- Historic Sites
Viking America: A New Theory
Was Columbus motivated by Norse discoveries, concealed over the centuries in misinterpreted maps?
August 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 5
My own first contact with James Robert Enterline was in the fall of 1965, when he began frequenting the New York Public Library’s Map Division, of which I am chief. The author of this book is, surprisingly, a mathematician—he formerly administered a successful computer-technology company and has designed a computer for the United States Air Force. But he was stirred by Yale University’s announcement of the Vinland Map in 1965 to turn to full-time research on the Norse question. He brought his objectivity as a scientist to bear on the highly partisan question of Columbus versus Leif Eiriksson, and a new theory resulted that is even more startling than any theory either partisan faction had previously imagined. Perhaps this kind of author, combining a mathematician’s attention to detail with the fresh approach of a convert to a new subject, was what was required to produce the insightful and revolutionary synthesis that Viking America is. Enterline made field trips to Greenland and Iceland, and he has done documentary research in the British Museum as well as in the major collections in the United States. His present scholarly role was affirmed last fall when he was invited to address the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries held at Yale University.
The author approached me in the fall of 1966 because he had difficulty believing the unexpected implications into which his own research was leading him, and he sought a critical estimation from me. Hours of discussion led to what amounted to an encouragement on my part, for I felt he was on the threshold of making some startling discoveries.
The eight-hundred-page manuscript he finished several years later, however, is not the book discussed here. The present book is a distillation for a less cartographically specialized spectrum of readers and summarizes the cartographic chronological analysis while giving complete details of the conclusions based on that analysis. Specialists wishing to pursue the painstaking details of the maps will have to await release of this supportive evidence in another volume. I have read the manuscript of that volume and find that each document discussed is supplied with an individual bibliography, that it contains a separate bibliography of facsimile atlases, and that it contains a general bibliography which, together with the one in the present volume, embodies by far the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of references on the Viking presence in America ever assembled in English. In short, the research on which the present book is based is thorough and dependable.
There is no question but that Viking America introduces many ideas that are bound to provoke discussion. If these ideas can withstand the scrutiny of scholars, they will have introduced a wholly new aspect into the mainstream of American history.