October 8, 2015 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
Yesterday we surveyed the historical and (mostly) pseudohistorical evidence for the presence of Vikings in New England. Today we will look at what the historical record can tell us about their activities and reach in North America and how all this might be of use in your Call of Cthulhu game.
What has been found:
There is evidence that Vikings got close, in relative terms, to New England. Most famous is the Viking site discovered at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1960. Here was a very small, possibly temporary, settlement – certainly no ‘Norumbega’. At this site there was some evidence that the Vikings has gone further south – the remains of butternuts, which do not grow normally north of what is now New Brunswick, for example.
No less important is what the sagas record about voyages to Helluland (likely Baffin Island), Markland (likely Labrador), and Vinland (possibly Newfoundland). While climactic shifts since 1000 AD may have changed the range of certain plants (and there is a lively debate about what the Vikings meant by ‘Vinland’ and whether or not they actually mean grapes, blueberries, or some other fruti), we do have their description of Vinland’s inhabitants – the skraelings. Several factors, including their use of hide boats, point to these being the Mi’kmaq or a related Native group in what is now Atlantic Canada, and not the Abenaki or other peoples in Southern New England. There is also a single surviving reference of a Greenlander ship, blown off course on a return from Markland, in Icelandic records from the 13tg century.
Beyond literary sources, there is physical evidence for Viking settlement beyond Greenland and L’Anse Aux Meadows. Archaeological evidence has found proof of a Viking presence on Baffin Island and scattered pieces of Viking handicraft have been found in sites related to the Dorest, Inuit, and Thule cultures across Arctic Canada. It is still unclear what the nature of relations between the Vikings and these Arctic people was – friendly trade, raiding, some mix, or even just the recovery of artifacts from a single lost ship.
Another hint of a possible presence of the Vikings further to the south is the ‘Maine Penny‘ (aka the Goddard coin) though, due to the circumstances of its discovery in 1957, it has been suggested to have been a hoax. At best a single coin found in a Native rubbish mound proves little beyond that the local people had contact with someone who had contact with (through several iterations perhaps) the Vikings.
Use in Game:
There are at least four scenarios where some suggestion of Vikings in the Americas come into play, even if indirectly:
- The Trail of Tsathoggua – Has a Miskatonic Expedition to Greenalnd (albeit somewhere far from the actual Viking settlement) to investigate an inexplicable archaeological find and later a trip into the interior after encountering certain remnants of a different past civilization.
- “The Dark Woods” (from Adventures in Arkham Country) – in which a Viking obsessed archaeologist mistakes a Hyperborean ruin for a Viking one.
- Escape from Innsmouth – Includes a legitimate Viking runic inscription in a place that investigators are unlikely to visit and survive.
- The MULA The Ravenar Sagas is set, in part, in Greenland and Vinland… but sadly I do not have a copy.
I think, aside from historical flavoring, the most useful take away regard Vikings and New England is as a model for how a scholar might base their research on fragmentary and possibly dubious sources. If Carl Rafn can claim that Vikings were in Rhode Island, what sort of extraordinary ideas might spring from a Mythos work? Consider how excited an archaeologist might be if they had some hint of Hyperborea or Lomar.
Secondarily, Vikings are a fun scenario hook and, if you’re willing to be constrained by geography and history, I could imagine what sorts of trouble one might get into in Helluland, for example. I would think the Vikings might be better equipped to deal with a Gnoph-keh than the average academic… The search for signs of ancient Vikings can also justify all sorts of investigations, in the library and in the field. Several of the places where odd inscriptions can be found in Lovecraft Country are rather hazardous for most visitors as well. Likewise Mythos artifacts might be misunderstood or misinterpreted as of Viking manufacture. Perhaps they found something awful in Labrador and took it with them Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod…