Musings from the Hill, Oct. 8, 2015
There were many explorations of the New World long before Christopher Columbus. I have collected articles for years of discoveries of ancient inscriptions on rocks from far north of Canada, along coastal regions of the United States and the eastern coasts of South America. The carvings have been attributed to people from many different origins including Celtic, Norse and the Far East.
In September 2007, the Smithsonian acquired Clovis points (arrowheads) discovered in Colorado, which were dated 12,000 years old and were made from rocks found in the Texas panhandle, 450 miles south. They are strikingly similar to those found in Europe. Dennis Stanford, head of archeology at the National Museum of Natural History, believes this contradicts the present belief that ancestors of the Clovis originally came from Asia. Did Europeans migrate by boat along the ice shelf in the North Atlantic, eventually landing on the east coast of North America?
Nine hundred years before Columbus, could Irish missionaries have been in east Virginia, and many other sites in our country, including New England and the western grasslands? Barry Fell, professor emeritus of Harvard University, believes this to be true. Irish monastic records state that St. Brendan made two voyages across the Atlantic in the sixth century. Ancient inscriptions, found in many different places in the United States and long thought to be the work of Indians, are written in an ancient Irish alphabet, Ogam, Fell and his colleagues say.
In the Bourne, Mass., Historical Society is an inscribed stone found by New England settlers in 1658. It was long assumed to be of Norse origin. Linguist and ancient language professor Fell translated the two-line inscription as a proclamation from the famous Phoenician explorer, Hanno, circa 500 B.C.E., as saying, “Proclamation of annexation. Do not deface. Hanno of this takes possession.” It is similar to the other inscribed stones found along the Atlantic Coast.
Recorded in Groenlendings’ “Saga of the Norse,” Thorvald and his son, Erik the Red, left Norway for Iceland by A.D. 982. Iceland was extensively settled. The oldest mainland settlement possible was Greenland, established by Erik after he was banned form Iceland. Bjarni Herjolfsson, looking for his father, learned he had sold his farm in Iceland and gone to Greenland. While searching Bjarni was blown off course and found the coast of Labrador, the easternmost part of continental North America. This took place eight years after Columbus landed in the Caribbean, not mainland America.
The climate in Greenland changed after 1200 and the period is known as The Little Ice Age. Possibly frozen seas contributed to the colony’s demise. Norse sagas last mention Greenland in 1409 and evidence suggests it was completely deserted by the end of the 1400s. Did the Vikings blend with the Thule natives who came into the area about the same time from farther north? Who can say?
First settlers in New England encountered reddish-haired grey-eyed Indians. Don Coldsmith wrote in his novel “Runestone” an interesting fictional account of what could have occurred. At Runestone State Park in Missouri, one can view an inscribed stone, which some believe to be of Viking origin, though disputable. Baldwin City Public Library has this book.
Now the Chinese enter the scene with Admiral Zheng He (1371 – 1433). His fleet was huge and his ships enormous. Some historians believe evidence points to the Chinese fleet sailing up the coast of California. The Chinese became xenophobic, abandoned naval exploration, and began building the Great Wall.
A new group enters the picture from Wales. According to an account of 1782 in South Carolina archives, Welsh-speaking Indians with reddish hair were encountered. In 1570 a fleet of 10 ships sailed west form Wales and were never heard of again.
Amerigo Vespucci, Henry Hudson and any number of others could easily hold the honor as we celebrate Columbus Day.