Fig. 1. Approximate overlaps on Inverted Skuldelev Hulls
|Oseberg||Burial Ship||21.6m (70.9ft)||5.0m (16.4ft)||4.320 : 1||
|Gokstad||Burial Ship||23.3m (76.5ft)||5.2m (17ft)||4.880 : 1||
|Ladby||Burial Ship||21.5m (70.6ft)||3.0m (9.85ft)||7.167 : 1||
|Skuldelev 1||Trader||16.5m (54.2ft)||4.5m (14.8ft)||3.666 : 1||
|Skuldelev 2||Longship||30m (98.5ft)||4.5m (14.8ft)||6.666 : 1||
|Skuldelev 3||Trader||13.5m (44.3ft)||3.4m (11.2ft)||3.971 : 1||
|Skuldelev 5||Longship||17.5m (57.5ft)||2.5m (8.2ft)||7 : 1||
|Roskilde 6||Longship||36m (118.2ft)||5.4m (17.7ft)||6.666 : 1||
Length-to-Width Ratios for Single and Paired Viking Ships
L/W Ratio 1: Length-to-width Ratios for single ships
L/W Ratio 2: Length-to-width Ratios for two ships side-by-side.
The width for Roskilde 6 is scaled up from Skuldelev 2.
This still leaves the problem of the high prows and the high sterns on Viking ships, and in the case of the Oseberg Ship with its integral twin "Serpents of Wisdom" rising from prow and stern the objection remains valid, though this vessel belongs to an earlier period and was likely a special ship in addition. But as it turns out, we now know from Skuldelev 5 that some Viking Longships had a most practical feature, namely "loose stemposts," i.e., the figureheads at both ends of the ships were removable. Which also largely removes the objection to inverting Viking ships in our present context. Thus we may now embrace the notion that the Longships, especially side-by-side pairs, might be candidates for at least some the stone longhouse roofs after all. But before doing so we might also ask whether there are any other indicators or modifications made to Viking ships that might also be applicable, both here and with respect to the Northwest Passage in general. Firstly, signs of strengthening for lengthy transits through icy seas, or indicators relatable to the paired inverted boat hypothesis. Successful in this pursuit or not, it is necessary to remember that although we have the remains of a variety of Viking ships, the time scale under consideration runs from 800 CE to 1450 CE. Thus we really cannot claim to know whether any intermediate sizes existed between the limits of the extant examples, or whether there were any significant departures from known designs. What can be suggested, though, is that the relatively rounded hulls of most Viking ships would have been more likely to rise up between closing ice floes than become trapped between them like many later vessels that ventured into the Arctic. What one might also hope to find (for reasons that will become apparent below) are signs of unusual reworking, especially along the sides and keels involving additional nailing and similar modifications. With respect to the latter some Viking ships appear to have had their rounded oarports rendered square in addition to other work, e.g., Skuldelev 5 once again, as Otto Uldrum explains in the technical description on this ship supplied by NAVIS:
During the excavation it was noted that some of the oarports in the ash gunwale strake had been sealed off with patches of oak, and that some of these were square while others round. The distances between the round oarports were 80 cm, while the square ones were 91 cm apart. This led to the conclusion that this plank had been re-used from an older ship with another spacing between the thwarts and oarports. Later analyses have shown that the pine strakes five and six also had been re-used. Earlier holes from treenail fastenings had been plugged and new ones drilled for this new ship. The ship had been extensively repaired, especially in the bow where even a length of the keel had been replaced. (Otto Uldrum; emphases supplied)None of this necessarily proves that this particular ship ever plied the Northwest Passage, of course, and as we shall see later there are other possibilities concerning modifications that might point towards the South rather than the North in any case. What the square oar-holes do provide, however, are room for thought, namely that if two Skuldelev 5 Longships were to be inverted side-by-side and used as the roof of a single stone longhouse, them some form of structural support might well have been in order.
INVERTED HULLS I: THE
NORTHWEST GREENLAND STONE LONGHOUSE
Fig. 2. Inverted Skuldelev 5 Hulls and the Greenland Longhouse
INVERTED HULLS II: THE
KUUK RIVER STONE LONGHOUSE
Map 2. The Northwest Passage: High and Low Arctic Routes
Fig. 3. The Kuuk River Longhouse and the superimposed 36-metre Longship.
At this juncture it seems necessary to emphasize -- all preconceptions and notions to the contrary -- that the High Arctic Route through the Northwest Passage may have been more than a possibility during the period under discussion ( 800 - 1100 CE.). This becomes clear from a surprising source, namely a journey through the Passage itself during the summer of 2000:
An RCMP ship (the St. Roche II captained by Ken Burton) has crossed through the fabled Northwest Passage – an area that has stranded mariners of the past in its icy grip for years at a time – in just three weeks, going for days on end without seeing any ice at all.Not to mention saving more time by not having to go around South America. But what might not be quite so apparent, however, is that if the High Arctic Route through the Northwest Passage was indeed navigable, then this would be by far the swiftest and easiest route to take; which may or may not have been a factor that influenced Viking activities on and around Ellesmere and Devon Islands, the top of Baffin Island at Nunguvik and Button Point on the south-east tip of Bylot Island (see Map 2 above and Map 2b below). In this context Button Point, incidentally, might well be considered “the Ultimate End” (ultima thule) because that is what it likely represents in terms of a west-to-east transit of the Northwest Passage. In other words, the final end of the High Arctic Route via Parry Channel, Navy Board Inlet down to Nunguvik and eastwards past Pond Inlet to Button Point, located slightly lower than the 73rd parallel that runs through the lower part of Bylot Island (a line of latitude that by an odd concidence also runs just below Mount Thule, the Island's largest mountain).
... The vessel’s oddly calm trip through one of marine history’s most feared routes has raised new questions about whether global warming is to blame for the changing climate in the Arctic....
... the ship’s relatively flat bottom allowed it to travel through narrow ice-free areas as shallow as two metres that larger boats could not...
‘Essentially we didn’t see any ice at all, which I found startling and alarming,’ Burton said. ‘I didn’t in my wildest dreams expect to be able to navigate through ice-free waters.’ Burton and his crew expected to encounter more ice than they did, which put them ahead of schedule. With more time on their hands, they journeyed as far north as 75 degrees – about 200 kilometres further north than planned, and within 1,000 nautical miles of the north pole. ‘We were north of Resolute [ on one of Canada’s most northern islands ] and still sitting in an ice-free ocean.’
... The St. Roch II’s ice-free journey through the Northwest Passage is the latest piece of anecdotal evidence that Canada’s north is undergoing dramatic climate change. And policy makers are just beginning to understand the implications of those changes... If the current trend continues the Northwest Passage could be easily navigated by container ships as early as 2050..
The distance from Asia to Europe through the Panama Canal is about 19,000 kilometres. A trip through the Northwest Passage would be about 13,000 kilometres – shaving 6,000 kilometres off the journey and saving time and money.(Chad Skelton, “Northwest Passage voyage no longer an ice-filled ordeal,” The Vancouver Sun, September 11, 2000; emphases supplied)
But even so an unlikely scenario that far north in our present context? Perhaps, but not as unlikely as it might seem in the case of the Vikings or their ships. Nor for that matter are long "houses" of the kind discussed above unusual in this particular context either. In fact the following information by Almgren et al (1975:193) suggests that the Vikings might even have perfected the technique on home ground:
Curiously enough, during the late Viking Age a strikingly severe standardization of house-types sometimes occurred, when individual houses were all built according to one standard pattern and show a quite amazing resemblance to each other. Such houses are found in the great Danish military camps excavated at Trelleborg, Aggersborg and Fyrkat (page 63). The houses in each of these camps are exactly the same size, but house-sizes differ somewhat from camp to camp. In Trelleborg the houses are exactly a hundred Roman feet long. At the widest point they measure twenty-six feet across. The gables are straight, and the long sides are sections of an extremely regular ellipse. The construction of the walls, as was the case in one of the houses found at Hedeby, is double: there is the wall proper, and then, outside it, at a distance of three feet, a row of posts running parallel with it. At Fyrkat and Aggersborg the actual house walls consisted of wattle-work, and the outer posts leaned inwards, thereby strengthening the wattle-work and helping buttress the weight of the roof.As for the significance of the Kuuk River location itself, the implications loom large on a number of counts, especially:
The builders at Trelleborg evidently felt a real need for houses with a large open space in the middle. This was achieved by eliminating the series of support posts inside, which had been obligatory in the older design, and by giving the walls their ellipse-like shape. Questions of economy may have dictated the new house-design, for it allowed a saving in timber. But the need for a free space in the middle of a house was evident earlier in the Iron Age, and was achieved by construction on the same principle used in Trelleborg houses. What seems to have been a sixth-century ship-house - a so-called naust - has been excavated to the south of Bergen in Norway. Ninety-two feet long by twenty-three feet wide, the house had to be big enough to hold an entire longship. The building material most readily available dictated the building methods used. In the coastal areas of north-western Europe suitable timber was scarce, and as a result wattle-and-daub construction predominated there until superseded by half-timbering. In more heavily forested areas such as eastern and central Europe, it was not only possible, but usually necessary, because of the severe winters, to build houses that were more solid. Construction methods requiring an abundance of timber - such as cross-timbering - naturally occur in these areas. No cross-timbering exists at Hedeby, however. It is still not known when this technique first gained a foothold in Scandinavia. It is found in the burial chambers in the early Viking Age graves at Oseberg and Gokstad in Norway, but no other definite instances of early cross-timbering are known. (THE VIKING, Bertil Almgren, et al , A.B. Nordbook, Gothenburg, 1975:193; emphases supplied)
1. The only way such a ship could reach the Kuuk River from the east would be:
a) Via the High Arctic route through Prince of Wales Strait --also the most direct path; which perhaps provides
a further explanation for the activities described by Schlederman (1975) on Ellesmere and Devon Islands and
also the occurrence of stone cairns so far north in the High Arctic.
Map 2c. The Northwest Passage: The Shortest (High Arctic) Route and the Kuuk River site
b) or via the Low Arctic route through Dolphin & Union strait.Here it becomes necessary to examine possibilities that involve the use of copper--the relatively pure, malleable form known to have existed in this exact region of the Canadian Arctic; other regions in North America noteworthy for pure copper are the Isle Royale/Great Lakes deposits of northern Michigan and although apparently less known, the pure copper deposits along southern Alaska's Copper and White Rivers. In fact it is this latter region that concerns us first.
2. Either way this means that the ship successfully passed through the Northwest Passage.
3. The implications of the Kuuk River location itself. What might a Viking ship or Viking ships be doing here?
a) Was it an unfortunate consequence of a westward passage that arrived too late to continue on to Alaska?
b) Or a returning eastbound voyage arriving there too late for further eastward travel before the winter set in?
4. Or was there an additional reason for stopping at the Kuuk River location, and if so, what might it have been?
THE COPPER CANOE
Because the present inquiry concerns the consequences of possible Viking transits though the Northwest Passage it is necessary to consider the first inhabited region (besides the Arctic) where contact was most likely to have taken place. This is undoubtedly the territory of the Tlingit Indians that embraces the southern coast of Alaska. As will be described next in Part 6, the Tlingit--the northernmost Indians--became intimately involved with the complexities of weaving with the Yakutat region and the head of the Lynn Canal playing important roles in the matter. Just to the west of Yakutat lie the Copper and White Rivers mentioned earlier as major sources of pure Pacific Northwest copper. With this background it is helpful to start with origins surrounding the use of copper and the story of the Pacific Northwest "Copper Canoe."
One of the first references occurs in the modern introduction to John R. Jewitt's account of his capture by the Nootka of Vancouver Island ca.1800, where it is granted that Juan Perez arrived in Nootka Sound in 1774 but nevertheless suggested that the latter's priority in the region may be questioned, i.e.,
That Perez was the first foreigner to come close to Nootka Sound is open to debate. John Meares, a British ship captain sent to consolidate British presence in the area after Captain Cook's departure, stated in his Voyages made in the Years 1778 and 1789, from China to the North West Coast of America (London 1790) that the Mowachaht told him that their ancestors had met a man in a copper canoe who possessed numerous metal things. However, it is difficult to evaluate the accuracy of such a story. (John R. Jewitt, White Slaves of Maquinna: John R. Jewitt's Narrative of Capture and Confinement at Nootka, Heritage House, Surrey, 2000:10; emphases supplied)Another unexpected reference to a "copper canoe" in the Pacfic Northwest occurs in "Many Swans: Sun Myth of the North American Indians" a Kathlamet legend recounted by Amy Lowell in 1920. The story is itself complex as can be seen from the following excerpt that leads up to the reference in question:
.. The old woman went behind the door and hung up something. It pleased him. It was shining. When he woke in the night, he saw it in the glow of the fire. He liked it, and he liked the skins he lay on and the woman who lay with him. He thought only of these things. In the morning, the old woman unhooked the shining object and went out, and he turned about to his wife and said sharp, glad words to her and she to him, and the sun shone into the house until evening, and in the night again he was happy, because of the thing that glittered and flashed and moved to and fro, clashing softly on the wall.A third reference to the Pacific Northwest "Copper Canoe" occurs with respect to the origin of "Coppers"--trapezoidal copper plates that had a special value and a special place in the region. Collated by Frederica de Laguna, both short and long versions of the story are as follows:
The days were many. He did not count them. Every morning the old woman took out the shining thing, and every evening she brought it home, and all night it shone and cried "Ching-a-ling" as it dangled against the wall. Moons and moons went by, no doubt. Many Swans did not reckon them out. Was there an earth? Was there a sky? He remembered nothing. He did not try. And then one day, wandering along the street of carved houses, he heard a song. He heard the beat of rattles and drums, and the shrill humming of trumpets blown to a broken rhythm...
... And the drums rumbled like the first thunder of a year, and the rattles pattered like rain on flower petals, and the trumpets hummed as wind hums in round-leafed trees; and people ran, jumping, out of the Spring Salmon house and leapt to the edge of the sky and disappeared, falling quickly, calling the song to one another as they fell so that the sound of it continued rising up for a long time. Many Swans listened, and he recollected that when the Spring Salmon jump, the children say: "Ayuu! Do it again!" He thought of his children and his wife whom he had left on the earth, and wondered who had brought them meat, who had caught fish for them, and he was sad at his thoughts and wept, saying: "I want to shoot birds for my children. I want to spear trout for my children." So he went back to his house, and his feet dragged behind him like nets drawn across sand.He lay down upon his bed and grieved, because he had no children in the sky, and because the wife of his youth was lost to him. He would not eat, but lay with his head covered and made no sound. Then Grass-Bush-and-Blossom asked him: "Why do you grieve?" But he was silent. And again she said: "Why do you grieve?" But he answered nothing. And she asked him many times, until at last he told her of his children, of his other wife whom he had left, and she was pitiful because she loved him. When the old woman came, she also said: "What ails your husband that he lies there saying nothing?" And Grass-Bush-and-Blossom answered: "He is homesick. We must let him depart." Many Swans heard what she said, and he got up and made himself ready. Now the old woman looked sadly at him. "My son," she said, "I told you it was a bad beginning. But I wish to love you. Choose among these things what you will have and return to your people."
Many Swans pointed to the shining thing behind the door and said, "I will have that." But the old woman would not give it to him. She offered him spears of bone, and yew bows, and arrows winged with ducks' feathers. But he would not have them. She offered him strings of blue and white shells, and a copper canoe with a stern-board of copper and a copper bailer. He would not take them. He wanted the thing that glittered and cried "Ching-a-ling" as it dangled against the wall. She offered him all that was in the house. But he liked that great thing that was shining there. When that thing turned round it was shining so that one had to close one's eyes. He said: "That only will I have." Then she gave it to him saying: "You wanted it. I wished to love you, and I do love you." She hung it on him. "Now go home." (excerpt from "Many Swans: Sun Myth of the North American Indians," Amy Lowell, North American Review, Vol. 212, New York, July-December 1920; emphases supplied.
Emmons reported a story from Wrangell that deals with the origin of "coppers." It is a variant of the stories recorded by Swanton at Wrangell and Sitka, although in these the monster killed by the widow's son was her father's miraculous brown bear canoe, which was made of copper plates (Swanton 1909, Tale 31, pp. 132-33; Tale 89, pp. 252-61):Bearing in mind that the first reference to the "Copper Canoe" must be at least one generation before 1778 and quite possibly far earlier than this, the references to the "copper canoe" seem most likely distorted descriptions of a small ship with copper sheathing on the hull. Not necessarily "a large fishlike monster" per se either, but just possibly a ship with a dragon figurehead perhaps. This is not quite that casual a suggestion, for specific to the Pacific Northwest is the legend of the "Sisiutl" or two headed sea-monster. Moreover, the heads of the "sea monsters" depicted on Vancouver Island petroglyphs are indeed comparable with Viking figure-heads, as will be shown later in Part 7.
In early days in a more southern Tlingit village there was a widow and her son. She was a malicious gossip and in her evil talk created much trouble that culminated in a conflict in which many were killed. This led to her exile and she wandered far away with her son. He was a hunter and supported them both. One day before he went out, his mother told him that when he saw an animal he should shoot his arrow and call like a raven. [This cry was common magic to avert evil. ] When he came to a lake, he saw a large fishlike monster coming toward him. Shooting and calling as he had been told, he killed it. Upon returning home, he told his mother he did not know what he had killed but that it looked like a huge shark and was covered with great scales or plates. The mother told him to take these off and to keep them, as they would make him rich. With his stone tools he cut down the middle of the monster's back and removed all the heavy plates which he stacked like wood by the house. When this was done, a visiting Tsimshian stopped, and, seeing the pile of shining plates, evidently of copper, bought one for twenty blankets, one mink skin, and one [sea] otter skin. Later, others came to buy and the hunter became wealthy. The plates were bright at first, but later tumed almost black. The plates were used as ornaments on or in the house [of the hunter?], which was given the name ..."dark copper house", and the lineage became the ...."Copper House Family." In some unexplained way the Ga-yatze hit-tan ... "Iron House Family," was looked upon as the same line. (The Tlingit Indians, by George Thornton Emmons, Edited with Additions by Frederica de Laguna with a biography by Jean Low, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 1991:180; emphases supplied).
The above stories themselves seem somewhat confused, but one thing is clear enough, whatever the sea monster was, it undoubtedly had copper plates that were removable. Perhaps more importantly, the plates also seem to have been new, i.e., bright, thus suggesting that the copper sheathing was also recent. But the use of metal sheathings on ships is not new in itself. All three of the ships used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage had copper sheathing on their hulls, and similar usage is also attested for much earlier periods than this, e.g., wrecks at Kyrenia (Cyprus) dating from around 306 BCE and Spargia (Sardinia) ca.110 BCE both had lead-sheathed hulls. Against this copper sheathing is not known to have been used on Viking ships and complications with clinker style hulls also need to be taken into consideration. Nevertheless there are undoubtedly advantages to be gained from copper sheathing when plying both northern and tropical seas. The first is obvious enough given the added strength to the light wooden hulls of Viking ships, for even in summer ice can still cause severe damage in Arctic waters. The application in warmer southern climates may not be immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with the problem, but it concerns the protection of hulls against fouling in general and attacks by "shipworms" in particular (actually, by the teredo, a form of mollusk).
How does the latter problem affect the Vikings and their ships in our present context? This depends to some extent on how much credence one places on the Viking Sagas and also how much the information in them may have become degraded or changed. Proceeding with these provisos, towards the end of Eirik the Red's Saga in a somewhat confusing and muddled passage (the Hauksbok version is given in brackets) in the second half it is stated that Bjarni:"came into wormy waters, and before they knew it the ship grew worm eaten under them." The passage in full is as follows:
[But Bjarni GrimolLsson was carried into the Greenland [H. Ireland] Sea and came into wormy waters, and before they knew it the ship grew worm-eaten under them. They talked over what plan they should adopt. They had a tow-boat which was coated with seal-tar, and it is common knowledge that the shell-worm does not bore into timber which is coated with seal-tar. The voice of the majority was to man this boat with as many of the men as she would take. But when it came to the point, the boat would not take more than half the ship's company. Then Bjarni proposed that they should go into the boat, but go by lot, and not by rank. But every living soul wanted to go into the boat, and she just could not take them all, which was why they adopted this plan of transferring men from ship to boat by lot. And the way the lot fell out, it fell to Bjarni to go into the boat, and roughly half the crew with him.] and men reckon that Bjarni perished there in the wormy sea, and those men who remained on board with him. But the boat and those who were in her went their ways till they reached land [H. adds at Dublin in Ireland], where they afterwards told this story.Just how destructive shipworms (teredos) can be in warm western waters was well illustrated by a recent expedition off the coast of South America, where repeated attacks by teredos brought the expedition to a complete halt (see: The Illa Tiki Expeditions, the original source of the quotation below).
And now they came to Greenland and spent the winter with Eirik the Red.
(Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland, and America. London: Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1964)
To date, the Illa Tiki Expeditions have built three balsa rafts: The Illa Tiki, in 1995, which reached Panama before being devoured by the shipworms. This raft's logs were untreated, and the shipworm problem was unsuspected; it had never been reported as a problem before. In October 1998, we launched La Manteña-Huancavillca with the goal of reaching Acapulco; on this vessel we treated two logs with an anti-shipworm chemical, and painted seven logs with an antifoliant paint; the shipworms ate through both treatments. La Manteña-Huancavillca II was constructed in Colombia (where I had to leave the expedition). This vessel was painted with seven coats of tar; it has now also been devoured by shipworms, despite the tar, which was mentioned by several early Spanish accounts as being available and used by early mariners on the NW coast of South America. Clearly, then, the shipworm is a voracious creature capable of setting a major constraint or barrier to sea travel in wooden vessels such as the balsa raft.Perhaps it might depend on what type of "tar" one is using, but whether Viking "seal-tar" mentioned in the Sagas would provide any real improvement remains an open question, especially since it was applied to ships, not rafts. Perhaps not, given the voracity of "shell-worms" (a more accurate name, as it turns out) which have long caused problems for wooden ships, as F.G. Walton Smith explains:
Marine borers have been a problem since man first ventured onto the sea. From the earliest times wax, pitch and tar were used as protective coatings. Records show the use of arsenic and sulphur mixed with oil in 412 B.C. The Greeks used lead sheathing to protect their ships as early as the third century B.C. The vessels of Archimedes of Syracuse had lead sheaths fixed with iron bolts. During the time of Edward VI (1537-1553) a description of an exploratory vessel states:Thus the problem is hardly new, while the reversion to the "time-honoured mixtures of tar, pitch, oil and sulphur" may lend some credence to the use of Viking "seal-tar" in this explicit context. Before proceeding to the first part of the quoted passage from the Sagas one further point needs to be made, namely that in the context of the Americas it is in the southern waters where the effects of shipworms are more likely to be pronounced--on the west from California, Mexico and further south past Central America (as the Illa Tiki Expeditions found out), while on the east there are the "the highly-fouling Central American waters" (Taggart, 1980:355). Moreover, still on the eastern side, it was the teredo once again that put paid to the tar-coated ships of Christopher Columbus' ill-fated Fourth and last Voyage (see: "Christopher Columbus.." by John Scofield, National Geographic Magazine, Vol.148, No. 5 November 1975:615).
"they had heard that in certain parts of the Ocean, a kinde of wormes is bredde, which many times pierceth and eateth through the strongest oake that is ... [so] ... they cover a piece of the keel of the shippe with thinne sheets of leade"
In the reign of Charles II (1660-1685) it was ordered that lead sheath be used on all naval vessels. Unfortunately, by this time iron fittings were in common use on sailing vessels, and the galvanic effect between lead and iron was so bad that the metal parts of the rudders were eaten away. Eventually lead was abandoned and the time-honoured mixtures of tar, pitch, oil and sulphur came back into use. Copper sheathing was highly favoured during the 18th and 19th centuries. But increasing costs and the necessity of continual replacement conspired to banish it. Since then many attempts have been made to find a treatment for wooden hulls and piles that would keep out the borers. The many mixtures tried have included quicksilver, plumbago, silicates, gutta-percha, asphalt, shellac, guano, cow dung, clay, fat, sawdust, hair glue, oil and soot. Various woods too have been tried, including eucalyptus, greenheart, and others that have inherent resistance, either because of tough silica inclusions or natural oils. None has shown complete immunity, though some, like teak are highly resistant. ... the damage they caused was recorded as far back as the classical writings of Theophrastus and Pliny. (F.G.Walton Smith, "Shipworms, Saboteurs of the Sea," National Geographic Magazine, Vol.CX, No. 4 October 1956:563)
But copper sheathing on Viking ships? A hard sell, certainly, with almost nothing in the way of evidence to support it. But then there was a time when we did not know such ships such as those found at Skuldelev and Roskilde even existed. As for the immense, largely unvisited regions across the Canadian Arctic, we have not even been able to locate Franklin's ships yet, let alone find remnants of centuries older wooden ships that may (or may not) have had the lower part of their hulls protected with copper plates. Oddly enough, however, (and for what it is worth) some copper plating has turned up in the lower Northwest Passage during a recent search for remnants of Franklin's last fateful voyage, i.e.,
A survey of the waters south of King William Island was organized by Eco-Nova Multimedia Productions of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August 1997 to search for the remains of Sir John Franklin's ships, H.M.S. Erebus and Terror. The survey was conducted from the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier along the northwest shore of the Adelaide Peninsula...The second and southernmost search area, near O'Reilly Island, provided some surface finds that may offer clues to the nearby presence of one of Franklin's ships. These include copper sheathing fragments from old seacraft or ships. Of diagnostic value is a heavy gauge copper disk that has been provisionally identified as the bottom of a pewter coffeepot of a type commonly used in England in the mid-nineteenth century. (New Parks North - Search for Sir John Franklin's Ships, 1998; original link: http://www.newparksnorth.org/ships.htm )Not that conclusive in either case it would seem, but to summarize, the copper sheathing questions leads naturally enough to the need for protection from ice in northern waters and "shipworms" encountered in "wormy" southern waters on both sides of North America, Central America and also South America. Thus perhaps a further addition to the equation: "Iron Men in Wooden Ships"-- i.e., with "Copper," as required.
L'ANSE AUX MEADOWS
But if copper sheathing was ever fitted to Viking ships in the context of the Americas, a number of questions arise: would this have been after the Northwest Passage with an eye towards proceeding further south beyond the Pacific Northwest? Or would the copper plates have been attached before the voyage through the Northwest Passage (possibly in the west as well as the east) as protection against ice? Or again, was the copper removed after successful voyages through the Northwest Passage, or was it never intended for use in northern waters at all, but only southern waters with shipworm problems?
If so, where might the work have been carried out? Ideally, perhaps, at a place not too far from Labrador, not too far from a supply of pure copper and also somewhere that could serve as a jumping off point for both northerly and southerly destinations. The former into the Arctic and through the Northwest Passage with strengthened copper-sheathed ships, the latter with similarly protected hulls for voyages south into regions that required protection against shipworms. A likely location is not hard to find at all since we only know of one attested Viking site on the entire east coast of North America in any case. This is, of course, L'Anse Aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, nicely positioned for both northbound and southbound expeditions while at the same time being at the end of a route via the St. Lawrence River to Lake Superior and the pure native copper found there. Was this one of the reasons for the Viking site at L'Anse aux Meadows? A case could certainly be made for its use as a ship repair depot, and certainly the dates associated with Norse occupation there fit in well enough with the times allotted to the particular Skuldelev and Roskilde Viking ships discussed earlier.
As far as the unusual aspects of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows are concerned the ship repair aspect has already been developed in considerable detail by Birgitta Wallace:
The Norse site, which was located about 100 m from the shore, comprised three complexes, each consisting of a large hall flanked by a hut. One complex also had a small house next to the hall. There was also a small open-ended hut where iron had been manufactured, and a charcoal kiln for making the fuel for the furnace.Thus possibly a ship repair depot above all else, and also a location with a mixed population and stability during its heyday. But to what degree copper may have been utilized at L'Anse Aux Meadows remains difficult to assess, though the use of copper nails might explain the relatively small number of iron nails reported, and it is unlikely remnants of treenails and unused pieces of timber would survive even a few centuries, let alone a millennium.
All the buildings were located on a narrow beach terrace encircling a sedge peat bog and bordered on the back side by a wet sphagnum bog. A brook, the outlet of a small lake about 1.5 km. behind the site, winds its way to the sea, cutting through the terrace and the bogs...
The number of rooms in the halls varied between three and six. One hall also had a lean-to workshed for boat repair.....The biggest and the smallest halls had ample place for storage, two large rooms in the big hall, and one large storage room in the smallest hall. In addition there was a carpentry shop in the small hall and a smithy in the second-largest hall.
Each hall was flanked by a small hut. Two were square with entrances in the corners, and one was rounded. The purpose of the square huts is not entirely clear. In Iceland and Greenland such small huts were usually workshops, e.g. for weaving, but there is no sign of weaving at L'Anse aux Meadows, and little trace of any kind of work in these huts. They do have good fireplaces so their most likely function was living quarters for some members of the settlement....One complex also had a small house. It had been used as combined living quarters and workshop where bog iron ore had been roasted and prepared for iron production. The manufacture took place a short distance away from the living complexes, on the other side of the brook. The smelting furnace was in a small hut, open towards the brook.
The manufacture of iron in the hut on the other side of the brook embodies the appearance of a new technology in North America: the smelting of a metal. Many Aboriginal cultures in the Americas used metals, but by cold-hammering. The Norse at L'Anse aux Meadows introduced the old European technique of making iron by smelting bog ore, a form of iron collected from bogs...The total iron production had been minimal, only one or two smelts resulting in about 3 kg of iron. The charcoal used as fuel for the iron smelting and fine-smithing was made in a small pit-shaped kiln.
Each of the three hall complexes served a specific function in the settlement. Hall D had a carpentry shop facing the sedge peat bog. Wood shavings and chips had been chucked out from the shop into the bog. The tannic acid in the peat and the wetness of the bog preserved the wood so that, one thousand years later, it remained as fresh as when discarded. A few broken items of wood had also been thrown int the bog, presumably after being replaced with new ones made in the carpentry shop. Among these were several treenails and a small plank which may be a patch for a cracked boat strake. Similar patches have been found in Viking Dublin. There were also the bow for an auger and several pieces of rope made from fine spruce roots. The wood in some of the broken pieces have been identified as Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris. This is an old-world species, so the discarded patch would have been made in Europe.
The fine-smithy (forge) was in hall A. Analysis of slag was found here showed that, unlike the slag in the furnace hut, this was from forging. The lean-to workshop in hall F had been the scene of boat repair. This was evident from the many boat nails found there. X-ray photos show that the roves and shanks of the nails had been cut with a chisel blow. The nails had been removed, discarded and, presumably, replaced with new ones. Iron nails were sparingly used among the West Norse, all building nails being treenails. In the ships they were important, however, for holding together the boat strakes. Sea water and salt air have a corroding effect on the iron so that, eventually, the nails rust and must be replaced. Together with wood shavings and chips, discarded nails are among the most common finds on boat repair sites.
The replacing of boatnails at L'Anse aux Meadows probably explains why the occupants of the site took the trouble to make iron. The small amount of iron produced would have been sufficient for about 150 nails, the average weight of a boatnail being 20 g. About 3500 nails were used in large ships like the Oseberg ship, 400 to 500 in the type of skiffs used for landing and off-loading as well as for shorter inshore trips....
The Norse occupation did not last long, a few years at the most... the buildings never needed repair. Sod buildings of this kind normally need complete rebuilding after fifty years, even faster in exposed areas like L'Anse aux Meadows. Nor is there any sign of burial fields or cemeteries which would be required had the site been occupied for a long period of time. The even spacing of the three building complexes on the terrace and the architectural details show that all three complexes existed at the same time.
The number of sleeping places available within the complexes gives us an idea of the approximate number of people who lived on the site, anywhere between c. 60 and 90. The activities on the site, iron manufacture, smithing, carpentry, and boat repair are all male projects in a Norse context, so it is probably safe to conclude that most of the occupants were men. Although many Norse men could knit, spinning and sewing was almost always done by women, so the spindle whorl indicates the presence of at least some women....
A peculiarity for the site is that each complex is associated with a particular activity: carpentry in the smallest, boat repair in the largest, and fine-smithing and bog ore roasting in the third, plus iron smelting in a spot by itself. What is truly remarkable about the activities associated with the three complexes is that they form the individual facets of one single operation: 1) the smelting of iron for nails in the furnace hut, 2) various form of iron working in one complex, 3) the exchange of old rusted nails for new ones in a second complex; and 4) the replacing of damaged wooden components of the ship or ships with new ones in the third complex. (Birgitta Wallace, Canadian Heritage, "Nordic Explorers: Norse Expansion into North America," emphases supplied.
LAKE SUPERIOR COPPER
AND THE PETERBOROUGH STONE
Nevertheless, regarding the possible source of copper in the above context, it is tempting to invoke the inscription on the "Peterborough Stone" (Peterborough, Ontario)--a location situated between the pure (malleable) copper deposits in Northern Michigan and L'Anse Aux Meadows itself. Moreover, a water route to L'Anse Aux Meadows via Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Simcoe, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River seems feasible, except that the Peterborough Stone and its alleged inscription are fraught with difficulties and problems both past and present. Writing in the January 2000 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Marc E. Stengel summarized the situation by including the work of recently retired David Kelly from the University of Calgary, noting the marked disagreement between the latter and Barry Fell on the matter:
In one such paper, titled "Writing in the Americas," published in October of 1998 in a special edition of the Journal of the West, Kelley focused on a "decipherment" that detractors consider to be one of Fell's most outrageous: the Peterborough Stone, in Ontario. This is a flat table rock measuring hundreds of square feet, upon which a riot of curious incised graffiti are interlaced, seemingly at random. To Fell, who made the stone the focus of his Bronze Age America, the layout consisted of meaningful groups of symbols and letters, carved primarily to document the visit and the commercial enterprise of a Bronze Age Nordic king whom Fell identified as Woden-lithi. "Woden-lithi, of Ringerike the great king, instructed that runes be engraved," reads one section of Fell's ambitious translation of this curious saga in stone. "A ship he took. In-honor-of-Gungnir was its name .... For ingot-copper of excellent quality came the king by way of trial."
Fell believed that Scandinavian visitors circa 1700 B.C. incised the Peterborough Stone with words and symbols that have distinctly Scandinavian pronunciations and meanings. However, the letters themselves are not depicted with recognized medieval Norse runes. In Fell's, and now Kelley's, view, a pre-runic alphabet was used -- a little-known script called Tifinagh, preserved by a Saharan Berber people known as the Tuareg. It is as if Woden-lithi's scribe used symbols from the Classical Greek alphabet to put together English-sounding words.
In The Review of Archaeology, Kelley supported Fell's identification (if not his exact translation) of proto-Tifinagh at Peterborough, and he amplified this position in his Journal of the West article. After comparing figures at Peterborough with inscriptions found in the Bohuslän region that once encompassed parts of Norway and Sweden; in the Tassili area of Saharan Africa, near Algeria's border with Niger; and at a southern terminus of the ancient Amber Route, in the Camonica Valley of northern Italy, Kelley wrote,
I have found that the late Bronze Age of Scandinavia, corresponding to the early Iron Age of Italy and North Africa, shows a lengthy series of innovations in all areas of iconography, including apparent Proto-Tifinagh inscriptions in both Scandinavia and Italy .... The date is about 800 B.C. (900 years later than asserted by Fell).
Kelley did not shy away from the diffusionist implications of his analysis: "It looks to me as if a single trade route united an area from the gold-mining zone along the Niger [River] to Scandinavia, and I think that oceanic voyagers from Scandinavia, linked into that route, reached Ontario." (Marc K. Stengel, "The Diffusionsists have Landed," Atlantic Monthly, January 2000; emphases supplied)Neither the places nor the dates preferred by Fell or Kelly are useful as far as L'Anse Aux Meadows is concerned, especially the former (1700 BCE and 800 BCE respectively). In fact we are directed far back in time and also well away from Newfoundland and L'Anse Aux Meadows. Or is this stone and its inscription like others, a later, limiting and pre-emptive means of misdirection? Perhaps it is, because either way the dates provided by the local peoples in this context are in fact concurrent with the period applied in the present inquiry, i.e., 800 -1450 CE. Thus while Bob Harvey of the Canadian Press discussed the issue under the title: "Europeans explored Ontario in 800 BC," he nevertheless closed the discussion with the following information:
The petroglyphs were discovered in 1954 under a covering of lichen, and are now enclosed in a climate-controlled visitors' centre. The Ojibway say the carvings match a legend of what their people called the Talking Rocks and regard them as sacred. Many native people visit the rocks regularly to fast and meditate. Interpreters hired by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources tell 20,000 visitors a year that the carvings were probably carved between 600 and 1,100 years ago by aboriginal shamans who went there for vision quests. The 800 carvings of snakes, birds, and fertility symbols are the largest collection of petroglyphs in North America. (Bob Harvey, "Europeans explored Ontario in 800 BC," Canadian Press, Tuesday, August 10, 1999; emphases supplied).The above dates thus range between 990 and 1400 CE, whereas L'Anse Aux Meadows for its part has reliable carbon-14 dates of: " A.D. 880 to 1060, with an average midpoint of A.D. 1004 " (Birgitta Wallace, "Norse Expansion into North America,") though the available indicators at the site suggest the Vikings remained for little more than a few decades; certainly not centuries.
"The Evil that Men do lives after them, the Good is oft interred within their bones"remains a constant mediated by the odd inscription, the occasional song and the long-remembered dance.
Part VI: The Warp and the Weave
Part 1. Viking Press and Viking Ships
Part 2. West by Northwest
Part 3. Three Steps Back
Part 4. Symbols and Markers
Part 5. The Copper Canoe [ Present Page ]
Part 6. The Warp and the Weave
Part 7. Helluland, Markland and Vinland
Maps: Partial Map Listing for the Last Viking
Postscript 1: A Fir Tree of the Mind (pdf)
Postscript 2: RongoRongo and the Raven's Tail
OTHER: Easter Island Stone Structures
Return to the Index
Copyright © 1999. John N. Harris, M.A.(CMNS). Last Updated on June 4, 2000. Links revised March 30, 2009.