The Viking ”Maine Penny” Mystery

Norse Maine Silver PennyThe Maine penny, also referred to as the Goddard coin, is displayed at the Maine State Museum. (Photo: Maine State Museum)

In 1957, during his second year of digging at the Goddard site; a large prehistoric Indian trade village in Penobscot Bay on the central Maine coast, local resident and amateur archaeologist Guy Mellgren found a small silver coin.

The coin is later identified by experts as a Norse silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre, king of Norway 1067–1093 AD. Extensive archaeological investigation of the site has revealed no evidence for a Norse settlement.

Leif Ericson (about 970 – 1020 AD) is regarded as the first European to land in North America. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement in Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada.

The sagas also tell that Leif Ericson’s discovery was followed by other expeditions and that the Vikings met Indians whom they called “Skraelinger”. It is not unlikely that the Vikings brought silver coins as trade items.

Olav Kyre CoinA similar coin of Olav Kyrre of Norway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Some critics argue that the Maine penny should probably be considered a hoax, and that it was deliberately placed at the site by Mellgren. The Maine penny and other similar coins of this era were available on the open market in 1957; therefore Mellgren could have the means and the opportunity to plant the coin at the site, or could be deceived by someone else planting it – though it is unclear what the motive may have been.

What is a fact is that the coin is minted between 1065 and 1080 AD and that pennies of this type were widely circulated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Goddard site has been dated to 1180-1235 AD, within the circulation period.

While the site is dated around two hundred years after the last of the Vinland voyages described by Norse sagas, it is well within the period during which the Norse lived in Greenland and could have potentially visited North America.

(Article continues)

Viking Voyages AmericaViking voyages to “Vinland” in the period 985 – 1005 AD, according to the Sagas. 

The penny’s coastal origin has been offered as evidence either that the Vikings traveled further south than Newfoundland or that the coin might have been traded locally. However, the penny was the only Norse artifact found at the site, which according to substantial evidence was a hub in a large native trade network.

For example, a single artifact generally identified as a Dorset Eskimo burin was also recovered there, and may support the idea that both the burin and the penny could plausibly have come to Maine through native trade channels from Viking sources in Labrador or Newfoundland.

Today, the coin is displayed at the Maine State Museum.



Text modified by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Sources: Maine State Museum, Wikipedia

Categories: History, Vikings

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