Friday, January 5, 2018

Did Ancient Norsemen Sail the St. Lawrence River? – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the likelihood that Norse seaman were in the interior of Canada, and writing on rock such as the Peterborough petroglyphs, as well as looking now at what these petroglyphs actually were and who made them. 
    It should be noted what these petroglyps actually were, not what some historian wants to claim. First of all, Peterborough contains the largest collection of ancient indigenous Aboriginal rock carvings in all of North America. Made up of over 900 images carved into crystalline limestone. Second, they are believed by most experts in the field, including historian Charles Kingam who discovered them in 1924, and later by Joan Vastokas of the University of Toronto and Ron Vastokas of Trent University of Peterborough in 1965 through 1968 in Sacred Art of the Algonkians (Mansard Press, 1973) to have been carved by the Algonkian or Iroquian-speaking people between 900 and 1400 A.D. Today they are part of the ancient First Nations in Ontario of the Indigenous peoples in Canada south of the Arctic.
    These First Nations people of Ontario call the carvings Kinomagewapkong, meaning "the rocks that teach" or "the Teaching Rocks". According to Dagmara Zawadzka of the Univeristy of Quebec at Montreal, to the Algonquin people, landscape is sacred and rock art sites are located at the junction of the layers of the universe, that is the Upperworld, the Earth’s plane and the Underwater and Underworld where they believe communication between the cosmic levels is effectuated through openings in the rocks such as caves and crevices where spirits live. Rock art sites are also places where the four elements of water (e.g. underground stream), earth, air and fire (sun) meet and can be experienced physically and spiritually. The four elements are essential in Ojibwa religious thought because they are the primordial substances from which the entire physical world (earth, celestial bodies, plants, animals and people) has been fashioned. In addition, there are other of these rock art sites, including Alberta, Mazinaw Pictograph Complex in Ontaior and Bedford Petroglyphs in Nova Scotia (Canadian Shield Rock Art and the landscape Perpective, Zawadzka's Masters Thesis, Trent University, 2008).
    Originally the markings on the Peterborough Petroglyphs were two to three inches deep, with the 1200 carvings made using gneiss hammers to incise the figures, including a dominant figure whose head apparently represents the sun, onto the soft, gently sloping walls, 180 feet long and 100 feet wide. About 300 of these are discipherable shapes depicting First Nations spirituality, including turtles, snakes, birds, humans, shamans, reptiles, solar symbols, geometric shapes and boats.
Top row: two drawings considered to be Viking boats are questionable since other drawings showing similar, but not identical drawings suggest other than a boat or just a canoe—to hang an entire theory on questionable drawings skews the understanding of these petroglyphs

One so-called boat—described as a stylized shaman vessel with a long mast surmounted by the sun—is claimed to be typical of petroglyphs found in northern Russia and Scandinavia. While Algonkian historians claim the carved ships are a shaman’s idea of magical canoes that travel the universe, at least one Harvard professor named Barry Fell claims the Algonkian people never produced anything more seaworthy than a birch-bark canoe, claiming the petroglyphs were left by a Norse king named Wooden-lithi, who he claims to have sailed from Norway down the St. Lawrence River in about 1700 B.C., long before the Greenland Viking explorations. Yet, it would not be possible to sail from Norway and “down” the St. Lawrence, since that river flows from the inland Great Lakes to the Atlantic and to have sailed “down” that river, Wooden-lithi would have had to travel overland a thousand miles to get to the river to sail “down” it. However, what is found in these petroglyphs does not refer to such a king, a voyage, or anyone from across the sea other than a depiction of a boat, which could just as easily be a way to voyage to the afterlife or even the underworld of the Algonquin.
    It should also be noted that the Harvard Professor, Howard Barraclough “Barry” Fell, who is described by his followers as “the greatest linguist of the twentieth century” and by sceptics as “a self-promoting pseudo-scientist who threatened to undo more than a century of careful progress in archaeological and anthropological research,” was a marine biologist turned epigrapher (study of inscriptions) analyzed the petroglyphs at Peterborough in Canada, along with archaeologist David Kelley. Both identified the glyphs as a proto-Tifinagh script from North Africa, which was apparently used by the Scandinavians. It should be noted that Fell was a scientist, and his training in marine biology meant that he was able to bring what he hoped was a measure of objectivity to controversial areas. However, his pronouncements were often uncompromising, lacking the circumspection and caution that is common in Archaeologists’ writings, and his certainty in controversial interpretations often served only to enrage “good Archaeologists,” making reasoned debate impossible.
    In short, Fell’s first foray into epigraphy was a study of Polynesian petroglyphs published in 1940, but it was his book, America BC (1976), that really propelled him into popular consciousness. In it, he argued that there are numerous examples of Old World scripts to be found on rock surfaces and objects all over North and South America. This was followed by Saga America (1980), in which he broadened the identifications of both scripts and languages to include Arabic and other scripts as well as maps and a zodiac. The third, Bronze Age America (1982), concentrated on recognizing ‘Bronze Age’ Scandinavian texts, two thousand years older than any known runic inscriptions in Europe, at Peterborough in Ontario, Canada. He also published alleged interpretations of the Phaistos Disk and the Rongo-Rongo script of Easter Island as well as an identification of Etruscan as Hittite. According to Barry Fell, there had been numerous pre-Columbian contacts between Europe, Africa and Asia and the New World going back at least three thousand years; none of these, and according to him, apart from the expedition of Leif Ericsson, none were remembered in the Old World and therefore known to history.
    In his controversial 1982 book, Bronze Age America, Fell claimed the petroglyphs contained Ogam (ogham), a so-called “phonetic stick writing” from West Africa found on Rock Art and claimed to have originated with the very ancient Kush of Punt—a state in Sudan according to David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (Ancient Egypt in Africa, London Press, Cavendish, 2003, p42), known in historical sources for trading in incense and other exotic items. It is a language very few have ever studied, such as Professor Catherne Acholonu, Acholonu Research Center, Abuja, Nigeria, who created an Igbo Ogam VCV Dictionary (Igbo Ukwu)—a sequence of dots, dashes and symbols carved onto bamboo and stone, as well as petroglyphs on animal bone and other substrates. Fell, regarding this writing of the Norse period, claimed it said in part: “Woden-lithi, of Ringerike the great king, instructed that runes be engraved. A ship he took. In-honor-of-Gungnir was its name…For ingot-copper of excellent quality came the king by way of trial.”
Top row: Possibly a canoe with five Indians insidethe other show how difficult it is to try and claim an image is something. Man or bird with broken foot, a five-fingered hand without a thumb? Bottom row: Definitely Indian images, one with headdress and bow, the other with a Mohawk haircutobviously not Vikings

This interpretation, however, was not accepted by archaeologists or linguists of his day or since.
(See the next post, “Did Ancient Norsemen Sail the St. Lawrence River? – Part III,” for more on whether or not Norse seaman were in the interior of Canada, and writing on rock such as the Peterborough petroglyphs, and taking a look at the petroglyph claimed to have been a Viking longboat)

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