Leif Ericson was the first known European to visit The New World, and Vikings led by Thorfinn Karlsefni were the first European settlers, 1000 years-ago, according to world-famed explorer Dr. Thor Heyerdahl [also corroborated by the ancient Vinland Sagas, see the following article for an excerpt]. He was the keynote speaker at the Leif Ericson Millennium Celebration in Philadelphia, October 1999.
From his years of methodical, global research, Dr. Heyerdahl provided an audience of 250 attentive listeners with a carefully documented historic perspective about Vikings and their contributions to the world. His newest book, about Vikings was published in Norway. An English edition will be published this year.
"When we start looking at the world map we Europeans think that history began with us. Nevertheless, there is not one spot where there were no people there before us. We Europeans have never been the first to set foot ashore on any continent or any island.” Dr. Heyerdahl emphasized.
"We in Norway like to think that we discovered Iceland, but Irish monks had settled on the West Coast before we arrived. They did a great benefit to those Norwegians who escaped when King Harold the Fair-hair, united Norway from 12 little kingdoms into one country. Leaders of the other little kingdoms fled and took with them the elite of the population to Iceland," Dr. Heyerdahl explained.
"We have good reason to be happy they did go to Iceland and learn to write Latin from the Irish monks. Thanks to what they preserved in Iceland we have a history to look back upon.”
"We can be proud that Leif Ericson had ancestors from Norway, but must admit that Leif Ericson was an Icelander. His father, Erik the Red, was born in Norway and immigrated to Iceland. Leif was born on Iceland and he was a fairly big boy when he followed his father to settle on Greenland”, Dr. Heyerdahl pointed out.
"For a year I have been researching and writing a new book about Vikings. It is astonishing what we can learn in research today with Internet and international collaboration. We had at our fingertips 11 Academies of Sciences who answered our questions almost immediately. We had access to the libraries and the secret archives of the Vatican, where few Protestants have ventured to go in and look.”
"We decided to combine what many authorities know. In Iceland, for the first time, the complete Sagas have been published in English, accessible to all of us. We had access to what the Danes know from excavations in Denmark. We obtained information from Finland about the early history of Norway and what the Finns had obtained from the Orkney Island sagas," he told a spellbound audience.
"We had contact with Russia, Latvia, Ukraine to Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea and China," Dr. Heyerdahl announced. "In China, they have excavated mummies of Nordic type, which the Chinese believed must have been descendants of the Vikings. They had the cranium, blond hair, blue eyes—all the aspects of Scandinavia. What we had to do was to piece their information with what we got from the rest of the world”, the veteran explorer and anthropologist explained.
"We learned that Nordic people, the ‘Caucasian’ type, had spread from the Caucasus into China, 1800 years before Christ. They passed from the same Caucasus area up through Europe, first in Denmark then to Sweden, and then to Finland and Norway in the beginning of the Christian era, the end of the first century after Christ.”
"All this you can piece together by bringing archeology, history, and all the documents together. When you do, you come to the conclusion that the Scandinavian countries, and particularly Norway and Iceland, were not the wild Vikings that we think they were”, the famous anthropologist emphasized.
"Leif Ericson had never been on a Viking ship. He was born on Iceland and he was raised on Greenland as a farm boy. His father, who founded Greenland, sent him to Norway with merchandise on a Knarr (a merchant vessel), about the year 1000, according to historic records. His cargo was furs, walrus tusks and other products for sale.”
"I have always wondered why this year 1000. It did not seem natural. Columbus sailed in 1492 and we have written records of that. We don't know when Leif Ericson actually sailed, so we round it off to 1000," Dr. Heyerdahl explained.
"When we talk about who came first to North America, Leif started 492-years before Columbus, and so there was no contest as to who came first. If you have a competitor for 'First to see The New World’, we find him in the Viking Sagas. His name was Bjarni Herjolfsson. While traveling from Iceland to Greenland, he was blown off course in a storm and was then able to see the new land from his ship, but did not disembark ashore; resulting in criticism by his own crew. By the time he finally came to Greenland he could say he had been there" Dr. Heyerdahl pointed out from his extensive book research.
"Leif is the first known European person, undoubtedly, who set foot ashore in North America. There are many people who sailed from Greenland to America in the years to come! Sagas tell us about the explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni who led the first group to settle in North America 1000 years-ago.
"Personally, I think we can conclude it was Leif Ericson's encampment where they settled because he found it where he estimated on the basis of the Saga that it should be. I think that speaks in favor of him having found Leif's first settlement" the world-renowned explorer and author said.
"Today we can build on what the Danish archeologists have done in Greenland and what the Norwegians, Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad (Helge the explorer, and the archeologist Anne Stine Ingstad) found at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. That has been radio carbon-dated. There is no question that the artifacts they found are from the Nordic visitors”, Dr. Heyerdahl assured his intent audience.
"There were three big countries that the Greenland colonists saw, running all the way from Hudson Bay and Labrador in what we call Helluland and Markland, the rocky land and the forested land; and when you come down to St. Lawrence Bay and Newfoundland, that is the area which was Vinland. This one bay at L'Anse au Meadows is not Vinland. It is part of Vinland," Dr. Heyerdahl believes from his research.
"The Icelandic geographers have found today grapes growing wild in the St. Lawrence area, and I myself have received as a gift from them, wild grapes picked in that area. We also know today about the climatic changes over the millennium. The Greenland coast and the Northeastern Coast of America were much warmer until roughly 1350, AD.”
"We have a fair idea of what happened. Halfway between Iceland and Greenland on some very early maps are some islands that are not on modern maps”, Dr. Heyerdahl pointed out.
“But on a map of 1400's, it was stated that at about 1350 AD the last of these islands burned up. Oceanographers had discovered that there are sunken volcanoes in that area. There was volcanic activity then as there still is today. The shallow water around the reefs blocked the cold water from the Arctic current from coming further down the Greenland coast.”
The famed Norwegian explorer also was granted special access to Vatican files and ancient documents during his book research. "I was let in to the secret archives of the Vatican and I was given by the Archbishop, in person, the original manuscript from Adam of Bremen, written in the year 1070; 200 years before the Sagas. Here was a report to the Vatican about the Norse discovery of a land we call Vinland, west of Greenland.”
"We the Protestants had not been willing to go and ask for it, and they, the Catholics had not been willing to volunteer. So everybody has been happy with the idea that Leif Ericson was a just a Viking and Columbus discovered America.”
"What we have re-discovered from archeology in Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland, translations of historic documents, research in Vatican archives now available is that Leif Ericson did discover The New World, circa 1000 AD. It was first settled by Vikings accompanying Thorfinn Karlsefni and his wife, most likely at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.”
"There is much more to discover about Vikings and it is a continuing challenge to all of us to find answers from all the sources now available to us," Dr. Heyerdahl concluded.
To celebrate and commemorate Leif Ericson's epic voyage of discovery and Viking history, the Viking Trail Association of Newfoundland has organized a Vikings 1000 project. Replica Viking ships from Nordic countries will converge on L'Anse aux Meadows this summer at a Grand Encampment.
Note: To Editors and Readers: a veteran member of the Overseas Press Club, Allan A. Swenson is the author of 50 published books and a former nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist. He is now semi-retired and writing his own children's and adult books about Vikings. Swenson also writes articles for Norway Times, Den Danske Pioneer, The SUN-Scandinavia USA News, Swedish Press, Logberg-the Icelandic Newsweekly, Raivaaja, and other Norse media as well as national magazines in the United States
The Year 985 AD: Some time later, Bjarni Herjolfsson sailed from Greenland to Norway and visited Earl Eirik,1 who received him well. Bjarni told the earl about his voyage and the lands he had sighted. People thought he had shown great lack of curiosity, since he could tell them nothing about these countries, and he was criticized for this. Bjarni was made a retainer at the earl's court, and went back to Greenland the following summer.
There was now great talk of discovering new countries. Leif, the son of Eirik the Red of Brattahlid, went to see Bjarni Her-Jolfsson and bought his ship from him, and engaged a crew of thirty-five. Leif asked his father Eirik to lead this expedition too, but Eirik was rather reluctant: he said he was getting old, and could endure hardships less easily than he used to. Leif replied that Eirik would still command more luck2 than any of his kinsmen; and, in the end, Eirik let Leif have his way.
As soon as they were ready. Eirik rode off to the ship, which was only a short distance away. However, the horse he was riding stumbled and he was thrown, injuring his leg. “I am not meant to discover more countries than this one we now live in,” said Eirik. “This is as far as we go together.”3
Eirik returned to Brattahlid, but Leif went aboard the ship with his crew of thirty-five. Among them was a Southerner called Tyrkir4
They made their ship ready and put out to sea. The first landfall they made was the country that Bjarni had sighted last. They sailed right up to the shore and cast anchor, then lowered a boat and landed. There was no grass to be seen, and the hinterland was covered with great glaciers, and between glaciers and shore, the land was like one great slab of rock. It seemed to them a worthless country.
Then Leif said, “Now we have done better than Bjarni where this country is concerned - we at least have set foot on it. I shall give this country a name and call it Helluland.”5
They returned to their ship and put to sea, and sighted a second land. Once again, they sailed right up to it and cast anchor, lowered a boat and went ashore. This country was flat and wooded, with white sandy beaches wherever they went; and the land sloped gently down to the sea.
Leif said, "This country shall be named after its natural re-sources: it shall be called Markland.” 6 They hurried back to their ship as quickly as possible and sailed away to sea in a northeast wind for two days until they sighted land again. They sailed towards it and came to an island which lay to the north of it
They went ashore and looked about them. The weather was fine. There was dew on the grass, and the first thing they did was to get some of it on their hands and put it to their lips, and to them it seemed the sweetest thing they had ever tasted. Then they went back to their ship and sailed into the sound that lay between the island and the headland jutting out to the north.
They steered a westerly course round the headland. There were extensive shallows there and at low tide, their ship was left high and dry, with the sea almost out of sight. However, they were so impatient to land that they could not bear to wait for the rising tide to float the ship; they ran ashore to a place where a river flowed out of a lake. As soon as the tide had refloated the ship, they took a boat and rowed out to it and brought it up the river into the lake, where they anchored it. They carried their hammocks ashore and put up booths.7 Then they decided to winter there, and built some large houses.
There was no lack of salmon in the river or the lake, bigger salmon than they had ever seen.8 The country seemed to them so kind that no winter fodder would be needed for livestock: there was never any frost all winter and the grass hardly withered at all.
In this country, night and day were of more even length than in either Greenland or Iceland: on the shortest day of the year, the sun was already up by 9 a.m., and did not set until after 3 p.m.9
When they had finished building their houses, Leif said to his companions, “Now I want to divide our company into two parties and have the country explored; half of the company are to remain here at the houses while the other half go exploring—but they must not go so far that they cannot return the same evening, and they are not to become separated.”
They carried out these instructions for a time. Leif himself took turns at going out with the exploring party and staying behind at the base, between the Gulf of St Lawrence and New Jersey.
One evening, news came that someone was missing: it was Tyrkir the Southerner. Leif was very displeased at this. For Tyrkir had been with the family for a long time, and when Leif was a child had been devoted to him. Leif rebuked his men severely, and got ready to make a search with twelve men. They had gone only a short distance from the houses when Tyrkir came walking towards them, and they gave him a warm welcome. Leif quickly realized that Tyrkir was in excellent humor.
Tyrkir had a prominent forehead and shifty eyes, and not much more of a face besides; he was short and puny-looking but very clever with his hands.
Leif said to him, “Why are you so late, foster-father? How did you get separated from your companions?”
At first Tyrkir spoke for a long time in German, rolling his eyes in all directions and pulling faces, and no one could understand what he was saying. After a while, he spoke in Icelandic. "I did not go much farther than you," he said. "I have some news. I found vines and grapes.” 10 "Is that true, foster-father?" asked Leif. “Of course it is true,” he replied, “where I was born there were plenty of vines and grapes.”
They slept for the rest of the night, and next morning Leif said to his men, “Now we have two tasks on our hands. On alternate days we must gather grapes and cut vines, and then fell trees, to make a cargo for my ship.”
This was done. It is said that the towboat was filled with grapes. They took on a full cargo of timber; and in the spring, they made ready to leave and sailed away. Leif named the country after its natural qualities and called it “Vinland.”
They put out to sea and had favorable winds all the way, until they sighted Greenland and its ice-rapped mountains. Then one of the crew spoke up and said to Leif, “Why are you steering the ship so close to the wind?”
“I am keeping an eye on my steering,” replied Leif, “but I am also keeping an eye on something else. Don't you see anything unusual?”
They said they could see nothing in particular. “I am not quite sure,” said Leif, “whether it is a ship or a reef I can see.”
Now they caught sight of it, and said that it was a reef. However, Leif’s eyesight was so much keener than theirs that he could now make out people on the reef.
“I want to sail close into the wind in order to reach these people,” he said, “If they need our help, it is our duty to give it; but if they are hostile, then the advantages are all on our side and none on theirs.”
They approached the reef, lowered sail, anchored, and put out another small boat they had brought with them. Tyrkir asked the men who their leader was. The leader replied that his name was Thorir, and that he was a Norwegian by birth. “What is your name?” he asked. Leif named himself in return. “Are you a son of Eirik the Red of Brattahlid?” Leif said that he was. “And now,” he said, “I want to invite you all aboard my ship, with as much of your belongings as the ship will take.”
They accepted the offer, and they all sailed to Eiriksfjord thus laden. When they reached Brattahlid, they unloaded the ship.
Leif invited Thorir and his wife Gudrid and three other men to stay with him and found lodgings for the rest of the ship's company, both Thorir's men and his own crew. Leif rescued fifteen people in all from the reef. From then on, he was called Leif the Lucky. He gained greatly in wealth and reputation.
A serious disease broke out amongst Thorir's crew that winter and Thorir himself and many of his men died of it Eirik the Red also died that winter.
Now there was much talk about Leif’s Vinland11 voyage, and his brother Thorvald thought that the country had not been explored extensively enough. Leif said to Thorvald, “you can have my ship to go to Vinland, if you like; but first I want to send it to fetch the timber that Thorir left on the reef.”
This was done...
1. Earl Eirik Hakonarson ruled over Norway from 1000 to 1014.2. “Luck” had a greater significance in pagan Iceland than the word implies now. Good luck or ill luck were innate qualities, part of the complex pattern of Fate. Leif inherited the good luck associated with his father (chapter 4).3. A fall from a horse was considered a very bad omen for a journey. Such a fall clinched Gunnar of Hlidarend's decision not to leave Iceland when he was outlawed (Njal's Saga, Chapter 75).4. Southerner refers to someone from central or southern Europe; Tyrkir appears to have been a German.5. Literally, “Slab-land”; probably Baffin Island (see List of Names).6. Literally, “Forest-land”; probably Labrador (see List of Names).Leif was tall and strong and very impressive in appearance. He was a shrewd man and always moderate in his behavior.7. Booths were stone-and-turf enclosures that could be temporarily roofed with awnings for occupation.8. On the east coast of the North American continent, salmon are not usually found any farther south than the Hudson River.9. This statement indicates that the location of Vinland must have been south of latitude fifty and north of latitude forty –anywhere10. Many later explorers of the New England region commented on the wild grapes they found growing there. Grapes have been known to grow wild on the east coast as far north as Passamaquoddy Bay.11. Literally, “Wine-land”. With the compound Vin-land, compare the Icelandic term vinber, “grapes” (literally, “wine-berries”). In order to explain away the absence of grapes in certain parts of North America which have been suggested as the site of Vinland, some scholars (including Dr. Helge Ingstad, cf. p.9) have argued that the first element in the name is not vin (“wine”) but vin, meaning “fertile land”, or “oasis”. On phonological grounds, this suggestion is nonsensical, since the name Vinland has never been forgotten in Iceland, and the words yin and vin are never confused. However, the main objection is to be found in the sagas themselves, where the name of the country is explicitly associated with its wine,
U.S. Sailors Hold Heathen Religious Services Aboard Deployed Aircraft Carrier
If you are deployed aboard the carrier John C. Stennis and consider yourself a practitioner of Germanic paganism, you are in luck. The carrier, now operating in the Persian Gulf, is holding lay services in the ship's chapel to serve a "small, committed" group of sailors identifying as Heathens, according to a recent news release from the carrier.
The development is the latest in a series of advancements for Heathenism in the U.S. military, a little-known pre-Christian religion that has gradually gained recognition in the U.S. military services. A 2013 non-scientific "census" poll by the Norse Mythology Blog identified nearly 8,000 Heathen respondents in the U.S. and more than 16,000 worldwide. A 2018 estimate from religious author Jefferson Calico suggested there might be up to 20,000 American Heathens.
According to the Stennis release, Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Joshua Wood, a practitioner of Heathenry for more than five years, was appointed Heathen lay leader for the carrier. This distinction allows him to facilitate sumbels, and other informal Heathen religious services, within the ship's chapel.
Religious lay leaders must be appointed by commanding officers "on the basis of volunteerism, high moral character, motivation, religious interest and a letter of certification by the appointee's religious organization," according to the release, which cites the U.S. Military Personnel Manual.
While the release did not state how many sailors are regularly joining Wood for services, it includes quotes from one other Navy practitioner, Aviation Electronics Technician Airman Joshua Shaikoski.
Shaikoski was born in Norway, where Heathenism is more openly practiced, but he grew up Lutheran, he said.
"I never felt like I connected with anything spiritual until I visited Norway and discovered a group of Heathens who opened my eyes to their religion," he said in a statement. "When I returned to [the United States], I met a kindred that aligned with my beliefs, and I've been with them ever since."
Deployed at sea since October, Heathens aboard the Stennis pray to Njord, the god of seafarers, one of many deities recognized by the religion, Shaikoski said. "Heathenry helped me connect with people on the ship that I would have just passed by”
The U.S. military has taken steps to become more pluralistic in recent years. In 2017, the Pentagon more than doubled its list of recognized religions to 221, compiling faiths already recognized by various service branches into a master list.
Heathenry, in particular, has seen a number of advances in the military. In 2013, Arlington National Cemetery approved the Hammer of Thor (Mjölnir), as an accepted religious symbol to adorn military headstones; and in 2018, a soldier was granted a grooming standards waiver in order to wear a beard to symbolize his Norse Pagan faiths.