While working to clean up the shores of the Mississippi river near the city of Tennessee, a groupd of volunteers have stumbled upon the remains of an ancient boat sheathed in mud. The archeologists from the University of Memphis were hastily called to the site. During the early archaeological interventions it was confirmed that the ship was a Viking knarr, suggesting the Norse would have pushed their exploration of America a lot further than historians previously thought.
I should say that a Knarr is a type of Viking ship used for merchant purposes. It was built in the same way all the other ships were made (clinker-built – which means the overlapping of planks riveted together) only the configuration was different: the hull was wider, deeper and shorter than a longship and it was handled by a smaller crew.
The ship was heavily damaged. After meticulous work it was possible to know the original size of this ship. It has a length of about 16 meters, a beam of 4.5 meters, and a hull that is estimated capable of carrying up to 24 to 28 tons, a typical size for this type of ship which was capable of carring more cargo than any other Viking ship. It was capable of sailing more or less 121 km (75 miles) in one day and held a crew of about 20 to 30 men.
This is a wonderful new discovery and could well be one of the oldest evidence of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. It brings to mind the famous colony of “Vinland” mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas, which is another evidence that the first Europeans to find America (by sailing) were the Norsemen. This colony could possibly have been established by Leif Ericson around the same period as the settlement at l’Anse aux Meadows (which I’ve written about a few posts ago), in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the most famous site of a Norse or Viking settlement in North America outside Greenland.
The estimated dates for this ship are between 990 and 1050 AD, approximately the period associated with Vinland and the various Canadian Norse-archaeological sites. This could mean that Vikings had actually developed a far wider trade network in the Americas than what was traditionnally believed. Unfortunately, very few other artefacts have been found on the site, suggesting the crew must have most likely abandoned the ship and continued on foot, and scattered arround this area and possibly further, there might be some artefacts yet to be found.