It has become accepted that Vikings found the “New World” 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. Parts of the New World they found they called Greenland, which has retained that name, and the part of North America they came into contact with they called Vinland. Many scholars did not believe that the Vikings discovered the New World until archeologists excavated possible sites mentioned in the Viking sagas and histories and discovered Viking ruins. This added proof that the Vikings were in the Americas before Columbus.
The Far Traveler is about a Viking woman, Gudrid, who was married two or three times. Two of her husbands, Karsefni Thorfinn and Thorstein Ericksson (son of Leif Ericksson), are included in the book, as are her two sons, Snorri and Thorbjorn. Some of Gudrid’s grandchildren who became bishops are mentioned in this book. In 2005, author Nancy Marie Brown joined a team of archeologists searching Viking ruins in Iceland, looking for Gudrid’s house.
Brown presents various proofs that Gudrid was a real person and that she lived in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. She also may have traveled on pilgrimage to Rome. These proofs involve the archeological digs in those three places, also comparing them to digs and discoveries in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Brown also compared these findings with the historical Viking sagas, which present her story and those of other Viking heroes like Erick the Red and Leif Ericksson. These sagas were passed around orally for years before they were written down. Some of Gudrid’s progeny were involved in preserving her story and the story of others.
Brown tells the story based on the sagas about Gudrid living in Vinland for three years and giving birth to her first son, Snorri, there. She tells that the Vikings’ first contact with the natives initially went well, but later some misunderstanding occurred and the Vikings left since they were outnumbered. She also tells of Gudrid living in Greenland and traveling a few times with her husbands in ships. She started in Iceland and ended back in Iceland a rich woman.
Brown discusses some facts of note about Viking society. Women were held as important in Viking society - they were not men’s slaves. They could own property on their own, although women did do women’s work like sewing, cooking, and keeping house. It is believed that women were instrumental in spreading Christianity among the Vikings. Brown shows that, at first, Christianity was mixed with Viking paganism, notable in graves of Vikings buried in the early days of Viking Christianity: crosses and Thor’s hammer would both show up in the same grave marker. Gudrid may have ended her days as a nun when she returned from her pilgrimage to Rome.
Brown describes her personal involvement in doing archeological digging in Iceland. It is a slow, detailed job. She tells how the archeological team worked on Gudrid’s house in Iceland; this part of the book will definitely engage those interested in archeology and the excavation process.
The chapters in The Far Traveler are long and at times detailed. This book will appeal to readers interested in Vikings, women in early medieval periods, exploration, and archeology. There is a map at the front of the book, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. The dust jacket has an image of the front or back of a Viking ship, and there is what looks like a tapestry in the background. A fascinating read about Vikings.