anyway shall we?

Despite being debunked over a hundred years ago by Cyrus Thomas in 1894, and fifty years before McKern’s excavation at Spencer Lake Mound, some individuals still want to believe that the mounds, found all over the American Midwest, were not built by Native Americans. Some claim Ancient Hebrews, some go with white Europeans, others use the old fallback of Ancient Astronauts. In this case we’re asked to believe that these specific mounds were built by early Vikings, because of the horse skull.

For starts, the horse skull was identified as that of a Western Mustang. If it had been a horse of a Viking explorer we would be expecting it to be more like the Norwegian Fjord Horse. According to the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, this is one of the oldest breeds in the world, selectively bred for 2000 years, and found in Norse burial sites in Europe.

I’m guessing the similarity between the European Norse burials found with horse skulls and this one found in an old burial mound is the link needed to make this a Viking burial. Otherwise I can’t figure out why there is a link here. There are no other artifacts that were recovered that might lead one to believe this was Nordic in origin. The recovered remains were not identified as anything other than Native American. There isn’t even a random runestone to puzzle over. As far as I can see there is no reason to think this was Viking in nature.

The real controversy over the horse skull was whether or not it was planted there as a hoax.

See, in 1942 as McKern was preparing to publish a paper on the Spencer Lake Mound excavation, along with his thoughts on the horse skull, a mysterious gentleman came forwards and claimed to have planted the skull in the mound (McKern 1964, P. 1964, Ritzenthaler 1964).

The gentlemen requested to be known only as Mr. P., and came to McKern’s office to tell him an interesting story about his childhood spent pot-hunting with a friend.

“The boys dug a sizeable hole, consuming the better part of a hot afternoon, without encountering any kind of a recognizable feature. They were about to backfill the opening when one of them suggested that they bury a horse’s skull that lay along the edge of a nearby field a short distance away. This seemed like a brilliant suggestion to the undisciplined minds of the boys, so the skull was retrieved and carefully laid in an oriented position at the bottom of the excavation before backfilling commenced. Anticipation of the probable results of this piece of mischief somehow eased the monotony of the backfilling, and the miscreants mutually agreed that in about two hundred years some archaeologist would dig up the skull and conclude that he had found something really worthwhile (Mr. P. 1964:120).”

McKern’s 1936 publication in American Antiquity mentioned the skull as an important find, but he puzzled over its presence in the absence of any other western trade goods;

“The most important discovery in this mound was the complete skull of a horse found associated with one of the burials. This was clearly an inclusive feature, and dictates a proto-historic or early historic date for the erection of the tumulus. However, the absence of any trade objects of European provenience, or any other indication of contact with white traders, renders it difficult to ascribe to the mound an age under two hundred years. It is highly improbable that the horse could have been introduced into Wisconsin from the northern Plains earlier than two hundred fifty years ago. The time limitations so defined point definitely to the Dakota Sioux as the author of these relatively large northwestern Wisconsin mounds (McKern 1936 via Baerreis 1964:104).”

However, when McKern published “The Clam River Focus” in 1963 he left out the skull (Baerreis 1964:104). This caught the attention of reviewer David Baerreis, who apparently aked McKern why he’d left it out.

In a series of letters in the 1964 issue of Wisconsion Archaeologist Vol. 45 number 2, Baerreis, McKern, Mr. P., and Robert Ritzenthaler discuss the validity of the horse skull as an artifact and of the validity of Mr. P’s confession.

In brief, McKern did hear Mr. P’s confession, but in light of the plank found along with the skull, and the fact that there didn’t appear to be any evidence of previous digging in the Spencer Lake Mound, McKern didn’t think the skull was the same skull Mr. P buried (McKern 1964:118). Also, McKern felt that Mr. P’s description of the mound in which he buried the skull didn’t fit the description of Spencer Lake Mound (McKern 1964:119). McKern did believe that Mr. P had buried a skull as a childhood prank, he just didn’t think it was the same one he found (McKern 1964:118).

To back up McKern’s idea was the assurance of the rest of the excavation crew that there was no evidence that the ground around the burial with the horse skull had been disturbed (McKern 1964:118). The ground was described as hard packed, and the skull, along with the rest of the remains, had to be removed with smaller feature tools because the ground was packed into the skull (McKern 1964:118).

McKern did note that a previously dug pit fitting the description of Mr. P’s was located on the Clam Lake Mound not much further away, but it was quickly identified and was empty upon re-excavation (McKern 1964:119). McKern suggested that Mr. P was confused as to which mound he had dug in as a child, and that after he and his friends backfilled their hole, someone else came along and re-dug the hole hoping to find something (McKern 1964:119). (Apparently this is a common occurrence.)

A few things to point out here.

  • 1) It’s really easy to identify previously dug/disturbed soils in excavations, especially when they are less then 30-ish years old. So, it’s easy to believe McKern when he says he has no reason to suspect the skull was planted. Still, Ritzenthaler suggests that the youth’s may have dug the pit from the side of the mound and then wedged the skull into it (Ritzenthaler 1964:116). I’m not sure how convinced I am at this one, there still would have been evidence of disturbance, and McKern states the ground was packed into the skull making removal difficult. This wouldn’t be the case if this skull had just been placed there.
  • 2) There is the wood plank that had been chopped with a steel ax. Also, McKern and Baerreis both suggest the Spencer Lake Mound was younger than the Clam Lake Mounds, which would allow for the possibility that the mound could have been built in 1700’s which would allow for both western contact and the presence of horses (Baerreis 1964:104).
  • 3) Mr. P’s story suggests that the boy’s didn’t find anything interesting in their pot-hunting dig, there was clearly a burial with many other artifacts associated with it. Now it’s possible they stopped digging right before they hit pay dirt, but it’s been my experience that you see burials a while before you find them, in the form of darker soils, feature shapes, and the occasional artifact.
  • 4) Mr. P’s story also says that the mound they dug into was the ‘longest’ of a series of mounds, and the Spencer Lake Mound apparently is a solitary mound and is tall, but not long. However, the cluster of Clam Lake Mounds fits the description of Mr. P’s mystery mound, as do several other mound complexes in the area (McKern 1964:118).
  • 5) Ritzenthaler points out that after the skull was examined that there were noticeable chewing marks left behind from rodents gnawing on the skull (Ritzenthaler 1964:116). It’s very common to find rodent gnaw makers on bones, especially when they are left on the surface and exposed to the elements, which is what Ritzenthaler suggests (1964). Rodents will burrow and chew on things, but according to Ritzenthaler, for this to have happened there would have needed to be a maze of rodent tunnels all around the skull, which seems highly unlikely, and wasn’t mentioned by McKern.
  • 6) What are the chances of there being two horse skulls; one burred for real and the other a prank? I’m a good skeptic, I understand chance is greater than one might think, and from the two stories here, I’m beginning to think that’s just what happened.
  • 7) Neither McKern or Mr. P have any reason to be lying here, which makes it even harder to decide. There doesn’t seem to be any motive to either make up a fake hoax or to deny McKern’s account of the skull’s in-situ condition.

From what I can peace together, McKern probably left the horse skull out of his 1963 publication because it was just easier to do so. He still had the wood plank and other bits of dated evidence to base his hypothesis on, he didn’t need the horse skull. Still, it does seem that McKern may have been correct about Mr. P’s story. Since there is no reason to deny that Mr. P did plant a horse skull in some mound during his youth, and there is no reason to deny McKern’s account of discovery and excavation of his horse skull, there seems to be a good chance that there really were two skulls, one planted and lost, and one buried and found.

 

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or Where the Vikings Weren’t for more on this series.
———-
Resources:

Griffin, James B.
1964 Review of The Clam River Focus. Wisconsin Archeologist (old series) 45(2):104-111. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/wisconsin-natural-history-society-archeological-s/the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci/page-25-the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci.shtml. Retrieved July 25 2013.

Hirst, K. Kris.
N.d. There Were No Ancient Vikings in Wisconsin? Prank at Spencer Lake Mounds. About.com. http://archaeology.about.com/od/frauds/a/spencer_lake.htm. Retrieved July 25 2013.

Johnson, Annie
2012 Spencer Lake Horse Skull. http://prezi.com/77nbasbxlerv/spencer-lake-horse-skull/ Retrieved July 25 2013.

McKern, W. C.
1964 The Spencer Lake horse skull, Response to Mr. P.’s letter of June 28, 1963. Wisconsin Archeologist 45(2):118-120 http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/wisconsin-natural-history-society-archeological-s/the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci/page-25-the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci.shtml. Retrieved July 25 2013.

1942 The first settlers of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Magazine of History 26(2):153-169 http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/wmh/id/29076/rec/19 Retrieved July 25 2013.

Mr. P.
1964 A Burnett County hoax. Wisconsin Archeologist 45(2):120-121 http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/wisconsin-natural-history-society-archeological-s/the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci/page-25-the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci.shtml. Retrieved July 25 2013.

Ritzenthaler, Robert
1964 The riddle of the Spencer Lake horse skull. Wisconsin Archeologist 45(2):115-117 http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/wisconsin-natural-history-society-archeological-s/the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci/page-25-the-wisconsin-archeologist-volume-44-46-hci.shtml. Retrieved July 25 2013.

The Viking Rune.
Top Ten Viking Hoaxes. The Viking Rune: All Things Scandinavian. http://www.vikingrune.com/2009/05/top-ten-viking-hoaxes/ Retrieved July 25 2013.

Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? Mayhaps the Vikings?

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He set out on a bold new mission to reach out to new civilizations and boldly go where no one had gone before. Or was that Star Trek? Either way, when many of us were in grade school, we were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Some of us, if we were lucky, were taught that he thought he had discovered Asia since he had been looking for a new trade route there to trade for spices. None of us ever got the truth.

No Flag, No Country. It’s a rule I just made up.

Columbus made his first landfall in Caribbean islands on what he called San Salvador, somewhere in Cuba. He immediately encountered native people, and though he now knew he wasn’t in either Cathay or Chpangu (China or Japan) he had no flipping clue where he really was. He figured he was still somewhere in Asia, but he couldn’t figure out where. Columbus made three more voyages to the shores of what would be called The New World, making landfall in 1493, 1498, and 1502. He even attempted to establish a temporary colony there in 1492 after the Santa Maria was wrecked off the coast of  Haiti. 39 men were left behind in an encampment built out of the remains of the ship, however when Columbus returned  in late 1493 he found all the men dead and the settlement burned to the ground (Feder 2006).  He managed a much more successful colony in what is now the Dominican Republic called La Isabela.

How do we know all this as fact and not just more fables told to children in grade school history class? We have evidence. Among the artifacts we have, trade goods, glazed ceramics, nails, glassware, horse gear, metal bits, and dated coins (Feder 2006). All distinctly Spanish in origins. We also have verifiable documentation of Columbus’ travels, court records, maps, journals, and other such documents (Feder 2006). We have lots of evidence that all corroborates. And that’s how we know.

“But Wait!” You say, “There is evidence of other groups reaching America before Columbus did! What about them?”

Yes, what about them?

There is no dispute that Columbus reached the America’s in 1492, we can back that up. However, there are numerous claims that the America’s were discovered long before Columbus was a twinkle in his mother’s eye. How do these claims hold up? Does the evidence support them? Was someone here before? In this series were going to look over the many and varied claims to the New World, spanning from the Vikings to, yes, Aliens.

So let’s start with the most likely culprits, The awesome Vikings!

Leif Eiriksson discovers America, by Christian Krohg (1893).

The Norse were/are a pretty cool culture, and in my opinion, the coolest. They were culturally sophisticated, socially liberal, and artistically creative. They were kings of the sea, scourges of the land, and the stuff of legends even to today. They left a rich written history behind them in the form of numerous sagas and eddas. Two of those saga’s, The Greenlander’s Saga and Eirik the Red’s Saga, tell of the discovery of Vinland, a land further west then even Greenland and covered with grapes.

Leif, the son of Eirik the Red, is the one said to have landed on, and briefly investigated, three new lands past Greenland. He called them Helluland, Markland, and Vinland. He came home to Greenland and told of the vast riches of the new land, Vinalnd. His brother, Throvald, set off to explore Vinland more fully, met up with the natives, called Skraelings, and promptly got himself killed.

Around 1022 A.D., Throfinn Karlsefni led a sizable group, consisting of families and animals, from Greenland to Vinland to create a permanent settlement  They built homes and farmed the land. Again though, the Skraelings attacked unmercifully and apparently drove the Norse Folk out.

What we have here is a riveting tale of discovery and exploration, but as wondrous at this all seems, it’s not evidence  Not to mention, we don’t even know where Helluland, Markland, and Vinland are on a map.  What we need is physical evidence, and fortunately that’s what we have.

Lots of little things have been found along the Northeastern portions of North America. A Norse coin that dates between 1880 and 1235 AD, smelted metal, chain-mail, ship rivets  and other non-native goods have been found isolated and within native sties (Feder 2006). These artifacts show contact between the native Americans and the Norse, either through trade, or more nefarious means.

But the big payoff came in the 1960’s in a little place called L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.

A Norse long house recreation at L’Anse aux Meadows

I’ve gone over the tenacious Anne Stine Moe Ingstad and her husband Helge Ingstad previously and their discovery of L’Anse aux Meadow.  Here they discovered what appeared to eight typically Norse, turf houses (ArchyFantasies 2012). They worked on the site between 1961 and 1968 and recovered enough information to definitively identify it as a Norse colonial settlement (ArchyFantasies 2012, Feder 2006). The excavation revealed the remains of an early 11th century Norse settlement, including sod houses called “booths”, a forge, cooking pits and boathouses (ArchyFantasies 2012).  They also recovered worked iron, bronze pins, a soapstone spindal, and other Norse artifacts (Feder 2006). They also recovered traditional foodstuffs, like butternut shells, a kind of walnut that does not grown in Newfoundland but in Nova Scotia. Carbon dates for the site date it to 920 AD, plus or minus 30 years (Feder 2006).

Patricia Sutherland

Also, Patricia Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, has found evidence of a Viking camp on Baffin Island (Feder 2006, Pringle 2012). Things such as spun yarn, whetstones, metals, a whalebone shovel, and even the pellets of Old World rat stowaways from the ships (Pringle 2012). Sutherland’s dates are still being assessed, but the artifacts can be traced to as early as the 11th century (Feder 2006).

Norse Cord

So we’ve got two settlements loaded with evidence  and lots of isolated objects popping up in Native American sites that date to the same times. Honestly, that’s a pretty open and shut case. Score one for the the awesomeness of the Vikings!

But the fun doesn’t stop there. We know of at least two locations where the Norse where, but there are many more claims out there claiming “Vikings stopped here, too!” Things like the Vinland Map to the numerous rune-stones found all over the United States. These claims just don’t hold up as well under examination when looked at closely, and what kind of blog would this be if we didn’t look at them? In our next installation we’ll examine the not-so-factual evidence of Vikings in America.


 

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or Where the Vikings Weren’t for more on this series.

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Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com


Resources:  

ArchyFantasies

2012 “Women in Archaeology – Anne Stine Moe Ingstad” ArchyFantasies.  http://archyfantasies.com/2011/09/25/anne-stine-moe-ingstad/. Retrieved Jan 3, 2013.

Feder, Kenneth L.

2006  Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, 5th ed, McGraw-Hill, New York. NY.

Posner, Michael

2012 “New doc aims to unravel an Arctic mystery” The Globe and Mail. Nov. 21 2012 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121019-viking-outpost-second-new-canada-science-sutherland/. Retrieved Jan 3, 2013.

Pringle, Heather

2012 “Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada” National Geographic The Daily News. October 19, 2012. http://m.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/new-doc-aims-to-unravel-an-arctic-mystery/article5540781/?service=mobile. Retrieved Jan 3, 2013.