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Oct 15, 2012

The Maine Penny: an archaeological mystery

While every history reader knows the Vikings came to North America around 1000 AD, that wasn't always the case. A half century ago, there was heated debate over whether the Vikings had reached so far west. The Vinland Saga seemed to indicate they had, but there was no real evidence. It wasn't until the excavation of L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1978 that there was definitive proof that the Vikings colonized North America.

There was some evidence before this. In 1957, archaeologist Guy Mellgren was excavating a midden (trash heap) at a Native American site in Maine discovered this silver coin five inches below the surface. Coin experts determined it was minted in Norway between 1065 and 1080 AD. This set off a huge controversy. Some archaeologists even accused Mellgren of "seeding" the site in order to win fame.

Now that we know the Vikings did come to the New World, Mellgren has been vindicated. He hadn't found a Viking settlement, though. The site was purely Native American and now researchers believe the coin made its way south as a trade item. It's now in the the Maine State Museum.


  1. Very interesting. It's always made sense to me that the Vikings explored North America. They knew no fear, evidenced by their pillaging in Europe. Interesting little facts like this make me wonder at the controversy, though.

    My hubs loves watch the London mud-rakers to see what they find from Roman times.