In 986 about five hundred medieval Norse people settled the island of Greenland. Over the five hundred year history of the two known settlements on the islands southwestern coast the population increased to as many as four thousand people. We know little about the people or the settlements because the people wrote nothing down for posterity. All we know about them comes to us from the Greenland Saga and the Saga of Eirik the Red, both written about two centuries after the facts they pretend to convey. In about the mid-fifteenth century the people abandoned their last remaining settlement, Eiriksfjord. Wherever they went, they took their ships, tools, and every useful item they possessed. Nobody knows their destination for they left not a clue. Their disappearance is the premise for my Axe of Iron series.
Everything that we know about these people, pertaining to their culture and disappearance, I have covered in detail in the Historical Perspective of my character-driven, historical fiction novel Axe of Iron: The Settlers. This is the first book of the continuing Axe of Iron series about the Greenland Norse people and what a lifetime of research has led me to believe happened to them.
My interest in the subject stems from the Norse and Germanic mythology I studied in school, my Swedish/German heritage, and the vexing question of the disappearance of four thousand people. I recognized early on that there are many people who are fascinated by the medieval Viking culture. Although the people I write about share that Viking heritage, when they sailed to Greenland and North America in the tenth and eleventh centuries they were no longer Vikings in the strict sense of the word and I do not refer to them as such.
The unknown aspects of their disappearance gives me the opportunity to use fiction to tell a tale about them that answers many of the questions about certain North American Indian tribes who exhibited characteristics, customs, and mannerisms that early explorers—eighteenth century—attributed to pre-historical European contact. The dates when these facts came to light reinforce my contention that the European contact alluded to could only have been the Greenland Norse people. My series will deal, in a fictional sense, with why tribal members of some pre-historical Indian tribes looked like white people, had customs like white people—including religious beliefs—were completely different from other tribes encountered, and welcomed the earliest white explorers with open arms.
The Greenland Norse did not disappear; they assimilated with the pre-historical North American Indians that they encountered. I believe this assimilation process was well underway by the early years of the eleventh century in the Canadian Arctic and moved south as the Medieval Warm Period gave way to the onslaught of the Mini-Ice Age. This natural climate cycle caused native peoples— including the last holdouts of Greenland Norse people remaining in Eiriksfjord—to migrate with the animals on which they subsisted.
Conventional brick and mortar archaeologists have largely ignored this controversial aspect of our pre-historical past. The path to discovery remains blurred by the passage of one thousand years of time. There are no ruins or pyramids to create entire cultures around, and few artifacts to discover. The presence of the Greenland Norse people on this continent is but an echo from the dim past, but it is here nonetheless.
Scientists have found Norse DNA in Greenland and Baffin Island Inuit people. If somebody will look, perhaps Norse DNA will be found in members of contemporary Indian tribes in northeastern and north central North America. Only then will we know their fate.
As I wrote in the Historical Perspective of Axe of Iron: The Settlers,
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.
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.
That is why I have a story to tell, a story as seen through the eyes of my characters.
J. A. Hunsinger lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife Phyllis. The first novel of his character-driven, historical fiction series, Axe of Iron: The Settlers, represents his first serious effort to craft the story of a lifelong interest in the Viking Age—especially as it pertains to Norse exploration west of Iceland—and extensive research and archaeological site visitations as an amateur historian. He has tied the discovery of many of the Norse artifacts found on this continent to places and events portrayed in his novels.
Much of his adult life has been associated with commercial aviation, both in and out of the cockpit. As an Engineering Technical Writer for Honeywell Commercial Flight Systems Group, Phoenix, AZ, he authored two comprehensive pilots’ manuals on aircraft computer guidance systems and several supplemental aircraft radar manuals. His manuals were published and distributed worldwide to airline operators by Honeywell Engineering, Phoenix, AZ. He also published an article, Flight Into Danger, in Flying Magazine, (August 2002).
Historical Novel Society, American Institute of Archaeology, Canadian Archaeology Association, and IBPA-Independent Book Publishers Association, are among the fraternal and trade organizations in which he holds membership.
Editor’s Note: J.A. will be on a virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion in March and April ‘09. If you would like to host him on your blog during his tour, contact his online book publicist, Dorothy Thompson at thewriterslife(at)yahoo.com.