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Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World April 3, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Prehistoric
Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World

Year in year out birds follow migratory routes from north to south and from south to north. These travelling birds have long intrigued humans who have looked amazed as waves upon waves of birds fly to destinations unknown. These birds have entered human legend: the storks going to Africa to fight the pygmies, the wild […]

Why Didn’t the Vikings Bring Disease to the Americas? March 17, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Why Didn't the Vikings Bring Disease to the Americas?

It is well known that viruses proved absolutely essential in the colonization of the Americas. Unlike in Africa and Asia native populations died on a massive scale as they came into contact with viruses from animals and people, viruses that had been blunted by human immune systems over several thousand years in Europe. By some […]

A Newland to the West of Iceland 1285? December 28, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
A Newland to the West of Iceland 1285?

Those stray British, Scandinavian and Dutch references to exploration in the medieval northern Atlantic have frequently been set out on this blog: remember the inventio fortunatatae, or the incest island, brave bishop Erik or, for that matter, Vinland the Good?  Occasionally there is a hint that adventurers or, more typically, storm-driven sailors had stumbled into […]

Jasper and Butternuts on the Edges of Vinland June 9, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Jasper and Butternuts on the Edges of Vinland

***Dedicated to Wade*** Jasper is a silica stone that was used by our ancestors both as a decoration and as a form of primitive match. Because of its fire-making properties jasper is often found in archaeological digs. A nice example of this is the dozen odd pieces of jasper that have been discovered over the […]

Nine Historical Mysteries June 6, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Nine Historical Mysteries

***Dedicated to Moonman*** Thanks to an email from an old friend of StrangeHistory Beach found himself wondering about moments from history that are mysterious, and where this blogger would chop off his own digits to get at the truth. In what follows, he has avoided the classics because, to be frank, he just doesn’t care […]

Zen Letters and Names March 10, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Zen Letters and Names

The Zen letters are the now lost and the perhaps never existing fourteenth-century missives that described a Venetian visit to the northern Atlantic and perhaps to New England or Canada. A supposed outline of them survive in a sixteenth-century publication by Nicolò Zen, a scion of the family. NZ describes the northern Atlantic and offers […]

A Fisherman’s Tale or a Venetian Invention? February 28, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
A Fisherman's Tale or a Venetian Invention?

Lots of emails received in the last week about the Zen brothers and the possibility of a pre-Columbian crossing of the Atlantic by a northern route in the fourteenth century. We have decided to put up the most interesting passage in this respect that relates to some wind-blown fishermen from Europe who end up ‘over […]

A Mysterious Island, Incest and a Twelfth-century Papal Letter February 21, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
A Mysterious Island, Incest and a Twelfth-century Papal Letter

Greenland certainly had contact with the New World in the late tenth century. Did though this contact continue into the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth century? This controversy is one we have looked at before, showing that there is some evidence that it did: though the evidence is intermittent. Here is a further document […]

The Lost Zen Letters: A Cautionary Tale about Children and Archives February 15, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
The Lost Zen Letters: A Cautionary Tale about Children and Archives

***Dedicated to KR who pointed Zenwards*** The story (as always) is a simple one, perhaps deceptively, perhaps dishonestly so. In 1558 in Dello scoprimento dell’ isole Frislanda, Eslanda, Engrouelanda, Estotilanda e Icaria fatto sotto il Polo artico da’ due fratelli Zeni, M. Nicolo il K. e M. Antonio (Of the Discovery of Frisolanda, Eslanda, Engrouelanda, Estotilanda and Icara […]

Inuit in Orkney? February 2, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Inuit in Orkney?

James Wallace was minister of Kirkwall in Orkney (Scotland). In 1688 he wrote the following account, though this was not published till 1693, by which time the good minister was dead. Sometimes about this country are seen these men they call Finnmen. In the year 1682, one was seen in his little Boat, at the […]

The Mysterious End of the Western Settlement January 18, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
The Mysterious End of the Western Settlement

Imagine a Mary Celeste incident – an empty apparently abandoned ship – but extended instead to an entire land. At least one such account comes down to us and that is the abandonment of the Western Settlement in Greenland, one of the most mysterious events in European – or is it North American? – history. […]

Bishop Erik’s Unorthodox Trip, 1121 January 14, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Bishop Erik's Unorthodox Trip, 1121

Let’s start with historical orthodoxy. From c. 950-1000 Viking Greenlanders crossed the Davis Strait and set up a settlement or perhaps several small settlements in Canada. This settlement or these settlements may or may not have been just for the summer, but the fact is that, in any case, they were shortlived. The Greenlanders simply […]

Thirteenth-century Viking Legend in Canada? January 10, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Thirteenth-century Viking Legend in Canada?

Did the Vikings believe that mythical outlaws dwelt on Canada’s Baffin Island, perhaps parallel to the outlaws of the Icelandic interior that we have looked at before on this blog? It seems unlikely given that Greenlanders – the closest ‘Vikings’ to Baffin – are not supposed by some to have visited North American after about […]

Tanfield Valley: Europeans in Pre-Columbian Baffin Island? January 3, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Tanfield Valley: Europeans in Pre-Columbian Baffin Island?

Tanfield Valley [A] is one of the most exciting sites to have come under the archaeologist’s trowel in the last fifty years: less golden but in its way as thrilling as Tutankhamen’s tomb. The valley – more a hollow – is an unusually green part of rocky Baffin Island and for five seasons, Patricia Sutherland, […]

Mysterious European Figure in Pre-Columbian Baffin Island December 27, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Mysterious European Figure in Pre-Columbian Baffin Island

A thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Thule ivory carving from southern Baffin Island in Canada should hardly surprise anyone. After all, the Thule Inuit did dwell in this place at that time. But when Debora Sabo dug up the carving pictured above in 1972 she was understandably jolted by her discovery, so much so that she dedicated […]

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