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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.1 > America’s Stonehenge

America’s Stonehenge

Did a Highly Developed Civilization of European Origin Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More Than 3000 Years Ago?

Early American History: Columbus and the Vikings

Long before Columbus sailed to America, the continent had of course been discovered and inhabited by humans. The Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Incas had built impressive civilizations in Central and South America long before the year 1492. And where the U.S. and Canada are today, the remains of a large variety of ancient human cultures can be found. Archaeologists generally agree that the oldest remains of human activity in North America date back to about 12,000 years ago, although some scholars claim findings of even older dates along the American West Coast.

It was probably not before the year 1000 CE that Europeans first laid eyes on the American east coast. According to the Sagas—an accepted, though not very precise form of historiography—in the year 980 Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, traveled westward after he had been banished from a Viking settlement on Iceland. He discovered new territory and, with some followers, founded a settlement there. Probably for marketing purposes, hoping to attract followers, he dubbed this new place “Greenland.” According to the Norse Sagas a ship, en route from Iceland to Greenland, lost its way and finally reached its destination after sailing eastward (!) from an unknown coast. The Sagas tell us that later on, Leif Eriksson, the son of Erik the Red, went back to that coast and founded a settlement there. They probably reached what is now the Canadian island of Newfoundland. There is strong evidence for this scenario. On the coast of Newfoundland the remains of a Viking village have been found, as well as Viking artifacts. Dating back to the year 920 (plus or minus 30 years) according to the C-14 dating method, these remains provide evidence that Vikings are probably the first Europeans to have settled America. Life on the inhospitable Newfoundland coast probably wasn’t easy for the Vikings, and they seem to have abandoned their village after only a few decades without leaving any lasting influence on the land or the local people.

Alternative Theories of the Discovery of America

Not everyone is satisfied with this generally accepted version of early American history. A host of claims have been made that America has been visited by early European or Eurasian civilizations, including Romans, Phoenicians, Israelites, Celts and Egyptians. Thor Heyerdahl was convinced that the ancient Egyptians had made the journey across the Atlantic. To underpin this conviction he crossed the Atlantic in 1969 on a small ship of ancient Egyptian design.

In a similar quest, in 1977 Timothy Severin traveled from Ireland to Newfoundland in a primitive boat made of laths and animal hides. He took his inspiration from the legend that Saint Brendan of Clonfert, a 6th century Irish priest who claimed to have reached “a blessed island covered with vegetation” while sailing westward in search of the Garden of Eden. Although their Atlantic crossings were daring and inspirational, Heyerdahl and Severin showed us only that it is possible to cross the Atlantic using ancient European and Eurasian ship-building techniques, not that it really happened.

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About Skeptic

CONFIDENCE SCAMS EXCERPT: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time; ARTICLES: America’s Stonehenge: Did Highly Developed Europeans Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More than 3000 Years Ago?; Is It ET?: Is Star KIC 8462852 a Sign of an Extraterrestrial Civilization?; Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution—An Empirical Test; Ruins of Empires: Thomas Jefferson, Constantin-Francois Volney, and the Separation of Church and State; Winning the Vaccination War in California; Prophet Without Honor: Francis Galton and the Birth of Behavioral Genetics; When Cops Kill: An Insider’s Perspective; Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America; More on Morals: On Science and Morality (1) Deontologists are Covert Consequentialists, (2) Expanding Science to Include Morals, (3) Clarifying Confusions; Alligators in the Sewers! COLUMNS: Who’s Crazy Now?: DSM-5 and the Classification of Mental Disorders; The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape; REVIEW: Red Team: How To Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko reviewed by David Priess; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Haunted Houses; Earliest Ghost Stories; Ghostly Evolution
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