Review: Vikings in America

When I was in college (slightly unusually for the UK, I went to a college rather than sixth-form for my A-levels) studying history, I had the option of doing an extended piece of coursework; I chose to do mine on pre-Columbian voyages to America. The essay has itself now been long-lost to history – unlike my work on the War of 1812 that for some reason is one of the more popular posts on the blog – but my interest in the subject has never waned. When I saw this book on sale, I rather had to buy it.

I was certainly not disappointed. It's a short book, but it packs an awful lot of punch into its two hundred-odd pages, covering the explorations of the Vikings across to Britain, on to Iceland and Greenland, and following on to America. I hadn't realized the potential expanse of their explorations, though thinking about it, it should be obvious enough; a Viking site was found in Newfoundland forty years ago, and given – as the author points out – that few Viking settlements have survived even where we know they travelled, there were likely more, in more fertile lands.

Where this book comes alive is where it ranges outside its remit. Vikings in the Arctic might be a better term for it; he records discoveries of Viking artefacts well into the High Arctic, further afield than I certainly had ever considered. Given how little archaeological work has been done in the Canadian Arctic, the odds are that there is a lot more out there waiting to be discovered, and certainly this seems to be a fruitful field of research.

The Kensington Runestone is also explored, and though the author considers it probably a fake, the reality of the object is that if it is a fake, it's an extraordinary one. Whoever created it went to an extraordinary amount of trouble – and he also notes that were it not for the location, had it been found in, say, Sweden – it would have been accepted as authentic without a second thought.

This is an excellent book, and if you have any interest in the topic at all, it's well worth picking up. My goal was to mine it for story ideas, and I've definitely got several to explore from it...but that would be telling...

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