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THE MAINE PENNY: A MEDIEVAL COIN FOUND IN NEW ENGLAND SOIL

The E-Sylum (10/3/2010)


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Arthur Shippee forwarded this article about a "wrong place" coin - a medieval piece discovered in New England. This piece came up in The E-Sylum before, but I couldn't find any follow-up discussion from our readers. Is anyone familiar with this piece and the controversy surrounding it? -Editor

maine-penny Beachcombing is pleased to introduce a more controversial wrong-place piece, an eleventh-century Viking coin that allegedly ended up in New England’s soil several generations before Columbus.

The Maine Penny, as it called, was found by an ‘amateur’ (an ugly word for archaeologists) at the Goddard site near the mouth of Penobscot Bay on 18 August 1956. It was identified as an English (sic) silver coin. And it was only in late 1978 that it was correctly identified as a silver Norwegian piece dating to the reign of Olaf the Peaceful (1067–1093).

It is universally accepted that the Goddard site was occupied by Indians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and many thousands of items were excavated there. This was an Indian trading hub on the Atlantic Coast.

The discovery of a Viking penny in New England would be remarkable, exciting and worth playing the bagpipes over. But it would not challenge too many historical or archaeological orthodoxies. True no Viking coins have yet been found north or west of Iceland. But there is no question that Vikings settled in Newfoundland in the early eleventh century. And even if this settlement was short-lived, Viking settlements in Greenland continued up until the early fifteenth century. A couple of coins might have found their way over…

There is not even the need to create a ‘Vinland’ on Rhode Island or, indeed, a Florida-bound Viking merchant. The coin, could easily have turned up in one of the Viking settlements and then have been traded southwards through Indian intermediaries. Beachcombing should note here that several indigenous objects from the far north arrived at Goddard having followed just that route towards the Equator.

So why the scepticism?

Well, the coin was found by one Guy Mellegren who excavated Goddard and who was, as Beachcombing mentioned above, an ‘amateur’. His notes, for example, were described by a professional as ‘hopelessly sketchy’. (13)

Mellegren had though another far more disgusting secret lurking in his background. He had – the horror! – Swedish ancestry on his father’s side… This is not Beachcombing’s Vikophobia making itself felt. The problem is that Scandinavian Americans have often been, in misplaced acts of ethnic’ pride, behind pre-Columbian Viking ‘finds’ in the New World: e.g. the Kensington Stone.

Beachcombing cannot help wondering how many modern New Englanders have some Scandinavian ancestry, but he can also see why a bit of Viking blood might set off alarm bells among archaeologists. And, as with all anomalous finds, the question remains: did Mellegren plant the coin or have it planted on him?

To read the complete article, see: A medieval coin in New England soil (beachcombing.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/a-medieval-coin-in
-new-england-soil/)

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: QUERY: THE MAINE PENNY (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v12n50a17.html)

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