OK, so we all know about Leif Ericson, and the subsequent attempts to settle the North American continent. What isn't clear is just how many settlers were involved and what happened to them. The prevailing belief is that they simply perished, due to disease, famine, weather, conflicts with the natives, or what have you. Yet another possibility, which I think equally plausible, is that they actually integrated with natives!
This isn't a new theory, apparently, but I was completely unaware of that before I started wondering it myself. A few years back, I was thumbing through an anthology of sorts of Native American culture when I came across some very early sketches (circa 16th century) of one particular tribe of Abenaki (the Pigwacket) of northern New England. The first thing that struck me was the style of clothing that they wore. For loss of better words, they looked more like Robin Hood and Friar Tuck to me than a tribe of Native Americans! The next thing of interest was their housing, which were long wooden structures, enclosed in a circular fence. Unfortunately, there wasn't much more to it than that in this book, and even though it explicitly claimed that the drawings were of traditional Abenaki, I just assumed that in actuality they had probably been influenced by European customs of the times, and thought no more of it.
Then, recently, I started looking into some of the earliest accounts of European contacts with natives (such as Giovanni da Verrazano, in 1524), and learned that some tribes of New England actually had very light complexions, sharp features, and customs unlike most of the surrounding tribes. I remembered the story of the Viking exploration of Greenland, and wondered if there was a possible connection. As it turns out, the Scandinavians had actually reached at least as far as Canada (the remains a settlement were found at L'Anse aux Meadows). I immediately thought about the Abenaki, and started searching for descriptions of ancient Nordic culture to see if there was any common features between them. Remarkably, there were many similarities. Making a side by side comparison of the drawings of the Abenaki with traditional Norse customs I could see that they shared many commonalities, such as the unique "pointy" bonnets (hats), embroidery motifs, capes, clothing style, the use of long-houses and fences, to name a few. The women of both cultures even sport identical hair-styles (two braids where the lower half is enclosed in fabric, with a tassle at the end)!
OK, so maybe it's just a coincidence. But then what are the chances that two cultures, completely isolated and separated by thousands of miles of ocean would have so much in common, by pure chance? What do you think?