Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Unlocking History's Mysteries by Gina Conkle

Are you a fan of history?

Or do you pass it off as dates and dry-as-dust monarchs?

History moves in technicolor frames for me. Sometimes she's elusive pictures. Sometimes she's cold, harsh facts.

But, like a femme fatale full of drama, she's never dull.

One story I vividly recall comes from grade school. My teacher handed out a mimeographed worksheet on Erik the Red, the Viking known for his violent temper and settlement of Greenland. We read about his life, toned down for a ten year old's consumption. Then we read about his son, Leif Ericsson, famed for venturing south to undiscovered "Vinland" in AD 1000.

Yet, not one Viking woman was named as part of that adventure.

Is that because "it's a man's world?" Could be. Some well-respected historians adamantly denied a certain Viking woman named Gudrid traveled with Leif Ericsson to parts unknown. They claimed her an exaggeration of the Sagas. End of story.

Looking back, her omission taught me a valuable lesson: Dogmatic thinking can dangerous. Instead of investigating the past to prove a point, investigate to find truth. Leave the door open, and the impossible might just be possible.

So,who was Gudrid?

The sagas tell of a beautiful Viking maid named Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir who left Iceland
and lived in Vinland (southern Canada). As her story goes, she carved out a home in Vinland, fighting the skraelings (Norse name for the indigenous people), and gave birth to a child. After three years, she returned home to Iceland.

To live happily ever after? 

No. Her exploits in Vinland weren't enough. 

She'd heard of Rome and wanted to see it for herself. Tales were told of blonde Gudrid traveling south again, this time to the wilds of early 11th century Rome. She explored the city for about a year before returning to Iceland. 

Nancy Marie Brown chronicled Gudrid's life
and the evidence trail proving her existence.
Was all this too fantastic to believe? She did cover a lot of miles in her lifetime, and she did thrive in the Canadian wilderness. For these reasons, many labeled Gudrid of Iceland pure fable.

Then, archaeologists unearthed an Icelandic longhouse* unlike other Viking era longhouses. This new find shared similarities to L'Anse aux Meadows structures (name for historic Canadian Viking settlement). 

The archaeologist dug some more...and surprise! They found Gudrid's home. Evidence proved the adventurous woman exactly as the sagas painted her. 

History finally revealed her true colors with the Iceland maid, Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir. Mystery solved.

Stay tuned for future blog posts when I share more solved and unsolved enigmas of history.

                                                     ~ ~ ~

*Interesting nerd note: Viking longhouses shared cultural traits, but Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland all had their own unique regional demarcations. These clues help to understand Viking settlements.

I'm Gina Conkle, writer of Viking and Georgian romance with a softly sensual side. If you'd like to connect, find me in these social places:

What about you? Are there any mysteries from times past that make you curious?


  1. I am not an ardent fan of history, but authors such as yourself do a wonderful job of bringing it to life for me. I am curious about many things, including the remarkable precision that ancient civilizations demonstrate in their constructs and calendars.

  2. Fascinating, Gina! It follows that if men wanted their culture to survive, there had to be women with them at some point. LOL

    I've come to really love and appreciate strong historical women because of my critique partner, Mia Marlowe's work.

    My daughter just got back some results of DNA testing. Fascinating stuff! Apparently our ancestors traveled a lot more than we ever gave them credit for. We were surprised to see Italian and Middle Eastern DNA in my very fair skinned, green-eyed, blonde daughter. Then we remembered the Crusades and Roman conquest of Great Britain!

  3. Love the post Gina, thanks. Inspiring.
    Can you pronounce Thorbjarnardottir?
    Maybe Asa can help?

  4. How cool! Thank you for this post Gina :)

  5. How intriguing that a Viking woman lived as adventurous a life as her male counterparts! And historical mysteries are fascinating--for years, I was semi-obsessed with the Princes in the Tower (my interest revived a bit when Richard the Third's remains were found in a parking lot a few years ago). Were they really murdered? Who was responsible? And if they didn't die in the Tower, as legend maintains, what happened to them? One thing that irks me about many historians is that they start out with a theory, then work their way backwards interpreting the facts in a way that fits their theory. Whereas, if one proceeds chronologically through a chain of events, leaving the door open for unexpected or unpredictable developments, the outcome often ends up being very different.