Review: Viking America. The Norse Crossings and their Legacy

Viking America


Viking America The Norse Crossings and their Legacy by Robert Enterline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s only a short book, but that’s because there isn’t very much information about the Norse exploration of North America. There are some mentions in the Icelandic Sagas and, of course, there is a Viking settlements (or way-station) that has been discovered in northern Canada, at L’Anse aux Meadows, but very little else. Or is there?

From extensive work pouring over old maps, old texts and old legends, Robert Enterline worked out an interesting new theory, presented here in this book.

“First, that Leif Eiriksson’s successors in Greenland eventually vacated that land and spread throughout North America, as far as Alaska, meanwhile sending to Europe geographical information that sparked Columbus’ voyage. Second, that Leif Eiriksson’s North American “Vinland” of A.D. 1000 was not a land of grapes on the temperate eastern seaboard but a land of pastures in nearly arctic Canada.”

He does point out that his ideas that Norse exploration in America was a lot more extensive and long-lasting than the physical evidence so far might suggest, may well go against conventional thinking. “Such an idea is completely at variance with all hitherto accepted theories, which looked upon Leif’s contact with America as an isolated incident having no historical consequences.” Those theories also include the Greenland colony, from which the Norse Vinland explorers set out, died out somewhere around (if I read it right, 1400, give or take. His explanation, whie not necessarily ruling out the existing ideas, is different, logical and very interesting, leading as it does, to the first part of his theory.

The book also concentrates on Columbus and his voyage to rediscover the New World, as that tells us much about what he knew before he set out and where he knew it from. Where he got his idea that land was where he said it was, the book suggests, is those Norse explorations in northern America. It is perhaps worth saying here too, that you shouldn’t think ‘Vikings’ and have a picture from the story books (or the tv programme) in your mind. You should learn to call them ’Norse.’ And, when you see ‘America’ try not to think ‘USA’ but northern, up to the Arctic circle, Canada. In fact, attempting to remove preconceptions, is perhaps what the book tries to do. Saying we need to look at the evidence again, re-interpret, where it can be re-interpreted.

It is a little difficult sometimes, as he seems to have two competing ideas on what Columbus’ intentions (of finding) were and how he knew what he’d find and where. One is, I think, that Columbus knew there was land exactly where he found it. We think, or have built the legend that he was looking for Asia, but that knowledge of both the roundness and the size of the earth was sufficient at the time, to show that by sailing westward, with the supplies he had, there was no way he could have reached eastern Asia. Therefore, he must have known that there was something else where his supplies would run out and he only had that amount of supplies, because he knew something was there. And he knew that, thanks to the Norse explorations. “Detailed analysis of pre-Columbian maps, as well as other geographical ideas that were in the air just before the Columbian discovery of America, suggests strongly that such shadowy, frequently misunderstood information did exist, and was based on the dispersal of the Norse settlements in Greenland into America.”

The other idea is that the information coming back to Europe from the Norse explorations, was that what they had found, was the east coast of Asia. Though that that was never anything the Norse themselves claimed. This, if I read it right, would seem to be confirmed by Enterline’s stating that Columbus thought the world was actually pear shaped. The Norse themselves, thought they had discovered a new land, outside the (known) world and that if you travelled south along the coast of it long enough, you would come to Africa.

The book was published in 1972, and so I think while there is mention of the discoveries at L’Anse aux Meadows in the 1960’s, it seems like it was still ‘Breaking News.’ So, he doesn’t know about the nuts and the Jasper found at the site, which would seem, in essence, to compliment at the very least, his proposition.

It’s an analytic study of the actual evidence and his reasons for his theory, using both probability and possibility to construct some very convincing and intreguing arguments. So it doesnt read like a Giles Kristian or a Robert Low. It read to me, like a book trying to present a new theory, knowing there was going to be resistance from the established Archaeological and Historical community, but that Historical romantics with perhaps more open minds *raises hand* would appreciate the theory being presented. So, the tone is one in the middle of dry factual study and more appealing easy reading for Historical Fiction aficionados. You’re not going to race through it, not being able to put it down, but give it a go and see what you think. If you know something of the background, you’ll be intrigued, if you know nothing, it might just set you off on further explorations of your own.

I’m giving it 5 stars because it is so darned interesting and is a positive, up-beat alternative to Erik Wahlgren’s ‘Im right, you’re wrong’ ‘The Vikings and America.’

Click on the book cover at the top and you’ll go to a search page for the title on Abe Books. That’s where I got my copy.

Me, on Goodreads

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