The Extent of Indigenous-Norse Contact and Trade Prior to Columbus
By Donald E. Warden
Oglethorpe Journal of Undergraduate Research, Vol. 6:1 (2016)
Abstract: Norse exploration during the medieval period was widespread and diverse in location. Of the many places visited by the Norse, North America has continued to be surrounded by mystery. The full extent of Norse exploration in North America is a growing field and the extent of their contact and trade with Indigenous Americans is becoming increasingly known. A thorough compilation of the evidence allows for significant, new conclusions to be made about Norse presence in the Americas.
Introduction: Recent discoveries utilizing satellite technology from Sarah Parcak; archaeological sites from the 1960s, ancient, fantastical Sagas, and centuries of scholars thereafter each paint a picture of Norse-Indigenous contact and relations in North America prior to the Columbian Exchange. Each of these sources combine like a jigsaw puzzle to illustrate the extent, timeframe, and process of Norse ventures into North America and the extent of their continued contact with Indigenous peoples. Previous attempts at this discussion have been stifled by the academic hegemony of the post-Columbus exploration of the Americas, which left the rich history of the Norse-Indigenous encounters largely ignored and discredited as chance encounters by lost Norse sailors.
As recently as 2003 Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, in her discussion of L’Anse aux Meadows, one of the only well-documented and preserved Norse site in the Americas, claims that the incursion into the Americas “was an experiment quickly abandoned”. Ultimately, she concludes that the settlement was a meager resource gathering point – a waystation – or wintering ground for at most fifty years, and notes that keeping the traffic between the North American colonies and Norway would have been difficult.
Despite this review describing a site occupied for fifty years, discussions of trade and sustained interaction between Indigenous peoples and the Norse is not widely considered; however, the lack of consistent interaction with Greenland coupled with the Norse desire to explore makes interaction crucial to Norse survival in the Americas. Utilizing evidence from ancient and contemporary sources – literary and archaeological – the extent of NorseIndigenous relations can be evaluated with an aim to dispel historical inaccuracy, preserve cultural identities, and revitalize a now burgeoning historical exploration.