A lot of things are turning 100 this year. New York Bagel, the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, fashion icon Iris Apfel, my grandma (more fashionable than Iris Apfel), the polygraph. All true!
Echoes of the landscape a century ago are all around us, especially in Detroit, where 1921 marked the introduction of a Re-numbering Plan to replace one with "little, if any, relation existing between the numbers on parallel streets, even in the same neighborhood." Almost as exciting as the '21 Detroit Titans, whose 8-1 season ended just short of a Rose Bowl berth.
200 years ago? Florida became part of the United States and Ukrainian Jews suffered the first Odessa Pogrom — seismic events worlds apart that led to the present-day knish kiosk at Festival Flea Market Mall.
1721? Enlightened, relatively.
1621? Plagued, substantially.
Nu? Events occur, time elapses, we assign signifcance to the number of years that pass between the occurance and the present, especially if that number ends in a zero or two. There are limits to how well you (or at least I) can make sense of those –ennials. Lifetimes help, like Harriet Tubman's, which overlapped with both Thomas Jefferson's and Ronald Reagan's. But that only takes you so far.
Looking back in time is like the 1976 New Yorker Cover, except instead of Kansas City and a few stray mountains separating the Hudson and Pacific, there are a handful of hash marks between the fall of the Berlin Wall — Columbus, problematically; Magna Carta, liberally — and the fall of the non-Western walls of the Second Temple.
Then along comes the original odd couple — scientists and Vikings — to make my head spin. According to Nature (the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal, as opposed to the place with puddles and mosquitos), we are just in time to send a big anniversary card to Valhalla:
Here we provide evidence that the Vikings were present in Newfoundland in AD 1021. We overcome the imprecision of previous age estimates by making use of the cosmic-ray-induced upsurge in atmospheric radiocarbon concentrations in AD 993.
In case you were wondering, yes, 1000 is the Cosmic Ray Anniversary.
Of course, the Vikings didn't discover anything; they arrived after the Inuit, who arrived after the Mi'kmaq, who arrived after the archaic first first people "found" Newfoundland and Labrador (places, not dogs) around 9,000 years ago. The only place the Vikings discovered — the only place any Western seafarers arrived that wasn't already inhabited — was Iceland, which had only ever been home to the Papar, a handful of Gaelic monks who washed up on shore. At least I think that's what I remember learning during a course on Icelandic Blood Feuds I took during my final semester of law school and final trimester before becoming a dad.
But Margot Kuitems, of the Netherlands' Centre for Isotope Research, and her colleagues did discover something. You could say that, to overcome the discrepancies in carbon dating results and interpretations from later Icelandic Sagas, the researchers just wouldn't kuitems. (Speaking of not kuiting, I probably wouldn't have passed Blood Feuds if I hadn't been graded on a new-dad curve when I turned in my final from Beaumont.)
How do we now know that Vikings were camping out on this side of the Atlantic exactly one thousand years ago? Like today's appetite for Midcentury Modern design, you need to go back a few decades to appreciate the authentic, timeless Norse craftsmanship at L’Anse aux Meadows.
In 993 (one thousand years before Jurassic Park took the box office by storm), an actual storm on the surface of the sun released an enormous pulse of radiation that was absorbed by Earth's trees. I'll call it Y1K, but probably no one else will. The number of rings between the Viking-made cuts in the wood and the remaining bark (tree, not dog) in multiple samples all point to the year 1021...
Canada has undertaken the work of Truth and Reconciliation for the cultural genocide perpetrated on its First Nations over the last 500 years. Perhaps contemporary research about the Norsemen who pulled their ships ashore 500 years earlier will inform the way we think about all the ways worlds collide. Required Reading (for later):
In the meantime, try to wrap your head around life anywhere in 1019 CE ... 19 years before the birth of Rashi ... 45 years before the Battle of Hastings ... 300 years before the Hundred Years' War.
And so the science has spoken. Rigorous and cooperative, interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed — a remarkable feat that would give us new insight into the movement of peoples across oceans and continents, with implications for anthropology, genetics, pathology—
And they would have gotten away with it, with the whole elaborate ruse to have us believe that Vikings were sitting around whittling exactly 1000 years ago, if it hadn't been for a meddling 2000 Year Old Man.
The missing piece of the puzzle wasn't something that happened two decades or two centuries ago, but what we can pinpoint as occurring precisely two days prior:
Yes, less than 48 hours before the publication of "Evidence for European presence in the Americas in AD 1021" (suspiciously catchy title) came the fulfillment of a promise almost as long awaited – the sequel to Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I.
Teased before the closing credits in 1981 and replayed over and over on VHS, Part II prophesized Jews in Space (done), Hitler on Ice (too soon) and ... a Viking Funeral:
But why? Why would our streaming television overlords go to the trouble of staging a hoax so intricate, it makes Piltdown Man look like the My Pillow Guy?
Perhaps in the year 2525 — if man is still alive, if woman can survive – hydrocarbon scavengers will uncover some artifact that explains this existential moment and the chaotic millennium leading up to it. For now, the best answer is probably the simplest one:
It's good to be Viking.
Sign in or become a Nu?Detroit member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.