A lot of us celebrated Leif Erikson Day yesterday, each in our own way. But in the aftermath of our honoring the valiant Viking, I'd like to offer what may be a unique perspective.
Some years ago, the Asatru Folk Assembly took a stand in regard to another wanderer, a man whose name we will never know but who is known to history as Kennewick Man. In brief, the story is this: A skeleton was found in the shallows of a river in the state of Washington. From the very beginning, he was identified by the local forensic experts as a "Caucasian male" who had met a bad end. Or, since the remains seemed old, it was figured he might have been a pioneer of European descent. When further investigation revealed that he died about 9,300 years ago, everything changed. Here was a very non-Native American man in America thousands of years before anyone else was supposed to be here.
Since the government intended to turn the bones over to local Indian tribes for reburial, a group of scientists filed suit to prevent this until the remains had been examined. The AFA sued independently to block the government turnover of the skeleton until and unless it was proven that the person was more closely related to the Indian tribes than to Europeans. If he was indeed of European origin, we manintained he should not be given to the Indian tribes.
We are still being criticized for our stance. However, I have not wavered in my conviction that we did the right thing. If Kennewick Man had been proven to be Native American, we had no problem with the remains being given to the tribes - but the evidence strongly supported the idea that he was from somewhere else. Some say he is related to Pacific Islanders. A European origin is on the table: there is a robust theory that Europeans from the Iberian peninsula arrived here thousands of years before Asiatics migrated across the Bering Strait. Time will tell.
So what does this have to do with Leif Erikson? One connection is that the AFA was responsible for forcing the presiding judge to admit that, under the existing Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), ANY pre-Columbian human remains, specifically including those of Norse settlers, would be turned over to local Indian tribes for reburial. Yes, that's right - if any of Leif's men had wandered into the United States, died, and been recovered in modern times he would have been up for grabs. We exposed this incredible situation and thus undermined the applicability and the inadequacy of NAGPRA as currently written...not bad for a relatively tiny organization with almost no funding!
But there's another connection: A European migration to North America during the last ice age would have been an unwritten saga of incredible adventure and boldness. It foreshadowed and paralleled Leif's likewise bold journey thousands of years earlier as a monument to the far-reaching aspirations of the European peoples, and thus is a part of our heritage.
Here's a link to a book proposing ancient European arrivals in North America.
Hail the Gods!
Hail the AFA!