In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Viking people exploded out of Scandinavia and set about conquering parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Emboldened by their successes, the Vikings pushed ever farther outward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and eastern Canada.
In The Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, some three dozen scholars examine the growing archaeological evidence of the Viking presence in the New World--including such items as a Norse coin excavated in Maine, runic stones from the Canadian Arctic, and farming implements found in Newfoundland. The contributors consider the sometimes friendly, sometimes warlike history of Viking interactions with the native peoples of northeastern North America (whom the Norse called skraelings, or "screamers"); compare the archaeological record with contemporary sagas and other records of exploration; and argue for the need to better document the Viking contribution to New World history.
"As an historical and cultural achievement," write the editors, "the Viking Age and its North American medieval extension stand out as one of the most remarkable periods in human history." This oversized, heavily illustrated volume celebrates that little-understood time. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
According to this excellent work, there's a lot more to the Vikings than the ill-informed contemporary imagination often allows. The book doesn't only correct misperceptions--it uses the history of the Vikings as a framework for a range of events in world history. Edited by Fitzhugh, the director of the National Museum of Natural History's Arctic Studies Center, and Ward, a curatorial specialist in Viking Studies, this volume is a companion to the Smithsonian's spring exhibition (which will later travel to five other cities). Appearing exactly 1,000 years after the landing of Leif Eriksson in North America, the book first leads the reader through Scandinavian culture, art, religion and daily life and then to Viking expansion into Europe and the Mediterranean. The focus then shifts to the notorious North Atlantic raids that prefigured European expansion and settlement to come half a millennium later, to the effects of this settlement on the descendants of the raiders in Greenland and to the Viking legacy. In every instance, contributors impressively interpret a wealth of archeological and literary evidence in a lively and engaging manner; the analysis of the Vinland Sagas, the two surviving accounts of the settlements in North America, are particularly fine. Although the chapter on "The North Atlantic Environment" may tell more about lice than one wishes to know, it's a pleasure to read such lucid prose on topics that might otherwise seem arcane. Well designed, heavily illustrated and almost encyclopedic in scope and detail, this stimulating work gives the Vikings the place they seserve in the history of the world and will repay both extensive study and casual browsing. (Apr.)
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