Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

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Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby SolarpunkFan » 2016-04-01 02:17pm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/mor ... h-america/

The ancient chronicles told of a larger-than-life Viking warrior with a shock of red hair, banished from his home for killing another man, who sailed with hundreds of followers to an icy island in the sea. And they told of his son, who set out only a few years later to an even more distant place he knew as “Vinland,” but which today’s historians believe were the eastern coasts of modern day Canada and the United States.

The Icelandic Sagas are thrilling narratives, full of swashbuckling exploration, epic feuds, dazzling romances and poignant betrayals. Still, they are only stories, told hundreds of years after the fact by poets with a penchant for embellishment. To date, the sagas have only led archaeologists to one actual, verified Norse historical site in the New World — the 1000-year-old seaside settlement L’Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.

It would take 55 years and a view from space to track down a possible second one.


Interesting...
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-01 08:51pm

From what I believe we already know, it's safe to conclude that the Norse voyaged to America from Greenland on multiple occasions, sometimes going there to harvest timber (which was unavailable in Greenland). If they found bog iron I'm not surprised they'd try to refine it, since iron wasn't available in Greenland either to the best of my knowledge.

So this is interesting- but not particularly surprising. It's like finding a well preserved mummy in an ancient Egyptian tomb- unusual, of definite scientific interest, but exactly the sort of thing you'd hope and expect to find if you looked long enough.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-04-02 01:18am

This is cool, but not unexpected. Go orbital technology, its only going to get much better in the near future, though that will also probably be the last big jump it makes.

Its safe to assume they went further then we knew, but not vastly further, and certainly not on a regular or sustained basis. The reason for that is pretty simple, disease. While one cannot define a exact threshold for it easily, if the Vikings had really extensive contact with North America they would have spread the diseases that would instead only appear ~450 years later when we suspect Grand Banks fishermen actually reached the mainland and began a wave of plagues about ~20 years before Columbus sailed. As long as Viking voyages were small and limited in number of people they would have had some insulation against this, high probability the sick die before reaching Canada, high probability just a few native people being infected would die or recover before they could spread anything widely ect.

It wouldn't surprise me if we find evidence that the Vikings even got a far as Montreal where rapids block the St Lawrence, but we'd be talking about single ship levels of discovery. We've also, on the other side of the continent, discovered some new evidence that the Polynesians were certainly trading with local people in what became the Inca Empire, but well, Columbus remains on top because people understood and believed him.

I'd figure the answer for why the Vikings didn't do more os easy enough indeed, timber as mentioned as much needed, and curiosity, but immensely tempered by the lack of plunder and payoff and the general human desire not to die on a fools errand. Greenland was bad enough, and while the new land might have looked better it would have been fairly well populated and lacking in any specific new appeal (compared to known conditions in say, Norway) and so interest was probably lost when Greenland proved untenable. Europe just wasn't populated enough at the time to force people away, and then the black death bought even more time on that angle.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 05:05am

Yeah. Basically, the Norse didn't have ships capable of reliably making the Atlantic crossing without stops at Iceland and Greenland.

As a result, effectively ALL Norse explorers in North America were coming from Greenland. And the Greenland colonies were very low-margin affairs which were themselves at the end of a long, tenuous supply chain that kept them only barely in touch with the European mainland. Their maximum population was something like 1000 to 2000 Norse at any one time, only a few ships visited them a year, and out of such a tiny population and shipping reserve, sending even one ship to America was a massive investment of their time and resources.

Jared DIamond discusses this at length in Collapse, where he spends about two or three chapters talking about the reasons why the Norse colonies in Greenland ultimately died out. I don't know if his analysis is 100% correct, but it's certainly detailed, interesting, and informative, assuming the book isn't just a big slab o' fabrication from end to end.

That said, even one ship coming to America would probably poke around quite a bit in hopes of finding interesting products (say, anything that might help offset the massive cost of the voyage); the Norse on the ship had already sailed hundreds of miles beyond what was already basically the ass end of the known world, so they might as well sail around a little farther in case any of these Skraelings had just happened to carelessly leave a pile of gold lying around in a monastery the way easily pillaged Englishmen or Irishmen did.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Broomstick » 2016-04-02 05:46am

Simon_Jester wrote:From what I believe we already know, it's safe to conclude that the Norse voyaged to America from Greenland on multiple occasions, sometimes going there to harvest timber (which was unavailable in Greenland). If they found bog iron I'm not surprised they'd try to refine it, since iron wasn't available in Greenland either to the best of my knowledge.

Greenland had iron FROM SPACE!!!

Seriously - one of the world's largest iron meteorites, or at least chunks of meteorite, off Cape York. The usually stone age natives actually had some iron, cold-forging it and using for things like harpoon tips.

There is the question of whether or not the Vikings knew about that iron - they and the Inuit weren't exactly close. Also, not exactly conveniently located, and very heavy. Late 19th Century technology took three years to move some of it from it's location to the shore for transport to museums.

Sea Skimmer wrote:Its safe to assume they went further then we knew, but not vastly further, and certainly not on a regular or sustained basis. The reason for that is pretty simple, disease. While one cannot define a exact threshold for it easily, if the Vikings had really extensive contact with North America they would have spread the diseases that would instead only appear ~450 years later when we suspect Grand Banks fishermen actually reached the mainland and began a wave of plagues about ~20 years before Columbus sailed.

Iceland, and even more so Greenland, were sufficiently isolated from mainland Europe that the diseases that later became plagues in North America were uncommon on those islands. Measles, for example, was not endemic to Iceland and decades would go without cases, so when the disease did reach the island there were actual epidemics with higher-than-European mortality rates. The epidemics of 1842 and 1882 were particularly notable. These epidemics were sufficiently debilitating to the islands that they wouldn't be sending any ships to Vinland until everyone had recovered.

The result is that Norse that started in Iceland and then went to Greenland and then went to Vinland were sufficiently distant from crowd-disease contact that they wouldn't be passing it on in Vinland. The Grand Banks fishing that took place from the 1500's hand fishermen coming more directly from Europe who were more likely to carry infectious diseases.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 07:07am

Broomstick wrote:
Simon_Jester wrote:From what I believe we already know, it's safe to conclude that the Norse voyaged to America from Greenland on multiple occasions, sometimes going there to harvest timber (which was unavailable in Greenland). If they found bog iron I'm not surprised they'd try to refine it, since iron wasn't available in Greenland either to the best of my knowledge.

Greenland had iron FROM SPACE!!!

Seriously - one of the world's largest iron meteorites, or at least chunks of meteorite, off Cape York. The usually stone age natives actually had some iron, cold-forging it and using for things like harpoon tips.
Diamond's book rather exhaustively discussed the limited resources available to the Greenland Norse, going into pretty extensive detail, and he made no mention of meteoritic iron. While this doesn't prove that such iron was never used by the Greenland Norse, it does suggest that it was seldom used, and certainly wasn't a consistent supply.

In which case, they may have found or traded for a hunk or two of the stuff somewhere during the centuries they occupied Greenland, but they'd still be scooping up any bog iron or other iron they could find.

These were the same people who would keep sharpening and resharpening the same kitchen knife until it was down to a one-inch stub like an over-sharpened pencil with a long-gone eraser. They were desperate for lack of metal towards the end, and even relatively early in the history of the colony (when the voyages to America took place), they were pretty hard up.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Broomstick » 2016-04-02 07:35am

Consider that the Native Inuit had to bash pieces of iron off the meteorites with rocks, then beat it into shape with rocks, and you'll understand that they didn't have more than fragments, either. This is an example of Inuit iron work:

Image

Greenland Norse would have somewhat the same problem - how do you deal with a 30+ ton hunk of meteoric iron when you're already desperately short of iron tools? The hunk is too large to move to a forge. They would pretty much be reduced to bashing off a hunk with rocks, too. It's a lot of iron, but not in a readily usable form.
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Re: Newly found ancient site could have been from Vikings

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 08:30am

The Norse generally didn't get very far inland, either, so meteoric iron inland would likely not be found by them.

Again, it bears remembering that the population of the Greenland settlements was two small villages and that was it. Not enough for any real kind of exploration.
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