The Maine Penny: trails of Vikings in North America

Who first discovered America? Vikings or Columbus?

The theory that the Vikings landed on the shores of the American continent centuries before Christopher Columbus has long been the subject of controversy, falsified evidence and legends, until in 1960, the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne, an archaeologist, landed on the island of Newfoundland in Canada in search of Norse explorer from Iceland Leif Eriksson and, circumnavigating the coast, they reached the locality of L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern side of the island. Here, thanks to the report of the local fisherman George Decker, they discovered the remains of a authentic Viking settlement, dating from around the year 1000.

The elements found at this site would suggest that L’Anse aux Meadows was a base camp that the Norsemen would have used to go further south, proving that, 500 years before the arrival of Columbus, Scandinavian navigators had already landed on the new continent: artifacts typical of a Viking site, such as a brooch, rings, a bone pin, iron rivets from a boat ...
The artifacts indicate the ability to weave and work iron, activities that were not practiced by Native Americans until after 1500 AD. and the construction style of the houses and outbuildings are identical to those dating back to the 11th century in Iceland and Greenland.

The Maine Penny: trails of Vikings in North America-L'Anse_aux_Meadows_National_Historic_Site

Later excavations by Bengt Schoenbak and Birgitta Wallace for Parks Canada revealed that there it was used to practice intensively woodworking and iron smelting probably for the repair of damaged ships or the construction of new ones thanks to timber recovered from nearby woods or imported from more distant lands, which would have prompted the inhabitants of L'Anse aux Meadows to travel to the Gulf of San Lorenzo.

The Goddard archaeological site

These discoveries have prompted others to seek further remains of Scandinavian settlements but to date the only certain relic of Viking origin found in the United States is a tiny coin, found 1500 km south of L'Anse aux Meadows by amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren in 1957, during the second year of excavation at the Goddard site at Naskeag Point, Maine, at Penobscot Bay.
The small silver coin, better known as "the Maine Penny" or "the Goddard coin", found 1.5 meters below the surface of the ground was initially mistaken for a 12th century English penny and ignored for 20 long years, until 1987 when the numismatic expert Peter Seaby identified it as a medieval Norwegian penny coined by King Olav III Kyrre between 1067 and 1093 AD, a recognition confirmed the following year by Kolbjørn Skaare, one of the major authorities in the field of medieval Norwegian numismatics.
The tests carried out by the latter on a small fragment of the coin at the State Museum of Maine confirmed its authenticity: it was a Norwegian cent minted more than 50 years after the last of the travels of the stories of the Norse sagas in the land of “Vinland” (the name the Vikings gave to the portion of North America now known as Newfoundland) and this could mean that there would be further contact between the Nordic peoples and the pre-Columbian civilizations of North America.

The Maine Penny: trails of Vikings in North America-Medieval_Viking_coins

Consistent find or OOPArt?

The only doubt of Dr. Shaare was that the penny had been inserted intentionally and fraudulently on the site and there were not a few who considered it a real OOPArt. However, since it was a rare and difficult to counterfeit coin, the finding could be entirely consistent: it would have been easier for the prospective cheater to use a more common coin dating back to the Leif Eriksson period.

Although it is no longer visible today due to corrosion, it also appears that Goddard's coin originally had a hole near the edge, which could indicate that it was used as a pendant.
It was therefore hypothesized that the penny was used to trade in those places and could have arrived there through indigenous trade channels from Labrador or Newfoundland: the coin could have been exchanged there with the Vikings, if not stolen or lost, perhaps the Native Americans who had come into possession of the coin converted it from a commercial object to an exotic ornamental object.

The Maine Penny: trails of Vikings in North America-Norse_Map_Route_network.png

Further excavations were carried out but did not lead to the discovery of further Viking artifacts, excluding the presence of a permanent settlement, it is more likely that it was instead the largest Native American village in Maine at the time and that it was visited by the Vikings in their travels and trade.
The Goddard coin remains the only European artifact found in this generous archaeological site, where over 50,000 artifacts have been unearthed, many of them brought from the north: among the stone and flint tools from Nova Scotia and Labrador there was a sort of burin obtained from a pre-existing object of clear Inuit manufacture.

This could indicate that the Indian settlement was part of a commercial network, which ran along the American coasts allowing the coin to reach Maine in the first half of the second millennium and creating a scenario in which Eskimo merchants became indirect connections between the Amerindians of Maine and the Vikings. The ancient Scandinavians would therefore have continued to go to Labrador long after they gave up the idea of permanently settling in North America.

Experts strongly believe that the Maine Penny is authentic but with the information currently available, it is impossible to establish with certainty it arrived at the Goddard site through Viking explorers or Native American trading networks.

There is more honor in accumulating little by little than in reaching for the sky and ending up flat on your face.

~Vatnsdæla Saga, c.7

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