Last Viking Logo: The Novae Groenlamdiae Map




We return now to the puzzling and contradictory notion that although there were (apparently) no Norse settlements per se on the east coast of Greenland, there was nevertheless an "Eastern Settlement" on the western side. But how could this be? This supposed western location for the latter has important ramifications. Although some commentatators remained cautious (or even opposed to the idea, e.g., Nordenskiold) many nevertheless insisted (or simply took it for granted) that Erik the Red's "Sound," "Erik's Fiord," and his homestead at "Brattahlid" were all located on the West side of Greenland.. But if so, irreconcilable difficulties with the directions given in the Sagas follow immediately once the Greenlanders set sail for "Vinland the Good." For example, in Gathorne-Hardy's composite translation of Thorfinn Karlsefni's Expedition to Vinland--a  translation "from the text of the saga of Eric the Red collated with that of Hauk's Book"--it is said that:

    At this time there was much discussion at Brattahlid during the winter about a search for Wineland the Good, and it was said that it would be a profitable country to visit; Karlsefni and Snorri resolved to search for Wineland, and the project was much talked about, so it came about that Karlsefni and Snorri made ready their ship to go and look for the country in the summer.... They had the ship which Thorbjörn brought out there, and they joined themselves to Karlsefni's party for the expedition, and the majority of the men were Greenlanders. The total force on board their ships was 160 men.
   After this they sailed away to the Western Settlement and the Bear Isles. They sailed away from the Bear Isles with a northerly wind. They were at sea two days. Then they found land, and rowing ashore in boats they examined the country, and found there a quantity of flat stones which were so large that two men could easily have lain sole to sole on them: there were many arctic foxes there. They gave the place a name, calling it Helluland. Then they sailed for two days with a north wind, and changed their course from south to south-east and then there was a land before them on which was much wood and many beasts. An island lay there off shore to the south-east, on which they found a bear and they called it Bjarney (Bear Island), but the the land where the wood was they called Markland (woodland).  (G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, The Norse Discoverers of America: The Wineland Sagas. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970:55–56; emphases supplied)

The immediate problem with the above lies in setting sail for the Western Settlement in Greenland in the first place. From a conventional viewpoint this northward directional discrepancy has long puzzled commentators, especially since Helluland, Markland and Vinland are all said to be to the south. Furthermore, by first proceeding essentially northwards to the Western Settlement, the time en route to the latter "lands" becomes prohibitively lengthy. So much so, in fact, that those who discussed the matter in detail (e.g., Reeves,1895:172-73; Nansen,1911:321-23; Gathorne-Hardy,1921:295-96, etc.) were unable to resolve the problem. In his own discussion of the matter, Reeves even considered the related passage to be "one of the most obscure in the Saga," although he also added the following riders:

If the conjecture as to the probable site of the Western Settlement, in the vicinity of Godhaab is correct, it is not apparent why Karlsefni should have first directed his course to the north-west, when his destination lay to the south-west. It is only possible to explain the passage by somewhat hazardous conjecture. Leif may have first reached the Western Settlement on his return from the voyage of discovery, and KarIsefni, reversing Leif's itinerary, may have been led to make the Western Settlement his point of departure; or there may have been some reason, not mentioned in the saga, which led the voyagers to touch first at the Western Settlement. [Prof. Storm would argue from the situation of Lysu-firth, the home of Gudrid's first husband in that Settlement, that the expedition may have set sail from there. Cf. Storm, Studier over Vinlandsreiserne, pp. 326-8. In this place Storm calls attention to the fact, that Thorstein Ericsson's unsuccessful voyage was directed from Eric's-firth, which lay considerably farther to the eastward than the Western Settlement, and that he would therefore be less apt to hit the land, than Karlsefni who sailed from the Western Settlement.] The language of the Saga of Erik the Red would admit of the conclusion, that the Bear Islands were not far removed from the Western Settlement; the statement of the Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefni , however, which speaks of Bear Island [in the singular] seems to indicate that the point of departure was not immediately contiguous to that settlement. (Arthur M. Reeves, The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America, Burt Franklin, New York, 1895:172-73).
The significance of two sets of Bear Islands, i.e., in both the singular and the plural, and their possible relevance to the Western Settlement is discussed to some advantage in the final Section (Helluland, Markland and Vinland).
    More immediately, however, remains the puzzling location of the "Eastern" Settlement on the west side of Greenland, and although the events in question concern the interval from 874-1540 CE in the table below,1 it may be helpful to consider the standard chronology in the light of information provided in a relatively obscure source, namely The History of Greenland by David Cranz published in 1767.

Relative Chronology: 874CE to 1540 CE

Questions concerning authenticity aside, we may start here with the date of missionary David Cranz's arrival in Greenland in 1761 and later introduction to his History of Greenland wherein he described this relatively barren land as he himself experienced it, i.e.,

Whoever has seen the Norway coast, can form a pretty good idea of Greenland, only with the difference, that here hills are not enriched with trees nor valleys with grass, and also that the mountains do not run up high and pointed only at a distance from the sea, but close by it.  However, here and there are long flat mountains to be seen, but these are clad with perpetual snow. (David Cranz, The History of Greenland Containing A Description of The Country and Its Inhabitants, J. Dodsely, London 1767:4)

Not exactly "Greenland" then, although this particular observation concerns the latter part of the Little Ice Age in any case. Nevertheless, the "perpetual snow" mentioned here is readily recalled in the naming of Iceland (Cranz, 1767:242)

According to the account of the learned Icelander Arngrim Jonas, Iceland was accidentally discovered by a Norwegian called Naddoc (who intended to go to the island Faeroes) and it was named Snowland... Flokki (later) called it Iceland from the great quantity of ice.
Moreover, given that snowfall pertains to the growth of the Greenland icecap it would be both reasonable and accurate to call this the salient feature, and thus suggest that Greenland was originally "Snowland" with modern Iceland "Fireland" in keeping with the Greenland Duality discussed in the previous section.
    But in any case, as far as the eastside-westside problem is concerned, perhaps a better understanding can be gained from the inclusion of the eastern side of Greenland in the historical descriptions provided by Cranz, i.e.,

 The name Greenland was given to the east-side of this land several hundred years ago, by the Norway men and Icelanders, who first discovered it, and the reason of the appellation or epithet Greenland was, because it looked greener than Iceland. But the east-side, which is commonly called Old or Lost Greenland, is now almost totally unknown because ships cannot navigate this coast, on account of the great quantities of ice.
    Some are of the opinion, that that Old Greenland so pompously described by the Iceland authors as adorned with churches and villages, is now lost and not to be found; and therefore are curious to know if we cannot gather some account of it from the Greenlanders. But the west-side may with the same propriety as the east-side, be called the old lost Greenland (which is now found again, since ships have sailed hither), for the old Norwegians have houses and churches there too, plain traces of which are still to be found and the soil produces, now at least, as much as the east-side, which was so famous and is so much sought for. (David Cranz, History of Greenland, 1770:2-3; emphases supplied)

The main point stressed here is that during the time of the Medieval Warm Period--especially the interval from 1050 through 1250 CE--conditions for maritime traffic between Iceland and Greenland would in all likelihood have been optimal, at least for certain parts of the year. Thus, unless later commentators were unaware of the Medieval Warm Period it is difficult to explain why they considered that the eastern side of Greenland was not only ice-blocked, but also largely uninhabited during the earlier period. Nor do the additional distances required to round the southernmost point of Greenland en route to the western side follow the usual step-by-step expansions expected after the initial sighting of the Gunnbiorn Skerries on the eastern side. Again, unless, the Medieval Warm Period was unknown to those with their own agendas and their own versions of history.
    At which point we may return to David Cranz and a discussion from the Annals of Old Greenland that tells the story of
Erik the Red's three-year banishment from Iceland and subsequent exploration of Greenland. Here, however, there are one or two notable differences from modern accounts, especially with respect to both the eastern side of Greenland and accepted chronology, for according to Cranz, Eric the Red:

§2 ... coasted south-west, and wintered in an agreeable island near a sound, which he called “Eric’s Sound.  The next year he examined the mainland, and the third year went back to Iceland.  In order to entice people to go to his new country, he called it Greenland, and painted it out as such an excellent place for pastures, wood, and fish, that the next year he was followed thither by 25 ships full of colonists, who had furnished themselves richly with household goods and cattle of all sorts; but only 14 of these ships arrived.  In process of time more colonies came after, forth out of Iceland and Norway and flooded the country with inhabitants by degrees both on the east and west-side, so that they were computed to be a third part as numerous as a Danish episcopal diocese.

§3  The time of these events is recorded different. There are two head-fountains of Greenland history: One is the Iceland Chronicles of the very ancient Northern Historian Snorro Sturlesen, who was nomophylax, or justitiary of the Ice-land Government about the year 1215. His account is preferred not only by the learned Arngrim Jonas, adjutor of bishop Giernbrand Thorlak in Iceland in the beginning of the last century, but also by the king’s historiographer Thormoder Torfaeus, a native of Iceland, in his Groenlandie antigua, which I have made the most use of.  These date the discovery of Greenland in the year 982. But on the other hand we have some Greenland Annals in Danish verse, by a Divine, Claudius Christophersen, or Lyscander, who suppose the discovery to be in the year 770.  And this calculation seems not only to have some foundations in the antiquities of Iceland, but is corroborated by a Bull issued by Pope Gregory IV.  A.N. 835, wherein the conversion of the northern nations, and in express words the Iceland and Greenland diocese is committed to the first northern apostle Ansgarius, who had been appointed Arch-bishop of Hamburg by the Emperor Lewis the Pious. If the Bull is authentic, which we find no reason to doubt, Greenland must have been discovered and planted 250 years earlier, about 832, by the Icelanders or Norwegians.

§4  But a greater disagreement prevails in the discrepancy in counting, not only between the records of Iceland and the Danes, but also between the Icelanders themselves, neither could the Icelander Torfaeus reconcile them after all his labours.
   In his accounts, he follows chiefly the draughts of Ivar Beer who was the Greenland bishop’s steward and justitiary, in the 14th century.  According to the account Greenland was inhabited and filled on both the east and west side. The east-side, which is now called old or lost Greenland,was divided into two parts by a promontory at the 63rd degree called Herjolf’s Nefs. (David Cranz, The History of Greenland Containing A Description of The Country and Its Inhabitants. Translated from the High Dutch J. Dodsely, London 1770:243-245; emphases supplied)
This 1760's chronicle is certainly at odds with modern understanding of the matter, especially the date of colonization. But how, and not least of all when, did these differences occur? Well, as explained by Joseph Fischer (1903:23-24) the modern establishment of the Eastern Settlement on the west side of Greenland came to pass some twenty-five years after the publication Cranz's History of Greenland, i.e., around 1792:

   We may endeavour to put together from these varied sources a picture of the Norse colonies in Greenland, but then comes the question: “Where were the old settlements ?” The solution at the first glance seems very simple. The names Eystribygð (Eastern settlement), and Vestribygð (Western settlement), seem to denote, without a shadow of a doubt, that the colonies lay partly on the east and partly on the west coasts of Greenland. In fact, before this it had been very generally accepted that the eastern settlement was undoubtedly situated on the east coast of Greenland, and some authorities have always maintained this view, in most recent times Nordenskiöld;1 but the majority of scholars now lean to the opinion that both colonies were situated on the west coast of Greenland.  Ruge, in his critical review of the Periplus, only repeats the view of Nordenskiöld, without mentioning the decided negative of Storm.It may therefore be not without interest to examine this instructive question of dispute in somewhat exhaustive detail.
   Early in the 16th century the Danes seriously took up the idea of tracing the settlements in Greenland, but started with the firm conviction that the eastern settlement must be on the east coast. This opinion held the field, till, in 1792, Peter von Egger, in his prize essay, Üeber die Lage des grönlandischen. Ostdistriktes, proved from the ancient sources of authority that “the old Eystribygð in Greenland was not on the east coast, at that early period quite inaccessible, but on the south-west coast.”  Graah made researches (1828-31) which confirmed Egger's conclusions, but without much permanent result, as Major  points out, because Graah had preconceived notions, and did not examine the east coast of Greenland. Major was not satisfied with Graah's argument, and went carefully through the old Norse authorities, and particularly Ivar Bardsson. He finally came to the same conclusion as Graah and Egger. Major is right when he considers the solution of the riddle to lie in the correct location of the Cape Hvarf (“Turning-point”). Ivar bases his theories on the eastern and western districts on the following grounds: To the east of this there are only uninhabited tracts, whose fjords are remarkable for the abundance of fishes, while on the west of Hvarf there is a succession of places and fjords, which are also set out in the Sagas, and belong to the eastern district. Between the two districts there extends a desert territory 12 miles in length. At the most southern point of the western district stood the great church of Steinesnes.3  Major weighed the evidence carefully and came to the conclusion that Hvarf must have been a point to the south of Greenland, and so the eastern district must have been immediately to the west of southern Greenland. (Joseph Fischer, The Discoveries of the Norsemen in America with special relation to their early cartographical Representation. Trans. Basil H. Soulsby, Burt Franklin, New York 1903:23-24)
 3 Storm's critique of “Periplus,” p. 159.  His words are: “Nordenskiöld has already many years ago protested against ‘the official chorography of Greenland,’ in assigning the eastern settlement to the south-west coast of Greenland, but the basis of his argument is weak and has never to my knowledge convinced any scholar. The arguments used in his “Periplus” are not new, and have, I believe, been altogether upset by the discoveries in the district of Julianehaab, described in the Mitteilungen über Grönland, part 16, 1896.”
So there you have it; a "prize essay" written in 1792 reinforced by notable authorities plus a broadside at Nordenskiöld who maintained otherwise. But as for both Eastern and Western Settlements on modern Greenland, well, no one is arguing that there were not likely to be Norse settlements on the west side, or anything like that. What is suggested, however, is that the present-day Eastern and Western settlements of modern Greenland are NOT necessarily the Eastern and Western Settlements of the Icelandic Sagas anyway. This is one reason (one might suggest) why so much difficulty with the directions and distances in the Sagas occurs, especially when the latter are applied to the Atlantic side of North America. In fact, one could continue in this vein and suggest that this was "Iceland" and not Greenland in any case. And even here the Icelandic "Book of Settlements" is not so much an end of the matter as the opening up of another potential can of worms. The Landnámabók was itself written long after the time allotted to the settlement process and the Vinland voyages of  "around a thousand years ago." In fact, information concerning the settlement phase is based essentially on the following later works (Pálsson and Edwards 1972:5):

Ari's Book of Settlements (early twelfth century)
Styrmisbók (c. 1220)
Melabók (c. 1300-1310 )
Sturlubók (c. 1275-80)
Hauksbók (1306-08)
Skardsárbók (before 1636)
Thórdarbók (before 1670)

Because of the lengthy interval involved even the stated reason for the publication seems to have a dubious ring to it ( " Methinks they doth explain too much " ), i.e.

In theThórdarbók version of the Book of Settlements the following apology is made for the study of the settlements and genealogies:

People often say that writing about the Settlements is irrelevant learning, but we think we can better meet the criticism of foreigners when they accuse us of being descended from slaves or scoundrels, if we know for certain the truth about our ancestry. And for those who want to know ancient lore and how to trace genealogies, it's better to start at the beginning than to come in at the middle. Anyway, all civilized nations want to know about the origins of their own society and the beginnings of their own race.

   This passage is obviously taken from a medieval source, apparently Styrmisbók, and there is reason to believe that it may have been taken from the original version of the Book of Settlements and so reflect the early twelfth century attitudes of Ari Thorgilsson. What is particularly interesting about this is the underlying suggestion that the study of Iceland's beginnings was stimulated by foreign misconceptions. It must have been well-known in Western Europe that Iceland (insofar as it was known at all) was inhabited by Scandinavians, who were frowned upon because of the viking raids. The Book of Settlements shows us that there were relatively few vikings among the settlers, most of whom were peaceable farmers, possibly in some cases with good family connections in Scandinavia or the British Isles. But these royal ancestries are not to be trusted, though it would be difficult to say whether the genealogies were actually invented by Ari and other learned men in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It should be noted, however, that some ancestors styled as kings in Hauk Erlendsson's version are not so styled in the earlier version of Sturla and probably not in Ari's or Styrmir's. (The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók. translated by Herman Pálsson and Paul Edwards, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg 1972:7; italics supplied)
So where does this leave us? It leaves us wondering to what extent the little-known "Medieval Warm Period" and "Little Ice Age" may have contributed to the currently accepted distribution after the 1792 "establishment" of both Eastern and Western Viking settlements on the west coast of modern Greenland. More important, however, remain the related issues, i.e., whether there were ever Settlements of the east side, and why--for whatever reasons and after at least 350 years of occupation--that the Vikings are still thought to have not only gone virtually nowhere else, but also to have simply faded away.


As for the east-west settlement issue, just how convincing was the "prize essay" of 1792, and if correct, then just how wrong was David Cranz? And also, why should such a disparity exist between the two histories? But most
important of all, how can we explain the multiple locations and all the details on the eastern side of Greenland shown on the "NOVA  GROENDLANDIAE" map accompanying David Cranz's 1767 History of Greenland ?

MAP 5a. THE NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP (Folded; Vol.1, p.1.) accompanying David Crantz's History of Greenland. (1767?)

MAP 5a. THE NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP (Folded; Vol. I, p. 1.) accompanying David Crantz's History of Greenland. (1767?)
[ Larger (1500 x 1128 pixels, 485 kb) ]

MAP 5b. THE NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP Unfolded (Vol.1, p. 1 ( David Cranz, 1767?)  
MAP 5b. THE NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP Unfolded (Vol.I. p.1,  David Cranz 1767? )
Larger (2000 x 1415 pixels, 810 kb) ]

Map 5c below is a reduced segment of the NOVA GROENLANDIAE map that shows a number of totally unexpected features, including a list of places on the eastern side that includes "Eric's Fiord," "Eric's Sound," "Brattalhid," the cathedral at "Gardar" and two additional churches--all apparently located on the eastern side of Greenland.    

  MAP 5c. NOVA GROENLANDAE II ( Cranz, 1767 )

MAP 5c. NOVA GROENLANDAE II ( David Cranz 1767? )

    A further surprise shown above in another reduced segment (Map 5c) are the "Gunbioerns Skioer" between northwestern Iceland and the southeast coast of Greenland. The latter have been dismissed outright by some or explained away as mirages by others, although according to John Fiske (1892:242) the "sheers" simply no longer exist:

Midway between Iceland and Greenland there appears to have stood, in the Middle Ages, a small volcanic island discovered by that Gunnbjörn who first went to Greenland. It was known as Gunnbjörn's Skerries, and was described by Ivar Bardsen. This island is no longer above the surface, and its fate is recorded upon Ruysch's map of the world in the 1508 edition of Ptolemy: "Insula haec anno Domini 1456 fuit totaliter combusta," – this island was entirely burnt (i.e. blown up in an eruption) in 1456; and in later maps Mr. Major has found the corrupted name "Gombar Scheer" applied to the dangerous reefs and shoals left behind by this explosion. 
(John Fiske. The Discovery of America, Macmillan, London, 1892:241-42)

Nevertheless, they do not appear to be shown submerged on this map, and though the distance between Iceland and Greenland is foreshortened, the "sheers" are generally where they were supposed to have been.

    Far more interesting, however, are the three sets of double-dashed lines between the east and west coasts of Greenland, with only the middle set remotely explainable by the two-part division at the 63rd degree of latitude mentioned earlier.

 MAP 5d. NOVA GROENLANDIAE III ( Cranz, 1767 )

MAP 5d. NOVA GROENLANDIAE III ( David Cranz 1767? ) 

But if so, why are there two more sets of double lines on this Map, the lowest around the 62nd parallel, and a second between the 67th and 68th parallels terminating on the west coast around Jacobshavn, and what might be their purpose? Could all three be "overland" routes across the Greenland icecap? Not according to modern history and Fridjof Nansen's forthright claim that he was the first to cross Greenland in 1889, as the publication describing this feat the following year--The First Crossing of Greenland--subsequently proclaimed. But was he really the first to do so, and does not the archeological evidence on the west side of Greenland establish that the "Eastern Settlement" was indeed located on that side of Greenland in any case? Not necessarily, at least according to David Cranz, who "explained" in the first pages of his History that:

The name greenland was given to the east-side of this land several hundred years ago, by the Norway men and Icelanders, who first discovered it, and the reason of the appellation or epithet Greenland was, because it looked greener than Iceland.  But the east-side, which is commonly called Old or Lost Greenland, is now almost totally unknown because ships cannot navigate this coast, on account of the great quantities of ice.
    Some are of the opinion, that Old Greenland so pompously described by the Iceland authors as adorned with churches and villages, is now lost and not to be found; and therefore are curious to know if we cannot gather some account of it from the Greenlanders. But the west-side may with the same propriety as the east-side, be called the old lost Greenland (which is now found again, since ships have sailed hither), for the old Norwegians have houses and churches there too, plain traces of which are still to be found and the soil produces, now at least, as much as the east-side, which was so famous and is so much sought for. (David Cranz, 1767:2–3)   
Thus an account that not only includes the east side of Greenland, but also the effects on maritime transportation of the unrecognized Little Ice Age.

More significantly, consider the strategic positions of the western locations of the three sets of dotted lines displayed on the NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP.
    But first and foremost, what is one to make of this map?
All that will be said at the moment is that this large and incredibly detailed map was the folded first page of a 1903 edition of the History of Greenland (1767) obtained from a public library and not (perhaps significantly) an academic institutiion. As for questions concerning its authenticity (or otherwise), these will be deferred until later for reasons that willl become increasingly apparent as we proceed.
    Secondly, where (and how) might "Thule" as a geographical extremity fit into all of this?, i.e. the Ultima Thule of ancient history as opposed to the like naming of the whale-hunting Alaskan Inuit, who "about a thousand years ago" swept rapidly across the top of North America as far as Greenland and ultimately (it is claimed) replaced the Dorset. Did this not take place then? According to the archeaological record it seems that it did, but even so problems remain--not so much the rapid west-to-east migration of the Thule per se--but why in the easternmost location the newcomers travelled so far north to "Thule" itself on the upper northwest coast of Greenland, almost ten degrees above the Arctic Circle. And also a place where Peter Freuchen, who visited the region with Knud Rasmussen (1935:45) cautions us to "remember that the Thule District–as it was named because it is the northernmost in the world–is not teeming with game.” So what other reasons could there have been to swing so far north to such basically inhospitable latitudes, not only in western Greenland but also above the 79th parallel to Bache and Knud Peninsulas on the east coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island, as Peter Schlederman's research from 1975 through 1996 established? Although partly explained in terms of obtaining northern trade goods and foodstuffs etc., was it really necessary to travel that far north and then west for items undoubtedly available further south? Or were there other reasons for their presence there in addition to carrying out these relatively mundane activities?
    Enter now the Vikings and continued Viking transits across the top of North America in the years that followed the early voyages of discovery recounted in the Sagas. Although subsequent activities would depend in no small way on what the Vikings wished to accomplish overall, it can be suggested that instead of expending their own ships, manpower and time on subsistence needs and/or intermediate transportation within the Arctic regions, that as part of the greater scheme of things the Vikings most sensibly sought local specialists to assist with routine but necessary tasks, starting with Greenland itself. And if assistance was initially unavailable there--either in sufficient numbers or for lack of requisite skills in the Eastern and Central Arctic (the Dorset?)--then it may have been worthwhile to encourage an influx of "foreign specialists" to fill the void. Needless to say, indigenous peoples from elsewhere in the North skilled in hunting whales and marine mammals, with their own shallow-draft, small and high capacity boats (Kayaks and Umiaks) familiar with the rigours of the North would have been virtually ideal, initial linguistic differences notwithstanding.
    Enter next then, whale-hunting Inuit from Alaska--shortly thereafter the Thule (perhaps)--who would readily meet all such requirements. Thus for the most part(?) invited specialists, who arrived--not so much out of desperate need
or as invaders--but as willing participants in a mutually beneficial cooperative arrangement over and above quests for more plentiful hunting grounds or possible conflicts within their own traditional Alaskan territories. To which may also be added continued assistance rendered on both sides of Greenland, specially in the regions of the east coast arrival points and the ice-cap routes, and not necessarily limited to this alone. There would also be the linguistic side of the matter, as well as transportation and sustenance, both across the Ice-cap and in the regions far to the west beyond Greenland.
    Thus perhaps (in part at least), a suggested cooperative venture between the Norse and Alaskan Inuit (subsequently the "Thule") that may indeed have commenced "about a thousand years ago" following initial Viking explorations to the West, and continued on until either the Little Ice Age closed the western routes, or all unauthorized movements aided by the ex-Greenland Vikings finally ceased completely following their own ultimate departure.

    As for the degree of assistance rendered and rewards received, in some respects new and more plentiful hunting grounds might have been more than enough for ex-Alaskan Thule, especially if augmented by additional "payments" for specific tasks and duties rendered. One can only theorize about such possibilities, but it is perhaps telling that when a Canadian government expedition led by J. W. Tyrrell in 1893 encountered Inuit far inland along the Thelon/Akilinik river system the latter not only provided them with "a sketch map of our course thence to the 'sea' or Hudson Bay" (Tyrrell 1893:119), but also, in their swift and maneuverable kayaks these same Inuit, though unasked also appointed themselves guides and helpers: "We were pleased to learn from the natives that there were no more rapids or obstructions to be encountered. As we proceeded, however, we found the current both strong and swift, and quite rough in some places, but the Eskimos in their kyacks shot ahead from time to time and showed us the best channels."(ibid). This kind of assistance would have had the same or greater value further north, especially among the more tortuous segments through the Arctic Archipelago, and indeed just about anywhere along the Arctic coast.
    Even so, this is merely one possibility. Other valuable services might have included habitation, procurement, distribution, preparation and dissemination of foodstuffs--here not least of all seal oil for winter heating, etc.. And also, perhaps, intermediate transportation duties utilizing smaller Viking ships and/or Umiaks, with partly Inuit crews familiar with the way, or even fully so in the case of the latter vessels. All of which, of course, would require considerable planning and efficient organization, though not necessarily on a year-round basis, but over peak and optimum periods for travel, etc. But in any case, given the lengthy interval involved--a minimum of three and a half centuries--there wo
uld have been time enough to consolidate both the means and methodology required. As for records and remnants of a transient Norse presence at "Thule" sites along the way, this would difficult to detect, apart from the few indications already found that are largely downplayed by an insistence that all rectangular stone structures in the Arctic are of purely Inuit origin.
    But in any event, towards the end, with visits to Greenland restricted to Norwegian ships and as the Medieval Warm Period began to subside, the Little Ice Again also set in around Greenland and across the Northwest Passage. Thus there would have been increasingly less contact with the Inuit, and if the disputed migration had also come to a satisfactory conclusion, little or no further need for assistance. Therefore it would not be surprising if only a residual memory remained among the Greenland
Inuit, that others stayed where they were either by choice or circumstance, and that in some instances back-migration to Alaska may also have taken place, as indeed discussed in an alternative norse-related context by James Robert Enterline (2002:142).


In light of the above, the Nova Groenlandiae Map assignments, and the Pacific Northwest Hypothesis, a scenario that differs markedly from prevailing views concerning what occurred in the Eastern Arctic "about a thousand years ago" may now be proposed.
    Namely, that the considerable longitudinal extent of the Thule migration and the activities at high latitudes in the east may be explained by
a mutually beneficial arrangement between the Norse and the Thule that encompassed the beginning, the maximum, and ultimately the end of the Medieval Warm Period. Thus in due order and also from north to south to north, Western, Middle and Eastern  "settlements" on the west coast of Greenland may now be considered in functional terms to be Viking arrival and departure ports as shown on Map 5e below:

MAP 5e. Major Viking Ports for the Eastern, Middle and Western Settlements of North America

MAP 5e.
Major Viking Ports for the Eastern, Middle and Western Settlements of North America

Even so, "ports" A, B and C may not correlate with established archaelogical settlements on the west side of Greenland today. Nor indeed should the former necessarily replace the latter entirely, for things may not be quite that straightforward anyway, i.e.,yet again another set of dualities intended to preserve and protect the many-sided truths of this matter.
    But in any rate, a cooperative venture during the time when optimal conditions for successful transits of the Northwest Passage likely existed and a high latitude route via Bache Peninsula and Sverdrup Pass may have represented a swifter and more practical alternative to those at lower latitudes. Or in addition, perhaps, since the scenario presented here includes the possibility of large-scale movements as well as on-going visits to the Pacific Northwest and voyages of discovery further afield.

We come now to a matter that rarely seems to be considered in discussions concerning "The Northwest Passage," namely the distance that remains after passing through the Arctic Archipelago.The latter is recognized today to be merely the first part of the Canadian segment of the Northwest Passage, either via the lower latitudes from Cape Chidley and the Labrador Sea in the East to Cape Parry and the Beaufort Sea in the West, or via the upper latitudes from Baffin Bay in the East to the Beaufort Sea in the West via Lancaster Sound, etc. Either way, neither represent the Northwest Passage in toto, but more to the point, even after completing this first segment further lengthy journeys remain in our present Pacific Northwest context. Firstly, westward along the North Slope of Alaska, then south to Bering Strait (more than 1200 miles) followed in turn by another 800 miles or so to the first practical gap in the Aleutians, a grand total of more than 2,000 miles before sailing eastward to the Pacific Northwest. Not only this, but immediately after passing through the Arctic Archipelago the coastal route swings north again before rounding Point Barrow above 71 degrees just as winter is fast approaching. Or is it? Or better stated, in light of the considerable distances involved, irrespective of the Medieval Warm Period and optimal conditions, attempting such lengthy transits in one season would, more likely than not, always be a lengthy, dangerous and uncertain venture.

Which is not to say that the Passage could not have been accomplished more easily and more swiftly, but merely to suggest that other options might nonetheless have been required. Moreover, remaining with the grander scheme of things, completing the northern section of the Northwest Passage would, above else, depend on speed and efficiency, even for single ships and small expeditions. Larger groups would have additional requirements, and likely more problems if they were to remain together, with all expeditions requirng meticulous planning and organization beyond that already gained by mounting long-range Viking raids, etc. Over time, however, additional holding and transfer points could become established and maximised to allow for wintering-over should this become necessary, or even at times standard practice. Here at least we already have locations critically posiitoned across the Canadian North, but this said, further refinements may still be added. The need for speed through the Northwest Passage itself could have been handled by larger Viking ships over the longer, open-water hauls with the shorter, more circuitous routes delegated to smaller Viking ships and/or Umiaks, with or without the predominant use of sails. The latter would no doubt be advantageous at times, but rowing continuously during the long daylight hours available at high latitudes would largely circumvent delays caused by unfavourable winds and adverse weather. In short, the lighter, shallow-draft Viking ships and/or Umiaks could continue across the North in all but the foulest weather, with the latter the most flexible of all. Such vessels might still be damaged from time to time, but rarely (if ever) locked in the winter ice and crushed like so many large sailing ships that later met this almost inevitable end.
    Even so, failure to clear the Northern regions before winter finally set in would result in severe consequences, though less so if this was anticipated and steps were taken to minimise the difficulties. Nevertheless, such delays would still consume time and multiple resources throughout the long, dark and cold winters of the North. But it may still have been unavoidable, and at least from time to time it may have become a practical alternative, if not the norm. And not a secret either, just a possible and natural consequence of the many difficultites inherent in the journey.

As for the capabilities of Umiaks, the experiences of Peter Freuchen, who to took a short trip by Umiak to procure sled dogs for the Mylius-Erichsen.Expedition to Map North-eastern Greenland serves to emphasize both the capabilities of this kind of vessel and also the value (if not the necessity) of shared duties in the Arctic. Umiaks were considered to be "Women's Boats" and as such generally crewed by them. Except, it seems, when passengers such as young Peter Freuchen--fresh off the boat from Denmark--gallantly offered to lend a hand:
    We went by “women's boats"  because the oarsmen are all women. It would have been a disgrace for a man to ride in a skin boat except as a passenger or a steersman... On my way to buy the dogs I sat in the stern of the skin boat watching the tactics of the kayakmen with utter fascination. But I was not accustomed to sitting idle while women worked, so I insisted upon taking an oar, to the great amusement of both the men and the girls. A few hours of the pace set by the women left me gasping, and it took no great amount of persuasion to make me relinquish my oar to the embarrassed young woman who had been trying to coach me.
    The stamina and strength of these girls is astonishing. They sing through the whole day's rowing. Their songs are usually improvisations to fit the occasion, sung to some familiar Danish tune. They laugh and joke and tell stories as they row, often kidding the passenger who does not understand what they are saying.
    Many of those in my boat were elderly women...
    The trip took us thirteen hours and I thought surely the girls would be completely exhausted. Yet when they were told that there was to be a dance that night in the post manager's workhouse, they whooped with joy. After a day's rowing, a night of dancing would be just the needed relaxation! (Peter Freuchen, ARCTIC ADVENTURE: My Life in the Frozen North.  Farrar & Rinehart, New York 1935:10, AMS Reprint 1976).
A few years earlier (1903-1904) the report of a Canadian govenment expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands by the D.G.S. Neptune included a photograph of a sizable umiak in Canadian waters at Wakeham Bay. It is included here because it well illustrates the dimensions and capabilty of such vessels, though not everyone would agree entirely with its accompanying caption.

Fig. 5f. "Woman's Boat" at Wakeham Bay, Hudson Strait. Early 1900s.

Fig. 5f. "Woman's Boat" at Wakeham Bay, Hudson Strait. Early 1900s
Albert P. Low, THE CRUISE OF THE NEPTUNE:(1903-1904)..

Nevertheless, although it will not be discussed here and now a considerable Irish component to this matter undoubtedly exists.

But in any case, with wintering-over included, it would require two years to reach the Pacific Northwest, and a futher two years for the return journey. Allowing a minimum of one year to transact business, etc., it would therefore at best take five years to complete a round trip from Europe. Thus a long, difficult and unpleasant journey at the best of times, but a worthwhile one-way voyage for those hoping for a new life in "Greenland" and "Vinland," albeit, perhaps, without permissions or blessings from the European powers that be. But suppose that these same powers not ony laid claim to the new territories, but also demanded obediance, and not least of all, tithes and tributes from those who had settled there?
    Did this ever happen? Possibly, or at least the dire prospects of such a round trip seem to have been given serious consideration, with the former perhaps even the subject of an actual complaint. Witness, for example, the following footnote explaining the selection of certain “Papal Letters Concerning the Bishopric of Gardar in Greenland during the Fifteenth Century"--Letter II in particular:
1. In 1893 an American in Rome, Mr. J. C. Heywood . . . brought out, in a very small edition (twenty-five copies) a book of photographic facsimiles of documents in the Vatican relating to Greenland and the discovery of America, Documenta Selecta e Tabulario Secrete Vaticano. The Latin text of those here presented may be found in Fischer, Discoveries of the Northmen, pp. 49-51. A translation made for the Tennessee Historical Society by Rev. John B. Morris and printed in Vol. IX. of the society's organ, the American Historical Magazine. Using this translation, we have printed Letters IX. and X. as the only ones that contain anything of particular interest concerning the Gardar bishopric in Greenland, excepting, possibly, the following sentence from Letter II (December 4, 1276), to the Archbishop of Drontheim: ‘Your Fraternity having been explicitly directed by letters apostolic to visiting personally all parts of the kingdom of Norway, for the purpose of collecting the tithes due the Holy Land, has informed us that this seems almost impossible, when it is taken into consideration that the diocese in Greenland is so remote from your metropolitan see and kingdom that five years or more would be consumed in going thither and returning.’ It has been inferred, on account of the length of this time, that the Vinland colony was included. There is no documentary evidence of this. The papal letters contain no reference to Vinland. (The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503. Ed. Julius E. Olsen, C. Scribner’s sons, New York, 1906, Barnes & Noble reprint, New York, 1967:70-71.Emphases supplied)
As far as tithe-collecting in Europe may be concerned, would (or should) it require two years in each direction plus another just to collect tributes from modern Greenland? This would seem unlikely, but it would be almost a certainty if both "Greenland" and "Vinland" lay on the far side of the World and the far side of North America in addition. To which may also be added that although using more modern ships, it took David Cranz only 76 days to reach the west coast of Greenland from Denmark (Copenhagen) in 1761, and departing at a later time in the year 98 days for the return leg, thus less than six months travel by sea for the entire trip.
    But in any case, t
he major point of interest here is not so much the references to "Vinland" at the end, negative though they are, but very the fact that Vinland is mentioned at all, which indicates--rather than suggests--that Vinland did indeed exist, and moreover, that Vinland must almost certainly have been located a considerable distance from Scandinavia and Europe since the essence of the complaint was that: “five years or more would be consumed in going thither and returning.” The latter interval has already been "explained" above in terms of wintering-over in the Northwest Passage in both directions, which in our present context would indeed include a round trip to and from "Vinland" in the Pacific Northwest. Lastly, with space always at a premium, transporting tithe-collectors and the like over such distances would have been an unwanted imposition and an unproductive burden. As such one cannot discount the possibility that the difficulties en route may have been amplified rather than diminished, including, perhaps, even deliberate wintering-over, intended, as the French would say, "to encourage the others." Moreover, even if collectors and administrators, etc., did manage to arrive in the Pacific Northwest, apart from being unwelcome they may also have been fundamentally unsuccessful in pursuing their duties. At which point their only hope would be permission to remain there in perpetuity as opposed to a swift and hostile conclusion to the matter.
    In any event,
although feasible (as opposed to being impossible), wintering-over in the Arctic regions would always be an undesirable option, but as the Medieval Warm Period began to wind down it might well have become more a fact of life as one-season transits through the Northwest Passage came to a close. Or because of this, a secondary form of movement was adopted simultaneously out of necessity, or according to a plan that increasingly involved the interior of North America as opposed to northern coastal cruising. Thus by extension, the summer use of rivers augmented by overland routes in both summer and winter. It is at this juncture that one begins to realise (or at least suspect) that this whole matter has a number of complex aspects, not least of all the possibility of large-scale movements into Hudson Bay for points south and southwest into and across North America. These aspects will be examined in detail in the next section.



    1. Is it completely genuine?
    2. Is it entirely fraudulent?
    3. Is it something in between?

Here I must admit to reading the History of Greenland by David Cranz belatedly, largely because of highly negative and dismissive prevailing attitudes towards the latter's work. In retrospect I should have known better--as should others, I would hazard--but that is another matter for another time.
    Frankly I am still puzzled by the details, and not least of all--true or false--by the limited treatment of this fascinating map in present-day literature. However, some things seem clear enough, including the location of the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude) assigned to Greenwich in 1881.  In the present map, however, the Prime Meridian passes some eighteen degrees futher west through Iceland (and by extension southwards through the Canary Islands) thus it is undoubtedly an earlier assignment. Although this does not in itself prove the map is genuine, it is nevertheless closer to the publication date of the History of Greenland in 1767.  Always assuming, of course, that the map was indeed an integral part of the initial publication and not a later addition. In any event, I will this leave matter and like elements to experts, noting only that both the map and the double-dashed lines across Greenland undoubtedly provide room for thought in addition to sufficient details that just might be in keeping with a lengthy Norse presence in this land that extended for at least three and a half centuries.
  This said, and whatever the outcome, the production and publication of a highly detailed, full-page, fold-out map not only indicates a considerable amount of scholarly effort, it also represents a sizable expenditure of both time and--not least of all--money. None of which necessarily establishes that the map is genuine, of course. Nevertheless, these aspects tend to make the "additions" to the so-called "Vinland Map" appear almost purile by comparison. Not that there is any wish to resurrect the latter here given that it has been duly and sufficiently discredited by now, especially by Kirsten Seaver (1995-2001), the detailed review of the parent publication and map by Lars Lönnroth (1997:115-20) and the rejection of the Vinland map on nautical grounds by G. J. Marcus (1981:xii).  As the latter pointed out:
In most general histories the maritime aspect of affairs is by far the most neglected side of the matter. The truth is that the academic authority shies away from the difficulties and dangers of a whole range of problems that demand highly specialized knowledge to which as a rule he does not attain. The protracted and for the most part pointless controversy that arose some years ago concerning the authenticity of the ‘Vinland Map’ was a notable example of academic ignorance of the ‘sea affair’. But for this ignorance, the pretensions of the ‘Vinland Map’ would surely have been rejected out of hand. As it was, a great deal of time and energy was expended to little or no effect.
    The fundamental weakness of the academic approach in this field is that the savant, however erudite, is for the most part totally lacking in practical experience and understanding
G. J. Marcus, The Conquest of the North Atlantic, Oxford University Press, New York 1981:xii).
This I include as a caution for those who may wish to dismiss the NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP outright on one hand, or embrace it uncritically on the other. It may, I suspect, be more option #3 than either of the two polar opposites (no pun intended). But either way it also brings with it further complexities concerning not only the date and place of origin but also the fundamental purpose behind its original inclusion.
As for the "authenticity" of the NOVA GROENLANDIAE MAP this may depend in part on the following section. Suffice it to say at this juncture, however, that like it or not, it at least sheds additional light on what is becoming an increasingly complex matter in both temporal and geographical terms.

Part 5.  The Mysterious Aklinik of the Greenlanders

Brent, Peter.THE VIKING SAGA, Tinling, Prescott, 1975.
Cranz, David. The History of Greenland Containing A Description of The Country and Its Inhabitants. Translated from the High Dutch J. Dodsely, London 1767.
Enterline, James Robert. Erikson, Eskimos, and Columbus, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2002.
Farley, Gloria. In Plain Sight. ISAC Press, Columbus, 1984.
Fischer, Joseph. The Discoveries of the Norsemen in America with special relation to their early cartographical Representation. Trans. Basil H. Soulsby, Burt Franklin, New York 1903. (Reprinted in 1970).
Freuchen, Peter. ARCTIC ADVENTURE: My Life in the Frozen North. Farrar & Rinehart, New York 1935.
Fischer, Joseph.
The Discoveries of the Norsemen in America with special relation to their early cartographical Representation. Trans. Basil H. Soulsby, Burt Franklin, New York 1903.
Fiske, John. The Discovery of America with some Account of Ancient America and the Spanish Conquest, 2 Vols., Macmillan and Co., London 1892.
Gathorne-Hardy, G. M. The Norse Discoverers of America: The Wineland Sagas. translated and discussed by G.M. Gathorne-Hardy with a new Preface by the Author and a new Introduction by Gwyn Jones. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970:55–56. [Original version published in 1921]
Ingstad, Helge.WESTWARD TO VINLAND: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America (trans from Norwegian by Erik J. Friis), Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1969.
Jóhannessen, Jón. Íslendinga Saga: A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth. Trans. Harald Bessason, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg 1974.
Lönnroth, Lars. Review of The Vinland Map and the “Tartar Relation” by Raleigh A. Skelton, Thomas E. Marston, and George D. Painter (New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1995)  in alvíssmál 7 (1997:115–20).
Low, Albert P.  THE CRUISE OF THE NEPTUNE: Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands on Board the D.G.S. Neptune 1903-1904, Government Printing Bureau, Ottawa, 1906.
Marcus, G.  J.  The Conquest of the North Atlantic, Oxford University Press, New York 1981.
Nansen, Fridtjof. In Northern Mists, 2 Vols. Frederick A Stokes, New York, 1911.
_____________   Farthest North, Harper & Brothers, New York & London. 1897.
_____________  The First Crossing of Greenland, Longmans, Green & Co., New York, 1890.
Oleson, Tryggi J. Early Voyages and Northern Approaches 1000 - 1632. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto 1963.
Olsen, Julius E. The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503:The Voyages of the Northmen. Ed. Julius E. Olsen. C. Scribner’s sons, New York, 1906. Barnes and Noble reprint, New York, 1967.
Pálsson, Herman and Paul Edwards. Trans.The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg, 1972.
Rasmussen, Knud. ACROSS ARCTIC AMERICA: Narrative of the Fifth Thule Expedition, Greenwood Press, New York, 1969 (originally published in 1927 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.)
Reeves, Arthur. M. The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America, Burt Franklin, New York, 1895.
_____________, North Ludlow Beamish, and Rasmus B. Anderson, The Norse Discovery of America, The Norrenoena Society, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, New York,1906.
Schlederman Peter. VOICES IN STONE: A Personal Journey into the Arctic Past, Komatik Series No.5, Arctic Institute of North America, Calgary, 1996.
_____________  Crossroads to Greenland: 3000 years of prehistory in the Eastern High Arctic. Calgary Arctic Institute of North America, K.series No.2, 1990.
_____________  "Eskimo and Viking Finds in the High Arctic," National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 159, No. 5, May 1981.
_____________  Thule Eskimo prehistory of Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island,  Canada, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, 1975.
Seaver, Kirsten.  Maps, Myths, and Mern. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2004.
_____________  "Renewing the Quest for Vinland: The Stefansson, Resen and Thorlaksson Maps." Mercator's World, No. 5 Vol 5. Sept/Oct 2000.
_____________ "Good Bye Columbus I,"  Letters to the Editor, Mercator's World, No. 5 Vol 5. Sept/Oct 2000.
_____________ "The Vinland Map". Mercator's World, No. 2 Vol 2. Mar/Apr. 1997.
_____________ The Frozen Echo, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1996.
_____________ 'The Vinland Map' Who Made it and Why. New Light on an Old Controversy" The Map Collector, No. 70, Spring 1995.
Stefannson, John."The Land of Fire, National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XVIII, No 11, November 1907.
Tyrrell,  J. W.  Report of J. W. Tyrrell, D.L.S. Exploratory Survey Between Great Slave Lake and Hudson Bay, Districts of Mackenzie and Keewatin. Govt. Printing Bureau, Ottawa, 1902.

Introduction to The Last Viking
Part   1.  Viking Press and Viking Ships

Part   2.  West by Northwest 
Part   3. Three Steps Back
  4. The Nova Groenlandiae Map [Current Selection]
Part   5. The Mysterious Akilinik of the Greenlanders
Part   6. Symbols, Markers and Indicators
Part   7. Reflections in the King's Mirror
Part   8. South by Southeast
Part   9. The Copper Canoe
Part 10. The Warp and the Weave
Part 11. Helluland, Markland and Vinland
Part 12. The Golden Apples of the Sun

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

Copyright © 1999. John N. Harris, M.A.(CMNS). Last Updated on December 22, 2023.

Return to