Skip to comments.The Mystery of Maine’s Viking Penny
Posted on 12/27/2017 4:51:40 PM PST by Eurotwit
The coin is the real deal, but how did it get all the way from Norway?
ON FEBRUARY 6, 1979, KOLBJØRN Skaare, a Norwegian numismatist with a tall, wide forehead, walked into the Maine State Museum to see the coin. Just a few years earlier, he had published Coins and Coinage in Viking-Age Norway, a doctoral thesis that grew from the decade-plus he had spent as a keeper at the University of Oslos Coin Cabinet. The first specialist to examine the coin in person, he had just a day with it before Bruce J. Bourque, the museums lead archaeologist, had to address the national press.
Skaare saw a dark-grey, fragmentary piece, he later wrote. It had not been found whole, and the coin had continued to shed tiny bits since it was first weighed. A little less than two-thirds of an inch in diameter, it had a cross on one side, with two horizontal lines, and on the other side an animal-like figure in a rather barbarous design, with a curved throat and hair like a horses mane. In his opinion, it was an authentic Norwegian penny from the second half of the 11th century.
The mystery centered on its journey from Norway to Maine. It was possible to imagine, for example, that it had traveled through the hands of traders, from farther up the Atlantic coast, where Norse explorer Leif Eriksson was known to have built a winter camp. If the coin had come to America in the more recent decades, the hoaxerpresumably Mellgren, Runge, or someone playing a trick on themmust have been able to obtain a medieval Norse coin.
THE IDEA THAT VIKINGS REACHED the Americas before Columbus goes back to Icelandic sagas that describe journeys west from Greenland to a lush land of grass and grapes. For centuries these were considered only stories to all but a handful of enthusiasts, among them 19th-century Scandinavians who settled in America. Fiercely proud, they relied on these stories to defend their claim to their new country, often in the face of discrimination and scorn from earlier, Anglo-Saxon migrants. They believed the old sagas to be true and wanted evidence to prove it.
In 1960, Helge Instad and Anne Stine discovered the archaeological site at LAnse aux Meadows, and over years of excavations produced small artifactsa pin, a whorl, a whetstonethat tied the site to Vikings. By the time experts identified Mellgrens penny as Norse, archaeological evidence had already given those tales of ocean-crossing Vikings a toehold in North America.
After Mellgrens coin was identified as Norse, the Maine State Museum sent a team of professional archaeologists to the Goddard Site to better understand the context the coin had come from. While no other Norse artifact has ever been found there, the site did hold surprisesartifacts attesting to an explosion of trade contact between Native American groups, stretching from the eastern Great Lakes up to Labrador. At the same time the coin shows up, for instance, archery first appears in the region.
The site has an unspeakably dense concentration of archers, says Bourque. Excavations have turned up thousands of arrowheads, along with mounds of pottery sherds and stones that come from hundreds of miles away. Its off the charts, he says. The real mystery iswhat the hell is going on at the site at the time?
To Bourque, the coin is a clue in this other mystery. All sorts of objects that seem out of place in 12th-century Maine show up in this one spot, as if it were site of a pre-Columbian Worlds Fair for northeastern coastal America, from Lake Erie to Newfoundland. Unlike the sagasall story, little evidencethis site is full of interesting evidence in search of a story.
Isn’t this the final season?
“At the same time the coin shows up, for instance, archery first appears in the region.”
I don’t believe that.
Here’s hoping more evidence is dug up.
I’d really like to see the points/arrowheads they found, that would give us a pretty good idea of the age.
An Englishman from Wales reached here well before Columbus, sailed up the Mississippi River. DAR has a plaque noting the event.
It looks like it has a ship on one side and a Celtic cross on the other side.
The cross is similar to the one on this coin, an 11th century "Hiberno-Norse Silver Penny of Ireland."
Click image for source page.
I love the internet.
It is a wondrous place...
“I dont believe that.”
I see what You mean.
It has already been renewed for a season 6.
And, we do know that they planned originally just to tell Ragnar’s story, but that Hirst (the creator) dreamed of telling the entire viking age story culminating with them coming ashore in America.
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