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Setting the Record Straight About Native Peoples: Norse and Welsh Explorers

Q: Did Viking explorers settle in the Americas?
A: Yes. There are archaeological remains of their settlements in Beothuk Newfoundland (L'Anse Aux Meadows). Also, Norse sagas describe the settlements, and Mi'kmaq oral history makes mention of them.

Q: Then did Native Americans descend from them?
A: No. Viking explorers arrived in the early 11th century, only five hundred years before Columbus. That would not have been enough time for a settlement of Vikings to populate the Americas, much less develop new languages, black hair, and epicanthic eye folds. Besides, the Norse sagas describe meeting the natives (who they called "Skraelings") when they arrived here, and there is clear archaeological evidence that people have lived in the Americas for at least 20,000 years--longer than Vikings have lived in Norway. Amerindian languages are not related to Norse languages at all.

Q: Could the Viking settlers have interbred with the Indians? Is interbreeding with Vikings, Celts, or lost Israelites why some tribes are lighter-skinned than others?
A: There could have been interbreeding, sure. It's unlikely this had anything to do with skin color, though. There weren't enough Norse explorers to change the color of a whole tribe. Besides, there is just as much variation in skin tone on the west coast and in Mexico, where there were never any Norse explorers. Like Europeans, Asians, or Africans, Native Americans just have a variety of colorations.

Q: I heard that there was a tribe called the "blue-eyed Indians" because Norse or Celtic explorers intermarried with them. Is that true?
A: No. There is no tribe of Indians that is predominantly blue-eyed. In fact, blue eyes, like blond hair, is genetically recessive, so if a full-blood Indian and a blue-eyed Caucasian person had a baby, it would be genetically impossible for that baby to have blue eyes. Blue eyes only occur in people who have blue-eyed Caucasian relatives on both sides of their family tree, and even then only some of the time. There are tribes who have had plenty of blue-eyed individuals after colonization, such as the Lumbees and the Cherokees, because those tribes lived in close contact with a Caucasian community as large as their own and intermarried with them frequently. Before colonization, not a chance. A few Norse or Celtic explorers couldn't have left behind blue-eyed Indian babies any more than a few Caucasians exploring Africa could have left behind a race of blond-haired black people.

Q: I heard that a Welsh prince founded the Mandan Indian tribe in the 12th century and that they even speak Welsh today. What about that?
A: No, the story about the Mandans secretly being white started after the Lewis and Clark expedition captured the American imagination; people wanted Sacagawea to have been white, just as they wanted Booker T. Washington to have had a white parent. Neither was true, and actually Sacagawea turned out to have been Shoshone by birth anyway (she joined the Mandan tribe later in life).

There really was a Welsh explorer named Prince Madoc (or Madog) who claimed to have navigated to the New World in the 12th century, though. If his story was true, he sailed along the east coast of North America somewhere, probably in present-day New Brunswick. (Some Mi'kmaq Indians think Prince Madoc may correspond to a historical figure in their oral histories, which would corroborate this account somewhat.) This obviously has nothing to do with the Mandans, who live in North Dakota (1500 miles from the east coast, for those not familiar with North American geography.)

The assertion that the Mandan language has anything to do with Welsh is flatly false; here's a good website by a Welsh speaker explaining why Mandan is not Welsh.

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