26 February 2010

Human Migration - The Arctic and North America During the Mini-Ice Age

From 1200-1800, Greenland and northern North America experienced climate change caused human and animal migration that has not been repeated to the present day. The climate in these areas began to change dramatically during the one to two centuries of the latter half of the Medieval Warm Period (700-1200) and the onset of the next natural climate cycle, the Mini-Ice Age (1300-1800).

The Greenland Norse, whom I write about, and the pre-historical ancestors of certain northern American Indian tribes, depended on large land and littoral animal species for their existence. As the climate decayed from the benign temperatures of the Medieval Warm Period, inland ice and snow pack and coastal sea icepack would have increased with the onset of the Mini-Ice Age. The animals affected would move gradually south to ensure their own survival. Humans who depended on them, moved with them.

A study of Indian language groups reveals that massive human migration occurred on the North American continent during the Mini-Ice Age. It is virtually impossible to determine origin and relationships between the tribal bands because of the mixing of peoples that occurred as a result of this climate induced forced migration.

I am specifically interested in the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Athapascan language groups, because the people speaking these languages would have had contact with the Greenland Norse settlers in my Axe of Iron series of novels, as the Norse moved south with them.

To offer credence to my contention of climate-caused human migration I offer the case of the contemporary Cree and Ojibwe Indians, both tribes are Algonquian speakers. Their pre-historical ancestors, the Naskapi and Anishinabeg respectively, play a major role in my novels, for they originated along the shorelines and inland areas of Hudson Bay/James Bay, where my first novel, Axe of Iron: The Settlers, takes place. Their ancestors, fleeing the climate onslaught from the north, spread out over the present day upper Midwest and Great Plains of the United States, where many of them remain to this day.

Others eventually made their way back north, again following their food source, as the climate moderated with the cycle that we enjoy today.

The Haudenosaunee, pre-historical ancestors of the Iroquois Indians, also contacted my Greenland Norse settlers during the period, but you will have to read my books to know how and where that association occurred.

I also offer the present day Navajo and Apache Indian tribes as an example of the mixing of cultures that occurred on this continent during the period. These indigenous people did not originate where they now reside, the American southwest. Their language is Athapascan and their pre-historical ancestors originated somewhere in what is now Canada. Their journey south began near the onset of the Mini-Ice Age, or about 1200.

As these nomadic warrior people took up residence in the southwest they came in contact with agrarian societies that were already there, such as the people we know only as Anasazi. Their invasion no doubt forced the Anasazi to develop the fortified cliff-dwellings - Mesa Verde for example - that they later abandoned as the onslaught of the warrior societies continued. This combined with the drought throughout the southwest that resulted during the period finally overcame their civilization.

Much happened on this continent as a direct result of climate-caused human migration during pre-history. The same thing will happen to contemporary humans - us - during the present natural climate cycle, as global climatic conditions dictate. The stark contrast will be that we will not be able to migrate, as our ancestors did, for we are too, many.

J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2010 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

19 February 2010

Axe of Iron: Confrontation

This second novel of the Axe of Iron series will be printed on Monday, 22February2010, and will then be available ONLY from AtlasBooks, the distributor. Amazon will follow shortly thereafter. The general book trade will have the book available after 1July2010, the publication date.
In Confrontation, two calamitous events occur that pave the way for the hostile beginnings of an assimilation process between the Greenland Norse settlers and the natives of Vinland. The first mixing of cultures occurs when a woman of the Northmen, Thora, and Deskaheh the Haudenosaunee, marry. This union, accepted enthusiastically by the Northmen, opens a window into the native mind.

For all the people of this land the way is rocky and fraught with danger at every turn, but the acceptance and friendship that develops between the Northmen and the Naskapi, another native tribe, over an affair of honor, the eventual acceptance of a young boy of the Northmen by his Haudenosaunee captors, and a scenario that seems ordained by the will of the gods, makes it all begin to fall into place, as it must for the Northmen to survive.

Will this developing relationship allow the Northmen to remain in the homeland of the Naskapi, or are they doomed to failure? The settlers must deal with that question on a daily basis.

Standing in their way are uncounted numbers of indigenous peoples, the pre-historical ancestors of the contemporary Cree (Naskapi), Ojibwa (Anishinabeg), and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Indians. From the outset, the warriors of these various tribes violently resisted the incursion of the tall, pale-skinned invaders. The overwhelming numbers of the native peoples in Vinland hold the fate of the Northmen in their hands. The success or failure of the settlement at Halfdansfjord hangs in the balance.

12 February 2010

Historically Speaking

History may be defined as “a chronological record of significant events, often with an explanation of their causes.” 2000 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

An historical event is often quoted on the evening news as a basis of comparison for current events, or to reinforce a pundit’s opinion. The fabric of our daily lives is frequently held up against the backdrop of history, to give credibility—the ring of truth. But how much of what we accept as historical fact actually ever happened as we have always thought, or been taught? Not much, in my opinion. “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” Napoleon Bonaparte

Contemporary events are often manipulated to make a political point. Ask yourself, are we Americans, or the citizens of any country for that matter, going to willfully enter information into the permanent historical record that will harm the world’s perception of our country? We, the common citizen won’t, but we have little opportunity to be a player in historical events, rather we are bystanders. But we see our elected representatives do so daily. Why? To further a political agenda that has been proven to be at odds with the desires of the majority of the electorate. We see this penchant to make history, to manipulate history, in play every day on the national news. When today’s events are recorded you may rest assured that they will not reflect what really occurred; the record will show a manipulated opinion to reflect the ideology of the time. It has always been so. Why, there are those who steadfastly maintain that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. He in fact did not, nor did he ever set foot on the American continent. He was preceded by Leif Eiriksson by some 500-years and Leif may not have been the first, either. We will never know for certain.

I write novels about the medieval Greenland Norse people. Little substantiated information exists about them, because they wrote nothing down. Except for some facility with the runic alphabet of the time, I think they were illiterate. There are many historical gaps where I can portray daily events with fiction, i.e. - my own opinion of the unknown aspects of their history. Some of their history was recorded in sagas as long as 200-years after the events they portray, by writers who knew nothing about the subject people; the tales they tell are hearsay, folklore if you will. Although the sagas do give us a sense of the life of the times in which they were written the stories themselves cannot be verified.

All of history has been written by the bystanders. “The men who make history have not time to write it.” Metternich
It is human nature to embellish facts to increase individual participation or to reinforce opinion. I am doing that with this article. Memoirs written long after the events they portray are also a case in point. Embellishment is not dishonest, exactly, unless it is a lie and there are lots of those. Two generations of the youth of the major combatants of World War II have not been taught of the actual parts their country’s played in the conflict—the facts have been intentionally distorted. It is more palatable that way; ignorance is bliss, so to speak.

This brings me to archaeology. While archaeology has provided many windows into ancient civilizations and much terrific work has been, and continues to be done in the field, an overactive imagination is a prerequisite for success. Granted I am a layman, but I have had more than a passing association with the discipline through my years of research on the Viking Age and specifically the Greenland Norse people. Archaeology can, and has built entire civilizations on piles of rocks and scattered ruins, even to the point that the daily dress and thought processes of the ancient peoples are detailed—all of this in the absence of a single corroborating written word from the antecedents. These flights of fancy continue to the present day. The accepted dogma becomes so sacrosanct that to dare to make mention of a differing opinion will ensure the end of one’s career. Since I am not constrained by such, I am not cowed in any fashion.

Greenland was settled by the Norse during the height of the Medieval Warm Period and gradually abandoned during the next natural climate cycle, the Mini-Ice Age. William W. Fitzhugh, Vikings The North Atlantic Saga (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2000) 330.
The medieval Norse settlers of Greenland disappeared from history after about 400 odd years. They went somewhere, leaving little behind, no ships, tools, and more importantly, no bodies. Those are the facts of the matter. Nobody knows what happened to them, not even the archaeologists. Nobody is even certain when the settlers disappeared. Many of us who are interested believe that they gradually assimilated with the natives of North America and the Arctic. Ellesmere - Vikings in the Far North, Peter Schledermann, 1977-1980. Vikings, The North Atlantic Saga, William Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward, (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 2000)248-256.

I believe that the Mini-Ice Age prompted mass human migration on a vast scale that altered population locations of many of the indigenous people in the Arctic and on the North American continent. As the winter weather worsened the natives in the northern climes followed the animals on which they subsisted, they had no choice. This mass migration theory has been largely ignored because it is impossible to prove. Native language groups are the only certain indicator of homogenous relationships—a common origin. One such example would be the Athapaskan, or Athabaskan linguistic group, with origins in eastern Canada. The Navajo and Apache Indians of the American southwest belong to this group. The inference here should be obvious to all but the most obtuse individual—one who accepts without question the associated dogma of conventional archaeology. With the end of the Mini-Ice Age sometime in the 18th century, many of the northern dwelling indigenous peoples had been displaced from their ancestral homelands by a natural climate change cycle, some for generations, others forever.

“History is nothing but a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” Voltaire
And so, historically speaking, the Greenland Norse people did not disappear, they are still here. Over the past 1000-years their progeny became so mixed and commingled with the pre-historical ancestors of the North American Indians as to become invisible.


J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2010 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

05 February 2010

Historical Perspective of the Greenland Vikings(3)

3 - Had the Northmen been more amicable toward the people they initially contacted, a very different early history for North America might have resulted. Instead, the sagas tell us they cheated in trade, killed the natives indiscriminately, and eventually had them so incensed that a state of war existed, making all attempts at settlement impossible. At least that is the presently accepted theory among academics.

By today’s standards, the Northmen were a cruel and savage nationality. The Dark Ages, in which they existed and became a force with which to be reckoned, was a period of eight hundred years of almost continuous warfare. The Northmen were some of the most accomplished warriors of that violent time.

The native tribes they came in contact with seemed to tolerate their presence better when the Northmen came only to trade. Any attempt at permanent settlement - Hop, Straumfjord, and Leifsbudir - always led to violent confrontation.

This situation only existed initially. We know nothing about the remainder of the four hundred years of association between the Northmen and the people we now collectively refer to as Indians. And there most certainly was an association.

Greenlanders referred to the indigenous people of North America as Skraelings, generally thought to be an epithet, but the meaning is not known. We do not know whether Skraeling is a reference to the Tornit (pronounced Dornit) they contacted initially, the Inuit (Eskimo) who followed the Tornit later in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, or includes all the indigenous people they contacted.

Some believe that the Northmen interbred with the Inuit of Baffin Island and other groups of people in the far north, as tall, fair-skinned Inuit were reported by the next influx of explorers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This is not a fanciful contention at all when consideration is given to the fact that women were always in short supply. The lack of sufficient females caused many fights and blood feuds among the Northmen.

Farther south the Northmen contacted ancestors of several other Indian tribes. At some point approximately one thousand years ago the ancestors of Indian tribes we now identify as belonging to the Algonquian and Iroquoian language groups, e.g., Ojibwa, Cree, Huron, Mohawk, Iroquois, etc, began to emerge. Various tribal bands of these people occupied all the land from Hudson Bay, south to Lake Superior, and east to the Canadian Maritimes, the area in which this story takes place. They fought over the hunting grounds and ancestral lands annually, alternately claiming or losing lands as ongoing warfare involved subsequent generations.

We do not know what they called themselves one thousand years ago. It is believed by some that they referred to themselves simply as the People. Most still have a name in their language that translates to the People. I have endeavored to use their names for themselves, if we know it, or a diminutive of that name, throughout this novel.

The two known Norse Greenland colonies prospered into the late fifteenth century. The population eventually swelled to as many as four thousand people at any given time, spread among farms in the areas around these settlements.

At some point late in the fourteenth or early in the fifteenth century, all settlement attempts and trading voyages to Greenland from Iceland and other points to the east were abandoned. Sometime in the middle of the fourteenth century (Western Settlement), and just after the turn of the fifteenth century (Eastern Settlement), the Greenland populations disappeared without a trace.

Perhaps most of the inhabitants of the Greenland settlements had already moved west having migrated to successful settlements already established by other Northmen with the native populations of North America over the ensuing years.

In any case, I maintain they eventually gave up the sea. Like thousands of their compatriots in Europe, they settled ashore. All impetus and desire for undertaking the perilous voyages became a thing of the distant past.

Around 1450, winters became colder in the far north, a lot colder. The ice in the harbors and fjords began remaining well into summer, and then it just remained. Greenland became uninhabitable for the Northmen. The Medieval Warm Period ended. A mini–ice age gripped the Arctic and northern portions of North America for the next four hundred years, into the last half of the nineteenth century.

During the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, a Catholic Prelate voyaged to Greenland, ostensibly to check on his flock. Although a few domestic animals grazed the hillsides, he found no people, living or dead. No ships, supplies, or tools remained. The people and their possessions had simply vanished into the mists of time.

The Icelandic bishop Gisli Oddsson, quoting church records, stated in the sixteenth or seventeenth century (the exact date is unknown) that the Norse Greenlanders joined the natives of America in 1342, giving up Christianity in the process. The record notes a firm date for the migration, not sometime in the fourteenth century.

We know three things for certain if one considers the disappearance of these people objectively: They did not sail to Iceland or Europe; they did not remain on Greenland until they died of hunger or exposure; they did not simply disappear. No, they had been migrating slowly to North America for five hundred years. Assimilation with the indigenous peoples became, over time, the Norse Greenlanders’ only option for survival. It is the only logical answer to the one-thousand-year-old mystery.

Since their assimilation, almost everything the Northmen left behind on this continent has turned to dust, become locked under the permafrost, or disappeared under many feet of debris in the forests and along the seashores of North America.

I have attempted to tell a tale of what might have happened, what could have happened, and considering the options available, what probably did happen to the Norse Greenlanders.

More than 40–generations have elapsed since they came to this continent. Now their very existence, everything they accomplished, has faded from the collective memory of all the peoples they contacted and lived among.

I prefer to believe the four thousand live on however, their genetic makeup diluted by the intervening centuries of time. They are still here, smiling back at us from the faces of the Inuit Greenlanders, Cree, Ojibwa, and Iroquois with whom they joined so long ago.

This third installment ends the serialization of the Historical Perspective of the Greenland Vikings that appeared in the first book of Axe of Iron series, The Settlers. The original text with copious endnotes may be viewed on my website  under the Free Stuff button, for those readers with a scholarly interest in this topic.