No announcement yet.

Rhode Island

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Rhode Island

    Origin of Rhode Island Viking Contact Theory

    There is uncertainty about the southern margin of early Norse exploration of the North American Continent. There have been suggestions since around 1837 that they reached Rhode Island, stemming originally from the proposed Viking origin of the "Newport Tower" and inscriptions on the "Dighton Rock" near the mouth of the Taunton River.

    The Wikipedia entry for the Newport Tower is here:

    The Wikipedia Entry for the Dighton Rock is here:

    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2
    Norse Exploration - Rhode Island Anthracite in Greenland?


    Hi Roger. Do you remember when Danish researcher Jorgen Siemonsen and a team of collegues came to the US in 1993 to study possible Viking evidence? I think they had about 7 sites in mind. I believe they were the ones who dated the mortar samples from the Newport Tower. Anyway, my question regards a piece of meta-anthracite coal found in the Norse Greenland settlements in the 1930's. It was said that meta-anthracite was not known from Greenland, but is known from RI, specifically exposures in Portsmouth, at the north end of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. In this short piece, Siemonsen indicated they planned on testing this coal sample to see if an origin could be obtained. I never heard the results, and so my question is, did you? I imagine if the tests pointed to RI, or pointed anywhere, I would have heard.


    Just checked. It was he who dated the mortar in the tower:

    Did some more digging, and I guess Hogne Junger was the actual leader of the study, and Siemonsen an enthusiast with money. Here's some rebuttals of the mortar dating results:

    Sorry, I'm winging it, Roger, we don't have to go into all this. Really just wondering where that coal came from more then anything.


    Still another theory on the Newport Tower, the so-called Elizabethen solution.


    Hi Charlie

    The anthracite is often referred to as having chemical affinities only with the open-cast Akonsee seam at Newport RI and that this is the only exposure on America’s east coast. I haven’t seen any analysis which actually supports this (and in fact there are two exposures – both on Rhode Island). The original reference is often given as Helge Ingstad (1966) but I think Ingstad actually published in 1959 but the work wasn’t available in English until 7 years later. I’m also not clear when the anthracite was actually found. One source suggests circa 1930. Nevertheless, Ingstad writes:

    “One of the most curious finds was a lump of coal which was dug up from the depths of the main building. In the fireplaces they only found wood-ash, and this is the only piece of coal ever found among the Norse ruins in Greenland. The most mysterious aspect of the find was the fact that the lump was anthracite coal - since this type of coal does not exist in Greenland. No attempt was made to explain the find. How it had got there was obviously a fascinating question; where could a lump of coal have come from that was found deep in the ground in the farmhouse of the Vinland voyager Thorfinn Karlsefni? The sources inform us that ships in the Greenland trade sailed to and from the mother countries, that is, Iceland and Norway. But in Iceland there is no coal, and in Norway there are only insignificant deposits far to the north, and it is not anthracite coal. The very circumstance that the lump was found in a deep layer indicates that it is somehow related to the very earliest years of the Greenland settlement, and it is very difficult indeed to imagine that English and German ships, for instance, can have called at this remote part of the Arctic island at such an early date. It is most probable that the piece of coal originated in North America. But was anthracite coal actually to be found in coastal areas which the Vinland voyagers could possibly have visited? Subsequent investigations show that there are only two deposits of anthracite coal along the east coast of North America, and they are both to be found in Rhode Island. Is it possible that Thorfinn Karlsefni got as far as that? In the saga we read, as mentioned above, that from his first and more northerly situated headquarters he undertook a long voyage to the south and then stayed for some time in a very fertile region (Hop). And later on there may have been other Norse expeditions sailing quite far to the south.”

    I suspect that there is no analysis beyond Ingstad’s original reasoning, which didn’t properly consider any origins elsewhere in Europe. It’s true that Greenland has bituminous coal and lignite, but no anthracite (neither does Iceland or Norway). But it certainly occurs in the UK (notably Devon in SW England), as well as other European localities (in France, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland) and the Ukraine.

    Parnalee, reviewing Tornoe’s 1965 publication “Columbus in the Arctic?: and the Vineland Literature” which regurgitates Ingstad’s conclusion, notes the following: “But, according to Jones, the anthracite, once believed to have come from New England, is now thought to be of European origin; if so, it is better evidence of the illicit trade of Bristol merchants with Greenland, which can be inferred from Anglo-Danish treaties, than of Norsemen in Rhode Island.” He also comments “the Sandnes arrow… is of a quartzite, unknown indeed in Greenland, but indistinguishable from the quartzite of Labrador and it matches specimens excavated by Jorgen Meldgaard at an early Indian campsite beside Northwest River in Labrador.”

    As you probably know, the Sandnes site in Greenland has also yielded the arrowhead referred to and hairs from 2 animals. These items are frequently referred to as “North American” in articles about Viking Contact.

    The arrowhead was found in a cemetery, said to be near the original home of Torfinn Karlsevne, who is known to have sailed with Leif Ericson to Vin-Land. It seems to be a “Point Revenge” culture point from Labrador made from local quartzite.

    The brown bear and buffalo hairs were found in weaving remains and – although it is true to say they are North American animals, Fitzhugh & Ward (2000) suggest that they are more likely from Siberia.

    I see a lot of exaggeration of the facts in various places, with the single piece of anthracite being referred to as “coals”, the attribution to Rhode Island being referred to as some kind of “chemical fingerprint”, the arrowhead being referred to as “Native American” rather than more specifically as Canadian and also arrowhead becoming “arrowheads” in the plural.

    The only one of those items which (currently) demonstrates Viking contact is the arrowhead... and that only links to the already known excursions to the Newfoundland area.

    As far as I know, the anthracite has never been subjected to chemical analysis (either at the time of the find or since 1993). If you find a report suggesting it has, I’d quite like to see it.


    Thanks, Roger. If I do find more, I'll let you know my friend. Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay is also called Rhode Island and where the state itself gets its' nsme.(The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, smallest state, longest name) Portsmouth is on the north end of Aquidneck, Newport on the ocean-facing south side. There was a coal mine for a few decades in Portsmouth.

    Another on the mainland in Cranston, RI. I was told by my geology advisor way back in my undergraduate days that RI coal was different then other coal deposits in Eastern North America because it has undergone more metamorphism. Some of what might have been coal deposits in RI are graphite deposits instead; the further south one goes in the Narragansett Basin, the more metamorphic. That's why I thought it might be possible to distinguish RI coal from most others. I thought that's why it was referred to as meta-anthracite rather then anthracite? The thing about possible Norse voyages from Greenland to New England is I just would not expect much impact at all, no reason to look for any fingerprints so to speak. There would be little, if any, evidence of journeys like that here. Unless they stayed for awhile.

    Verrazano stayed here for 2 weeks, no one has ever found evidence of it. But, being on the tip of Newfoundland, and having all of North America looming, I'd be very surprised if they had not journeyed further south out of sheer curiosity, if they could manage such a trip.


    Thanks Charlie

    What your geology advisor told you is mostly – but not completely - correct. Anthracite is the generic term for high carbon coal which doesn’t release hydrocarbon volatiles below the temperature of ignition. It’s the most metamorphosed of all coals, although that’s still a relatively low degree of metamorphosis as far as rocks in general are concerned.

    The top end of the metamorphosis scale for anthracite is graphite and when anthracite is graphitic it’s called meta-anthracite, which is not normally mined for use as a fuel because it’s difficult to ignite.

    In areas where metamorphosis has taken place, it’s not unusual to find a range rocks which have been altered to different degrees. The dividing line between when anthracite becomes meta-anthracite has been arbitrarily defined by the coal-mining industry – it’s meta-anthracite when the volatile matter content is equal to or less than 2% (or the fixed carbon is equal to or greater than 98%) on a dry and mineral-matter-free basis, and the coal is non-agglomerating. The coal industry refers to it as “D-388”.

    For Rhode Island & PP State, there is a mixture of types ranging from anthracite, through graphitic anthracite to meta-anthracite (effectively graphite). The anthracite mined in the vicinity of Portsmouth and Newport at Aquidneck Island is less graphitic than that mined at Cranston near Providence for example. But those deposits are not unique - there are other exposures of meta-anthracite on the northeast coast near Boston, Massachusetts. And there are large deposits in Cumbria in NW England. Elsewhere too.

    I have not seen any evidence that the piece found in Sandnes in Greenland was judged to be meta-anthracite but any anthracite (graphitic or not) will have a chemical signature that could potentially be matched up to a specific location if it were properly analysed. It’s that analysis which seems to be missing.


    Thanks, Roger. Now I know why our coal mines here never really panned out. I did not realize graphite was a form of anthracite. There may have been a reason why my geologist adviser felt RI coal was somewhat unique, but it escapes me 40+ years later. There was an exposure of graphite on the mainland a short distance west of Newport. The location was known to the Narragansetts as Cajoot, and the colonial records noted that the natives mined graphite here. Mostly for body paint I imagine. There is a shaft they dug about 20 feet into a hillside. A shame that chemical analysis is missing, or seems to be.


    At the request of a friend, I am posting a personal communication he recently received that answers the question that began this old thread.


    Can you place this answer from the actual researcher who made the analysis of the Sandnes coal on that website for me? I know there has been real interest in what this piece of coal was originally from. there were a few people there who expressed a real interest in the answer.


    >>Happy too, Steve. I give you all the credit in the world for getting to the bottom of this. You are the man! Since there was never a formal report, what you have is real news. And I want to thank you for wanting members of this community to be among the first anywhere to know this. Can't thank you enough! And do thank Mr. Peterson for recovering the data and answering our question!<<

    Click image for larger version

Name:	image_2013-06-23-2 [replaced].jpg
Views:	217
Size:	271.8 KB
ID:	193187


    Thank you Charlie, Steve and Henrik.

    Vitrinite reflectance in oil is probably the most reliable "fingerprint" test you could do without resorting to destructive chemical analysis. An origin from the Gower Peninsula in Wales makes a lot of sense. Several place names in the area have a Viking/Scandanavian origin and Swansea itself is said to take it's name from Sweyn Forkbeard who founded a settlement there after being shipwrecked in the bay.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.