August 23, 2019

Vikings may have settled Down East first> Historians use descriptions found in sagas to link Ericson to Lubec, Cutler sites

LUBEC — Were Vikings the first travelers from away to discover Lubec?

A handful of dedicated amateur historians think there is proof Leif Ericson and his Norse adventurers explored North America and landed Down East 604 years before the French arrived at St. Croix Island and 492 years before Columbus discovered America.

The historians say part of their proof rests in Viking sagas that tell about a large stretch of land where Vikings landed and built a settlement.

“In the original sagas, it has them seeing a body of water connected by a river, and they got stuck in the mud,” said William Clements, a Devon, Pa., physician and an amateur Viking historian. He said he believed that site may be in Cutler.

But Grand Lake Stream historian Walter Elliot said he believed the description offered in the sagas fits the sandbar at South Lubec.

Other bits of proof that Vikings were in the area could be a series of symbols on rocks at Norse Island in Cutler that appear to be similar to letters in the Viking alphabet.

Clements and Professor Harold Borns, a University of Maine geologist, were in Lubec Thursday to talk about the Vikings and their possible Down East connection and explore several sites in Lubec and Cutler.

The sagas recall the dramatic tale of Leif Ericson, born in the 970s as the son of Eric the Red, the first Norse explorer of Greenland. Leif Ericson and 160 men and women, along with their cattle, set sail for Vinland, also known as Wineland. But pinpointing the location of that land has some historians guessing. Vinland could be northern Newfoundland, in an area called L’Anse Aux Meadows, where archaeologists have found eight house sites and artifacts, or it could be further south in Lubec or Cutler, as local historians hope is the case.

Although it is a romantic tale of adventure and exploration, Borns admitted that even Leif Ericson’s existence was questionable. “The last time I was in Copenhagen talking to people who work on this subject, they said they really doubted the existence of Leif Ericson. … They said, `but we don’t want to say that too loudly,’ ” Borns said.

Borns said the Leif Ericson adventure might be a part of the saga that was an embellishment on the life of a Viking who was about to retire. “They put his deeds in the context of fictitious people,” he said.

In Iceland, Borns said, there is proof Eric the Red existed, but no documentation that the famous Norseman had children.

At the Newfoundland site, butternuts — a nut typically not found in that area — were discovered. “Where did they get the butternuts?” Borns asked. “They had to come south to at least as far as southern Labrador, certainly as far as New Brunswick, before you could get butternuts in the year 1000.”

If local historians want to attract attention to the Down East area as a possible Norse historical site, they need to gain the attention of archaeologists.

“Get the word out to as many people as possible. Discuss this whole thing,” Borns advised the 25 people at the meeting of the Lubec Historical Society. “The average archaeologist is only going to a place where there is something really substantial.”

Elliot and others, working with metal detectors, have searched and continue to search for proof of the Vikings’ landing. Elliot said he found a handmade nail at the sandbar in Lubec that he believed could date back to the Vikings. He said the nail had not been carbon-dated, but he hoped it might interest archaeologists who would pursue its historical significance.

Another Norse artifact was found at an Indian site near Blue Hill. “It was found at Naskeag Point,” said Borns. “It is a buttonlike coin, a little smaller than a penny. It was minted in Norway, probably about the year 1000. … When the Indian site was dug, they imported some Viking experts to watch the dig. As the dig progressed, it was concluded there was nothing there of Norse [origin], and they concluded it was probably a trade item.”

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