Is this just mere wishful thinking and speculation, or is there any historical proof of Vikings island hopping in the Caribbean?

Norse exploration of the Western Atlantic

Norse exploration of North America was, for many years, believed to be little more than the stuff legend and lore found in many sagas. However, the discovery of a Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, near the northern coast of Newfoundland, in 1960 saw the history of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact rewritten.

The Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows has, only very recently, been carbon dated at approximately a millennium old, being established sometime between 990 and 1050 CE. Tree analysis has given a "mean carbon date" of 1014 CE. More than 800 objects have been unearthed here, and it is the only other Norse settlement found in or near North America other than the Norse settlements in Greenland.

It was believed that the settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows was a base camp from which Norse settlers had traveled from the western and eastern settlements in Greenland. Furthermore, the settlement was at the very western end of a chain of settlements and Viking societies that dotted the North Atlantic Ocean from the Scandinavian Peninsula to the Shetland and Orkney Islands, northern Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland.

A Viking settlement at Point Rosse?

There is no way to know exactly how many Norse settlers were living, at any one time, in L'Anse aux Meadows, but the best scientific estimates put it somewhere between 30 to 160 people. The site, which consists of the remains of 8 buildings, including dwellings, workshops, and a ceremonial hall, was believed to have been sporadically occupied for about 20 years. This remains the only confirmed Norse site discovered in North America.

However, could the Vikings have gone further afield in North America and beyond? A small archaeological team, led by Sarah Parack, began excavating at Point Rosse, on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, more than 640 kilometers (400 miles) away from the settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows. 

The team would eventually discover piles of charcoal and evidence of iron smelting. Though analysis is still ongoing, it appears that this site may have been connected to a Norse farm or very small settlement. This pushes the expansion of Norse settlement and exploration further south than previously believed.  But could they have gone even further south?

19th-century Mexican historian Manuel Orozco y Berra claimed that the Quetzalcoatl myth may have originated with a Norse missionary to Mesoamerica during medieval times. Photo: Arturo Verea / Shutterstock

Icelandic sagas and Quetzalcoatl

Perhaps one of the most interesting and fascinating areas of "pseudo-history" relates to pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact between peoples, cultures, and civilizations.

Some of these examples include that the Olmec civilization came into existence with the help of Shang dynasty Chinese refugees, that Phoenician sailors "discovered" the Americas in the 4th century BCE, or linking the Ten lost tribes of Israel to indigenous peoples of the Americas. Grouped in with these fascinating (though historically and scientifically false) theories is that the Vikings managed to reach the warmer climes of the Caribbean Sea.

The two sagas that deal with the Norse settlement of North America (The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Erik the Red)  talk in detail about the Norse contact with skrælings – which are believed to be local indigenous populations of Newfoundland. So contact between Norse and indigenous American people did occur. Yet one 19th-century Mexican historian took this further. Manuel Orozco y Berra claimed that the Quetzalcoatl myth may have originated with a Norse missionary to Mesoamerica during medieval times.

A story in the Icelandic sagas, involves one Björn Breiðvíkingakappi, who set sail from Iceland in 998 CE, never to be seen again. Some three decades later, a voyage set off westward from Iceland and visited the mysterious island of "Great Ireland." Meeting the native population, they were apprehended and only spared execution when their chief, a white-skinned man who spoke Norse, set them free. The shipwrecked crew believed this man to be Björn.

Some people have interpreted this to mean that Björn and some Vikings actually made it as far south as the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Björn, they argue, was the basis for the white-skinned appearance of Quetzalcoatl, who was said to return some five centuries after first appearing. Extrapolating the dates, there is a theory that Hernan Cortes' arrival in the Americas was five centuries after the "appearance" of Björn, cementing the fact that Cortes was indeed, for the local indigenous population, the returned god, Quetzalcoatl.

Non-existent scientific evidence…so far

However fascinating these pseudo-historic theories may be, there is no scientific evidence to back up claims that Norse sailors made it as far as the Caribbean. There is no doubt that peoples from Viking societies were skilled navigators and had sailed everywhere from modern-day Canada to Constantinople, from the rivers of the Russian steppes to Iceland. Yet the largest Norse settlement was in Greenland. Even for the Vikings, this would have been a stretch to think that they could have sailed all the way to the Caribbean -  even allowing a stop at L'Anse aux Meadows or elsewhere in "Vinland."

Though the Vikings most certainly did establish a settlement in North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus' "voyages of discovery," they did not reach the warmer climes of the Caribbean. 

Unless new evidence is found, the only "Vikings" that reached the Caribbean islands are their modern-day descendants from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland who, like so many others, holiday there to soak up the sun, sand, and sea.

For more information on the archaeological excavation at Point Rosse, please visit a BBC article here.

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