In pre- Columbian America there is evidence to show that there were both Norse and African presence present before the arrival of Christopher Columbus’ maiden voyage in 1492. The presence of the Africans was first stated by Christopher Columbus himself in his voyage diaries, which he claimed was told to him by an Indian on his second voyage. This was later solidified by Portuguese seamen who also told of African navigation to Columbus. On the other hand the Nordic Movement into pre- Columbian America was stimulated by the adventurous and nomadic nature of the Norsemen.
The men hailed from Northern Britain, Scandinavia, Northern Germany and the Netherlands. They were also known as Northman which was interchangeable with the term ‘Viking’. This essay will assess the botanical, archaeological and oceanography evidence along with the African and Egyptian Cultural history of the African presence along with the botanical, metallurgical, archaeological, cartographical, oral and written evidence of the Nordic presence in the pre- Columbian America.
To prove that African presence existed in pre-Colombian America before Columbus’ arrival Professor Van Sertima presented archaeological evidence in many forms. The first piece of archaeological evidence was the Guanine. The Italian account Raccolta of the voyages reads “there were pieces of gua-nin as large as carvel’s poop. ”1 This alloy existed predominantly with Africans who were outside of the Atlantic World. It was generally found on the tips of spears and other weapons making this an important component for the indigenous societies.
The trading of this alloy was extensive between the Africans and the Indigenous people. “… and he (Columbus) wanted to find out what the Indians of Hipiola had told him, that there had come to it from the south and southwest Negro people, who brought those spear points made of a metal which they called guanine, of which he had sent to the king and queen for assaying, and which was found to have thirty two arts, eighteen of gold, six of silver, and eight of copper. ” – Raccolta, PARTE , VOL. This piece of archaeological evidence helps Van Sertima to show that before Columbus arrived there was interaction between the Africans and the people of the Atlantic World via the form of trade. “The Negroid element is well proven by the large Olmec stone monuments as well as the terracotta items and therefore cannot be excluded from the pre-Columbian history of the Americas. ”- ALEXANDER VON WUTHENAU2. The most important of all the archaeological findings of African presence were that of the Negroid Olmec heads found in La Venta, Tres Zapotes and San Lorenzo, between the period of 1939-1940.
This piece of evidence was the most concrete of all that Van Sertima collected to explain pre-Columbian African contact. These were large carved stone heads reaching six to nine feet high, weighing up to forty tons each3 and were carved out of basalt stone. When they were unearthed in both central and south America it was declared by Van Sertima “There is no denying their negroness either, the features are not only nergo African in type but individual in their facial particulars cancelling out the possibility of ritual stereotypes of an unknown race produced by some quirk of the sculptor’s imagination. Not only did these heads have the facial features of that of an African but on one of the stone heads dug up was found to have Ethiopian braids These Olmec heads were the most convincing pieces of evidence of African presence in the pre-Columbian presence that Van Sertima presented in his theory.
As much as archaeological evidence is important so is oral history and traditions, as quoted “We are vessels of speech, we are the repositories which harbour secrets many centuries old without us the names of kings would vanish from oblivion, we are the memory of mankind; by the spoken word we bring to life the deeds and exploits of kings of younger generations”4. There are oral records within African societies giving parallel accounts and evidence to substantiate the findings presented in Van Sertima’s theory. The story of king Abubakari of the ancient Mali kingdom was passed down orally from generation to generations.
King Abubakari set sail in 1311 with a well equipped naval fleet to cross the Atlantic although he failed within the evidence that is presented now of his arrival around the time that links African presence in south America. It also highlights the fact that it was more than just a mere coincidence thus showing a direct link and connection between two civilizations. Professor Van Sertima also present evidence in oceanography to verify historical reports and accounts the journey from West Africa to the Americas was possible.
Geographical research shows that there are three major current off the coast of Africa leading automatically to the Americas. Perhaps Heyerdahl’s greatest contribution has been shown by example that long voyages in “primitive” craft were not impossible. This may have been necessary for some Amercanists; it was not for those who knew the sea5. Thor Heyerdahl; a Norwegian writer and explorer made more than an academic study of these ships used. Heyerdahl put the ship building ideas and designs of the ancient Egyptians to a practical test to make it across the Atlantic to the Americas from Africa.
Using the most primitive of the boats; built from the papyrus reed Heyerdahl conducted two experiments with the vessels Ra and Ra which visualized the Trans Atlantic Current. The Ra set out from Safi, on the Atlantic coast of North Africa, on May 25, 1969. It sailed to within a few days of the New World before it got into serious trouble. The Heyerdahl expedition had made one mistake… A smaller model, Ra, built on the identical Egyptian pattern… made it across the Atlantic from Africa successfully6.
This experiment proved to be successful crediting the theory that the Africans may have used the sea route to reach the Atlantic World. The adoption of a new plant is no simple matter. It requires the adoption of a whole complex of knowledge about the plant’s ecological requirements, and often also about the human usage of the plant. The presence of even one transferred plant means that a quite effective contact has been made between two people7. In traditional Africa their main form of currency was the use of shells and cocoa beans as currency rather than other symbolic items.
This factor could be seen translated in the currency of the Mesoamericans as Botanical continuities was presented by the presence of African species found in the Americas for example the Jack bean is believed to be a crop of African origin that was brought to the Americans before Columbus’ arrival, West African yam has also been found in the America additionally other plants that became a major aspect of the Atlantic World such as banana and maize hints towards African cultural influences in the region. On the other hand now there is the theory that the Vikings were here before Columbus as well.
The most prominent source of evidence of pre-Columbian Viking contact with the New World can be found in the Icelandic Annals (chronicles): Islending book, Flateyjar book and Landnama book. Evidently this area which is now the home of the copper Eskimo and other Eskimo, was occupied by the Eskimos in Viking times, for its Icelandic name of the map is Einjoetingidand (Land of the Einfoeting). The story of Einfoeting related in the Icelandic saga of Rarlsefni is declared by Godfrey to be “wholly impossible. ”8 Initially these sagas were passed on orally until Adam of Brehemin also known as Adamus Brenamus of Cleric began transcribing these tories in 1070. These sagas made special reference to the New World described are generally termed ‘Vinland’ but are found in sections of the Greenlanders saga and Erik “the Red”. The sagas documented the arrival to three territories: Helluland (flat), Markland (timber) and Vinland (grapes), which were taken to be now Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland in Canada. Correspondence with Newfoundland officials, Lloyd’s explorations in 1873, and preliminary explorations for the author by Alf Budden of Sops Arm, Newfoundland, in 1940 indicated that the Sops Arm area was the site of the first Norse settlement in Vinland9.
Most important of these places mentioned in the sagas seemed to have been Vinland as several expeditions were taken to that place. Some of the expeditions were taken by: Lief Erikson, Thorvald Erikson, Thorstein Erikson, Thorfin Karlefin, Freydis Erikson. It was wildly believed that is now present day L’Anse aux Meadows. Other than their sagas the Vikings had more concrete evidence in cartography and mapmaking. The interpretation of the Viking charts by the author has been verified by the Hydrographic Office of the U. S. Navy10.
A world map adated about 1440 was found in 1965, this map clearly showed locations of Vinland. It was found in a book called the Vinland map and “Tartar relation”. Irrefutable evidence of the Vikings’ discoveries in America is their navigation charts. These were marked in Old Icelandic the names they gave to the areas they discovered. Showing coasts and waterways of ancient America, they belong to a series of more than 35 maps of the ancient world which have been preserved for thousands of years in various parts of the Old World11.
We can conclude from this that this piece of evidence supported the theory of Viking presence in pre-Columbian America. “Two iron shovels were found, one in an Enkieling furnace and one in a hearth-pit furnaces . A. M. Hall, metallurgist of the Battelle Memorial Institute, examined these shovels and reported that they had been made by cladding two carburized iron sheets together”12. Evidence of Norse style smelting was uncovered at an excavation site in L’Anse aux Meadows. Iron manufacturing was an activity where bogore, which was a form of iron from which bogs was processed in order to make boat nails.
This need for boats nails explains the introduction for iron smelting in the Americas. “Two Enkielings of the pit type, two of the above ground type, and ten hearth-pit furnaces were excavated in the Deer Creek Valley. There were three kinds of hearth-pit furnaces, all types that were used in the Old World before the fourteenth centurary”13. This piece of evidence solidifies the theory of the Vikings’ presence. During the excavation at the site in L’Anse aux Meadows, the Norwegian explorer; Helge Ingstads, found remnants of a Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960.
This was founded in the province of Newfoundland in Canada along with butternut; three to be exact, that were preserved. More importantly these bogs found contained tanic acid which can preserve both organic and inorganic materials for centuries. The presence of these butternuts suggests that they were transported to the area rather than grown there. This adds more value to the pre-Columbian Nordic presence theory. Also a burl which is a roundish, warty outgrowth from the trunk and roots of certain trees of butternut wood was also found in the bog.
Thus it can be safely concluded that Vikings brought this wood with them. Similarly items made with Scott’s pine also known as pinus Sylvertris were found in the bog. Again this type of wood did not grow in that area and it was common for utensils to be made from it in the Old World. The most impressive evidence of Vikings in the New World comes from L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland. In 1960 most of the archaeological evidence was gathered there from excavation by Ingstad. The Ingstads found a Norse site one hundred metres from the ocean shore comprising of three complexes.
All the buildings were located on a narrow beach terries surrounding a sedge peat bog and a wet sphagnum bog. These houses have usually been circular; if they were rectangular, their width was only slightly less than their length14. The early Scandinavians up to the 12th century lived in dwellings which were different from all other communal houses in the old World because they were long, narrow, one room, one story buildings with two passage ways and a long central hearth extending lengthwise through the building.
The only lighting came from the fire on the hearth and through openings left in the roof to permit smoke to escape15. The buildings were made from a timber frame covered in sod and the roofs were steeply peaked. Some items found at this site that were preserved in the bog included wood shavings and chips from the carpentry shop, items of broken wood, tree nails which were used in their ship building, plank patch for cracked boat stakes, a bow for an auger and pieces of rope made from spruce roots. Also a Viking coin was found at the Goddard site dating to A.
D. 1070. The coin was the only Norse artefact found. I t was also determined to be in this place16 because of trade between the Vikings and Native Americans17. In conclusion it can be noted that from all the evidence put forward of both Norse and African presence in the pre-Columbian Americas some out weight the other in being concrete historical evidence. However it can be said that due to all this evidence it can be stated that there was interaction between both groups and the indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Europeans.
Sources 1. Leo Wiener, African and the Discovery of America, Philadelphia, Innes and Sons, 1920-1922, Vol. 1. 2. Alexander Von Wuthenau, The Art of Terra-cotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian South and Central America 3. Michael Coe, Mexico, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1962 p. 88 4. The Words of the Mali Griot Mamadou Kouyate, Quoted in D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali A. D. 1217- 1237 5. Clinton Edwards, Man Across the Sea 6. Thor Heyerdahl, “Isolationist or Diffusionist? ” in Ashe, op. cit. . G. F. Carter, “Movement of People and Ideas,” In Plants and Migrations, edited by J. Barrau 8. Godfrey 1955: 36 9. Mallery 1951: 11 10. Walters 1956: 2-5 11. Walters 1956: 2 12. Mallery 1951:134a 13. Mallery 1951: 193, 193d, 194b, 196d 14. “Vikings in America : Theories and Evidence” (American Anthropologists 7:35-43) 15. Norlwnd 1924: 77ff; Roussell1934: 34ff; Dasent 1861:XCV 16. The Fact and Fiction of Vikings in America, Archaeology of Vikings in the U. S. , Kari L. Springer 17. William 1991:222
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