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It's an oddly specific question, I know. Just to lay my cards on the table I'm writing a piece of short fiction about a small band of vikings that penetrates deeper into the American interior than any of the real Norse settlers probably ever did. I know plenty about the early medieval Norse, but little about the indigenous cultures of pre-contact North America. I'm hoping that by asking here I'll be able to get a frame of reference and some key names I can use to begin doing research.

I can be pretty sure my vikings will attracted to settled towns, always wanting for supplies, and wary of centralized military force. So which cultures in eastern Canada, and the northeastern United States were the most settled, prosperous, ubiquitous, and/or militarily dominant in the late 900s?

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This is something I've been researching myself. Not that specific date of course, but in general trying to track the flow of pre-Columbian North American peoples and civilizations.

Sadly, there's no book I've found that does this to reference (tempted to make my own...) There aren't a lot of direct resources for this, and a lot of knowledge is fast changing. But I'll do what I can for you.

What we know from Viking contact times is that the natives in nearby north-eastern Canada at the time were going through a transition. Archeologically these are referred to as "Dorset" and "Thule", but they were both the same group of people. Today we call them Inuit (or popularly, "Eskimoes"). Their mammal hunting culture turned out to be about the best way for humans to survive in that climate, which is why they eventually pushed out everyone else up there, native and Viking alike. The Vikings of course didn't care much for finer cultural differences, and just called all the natives "skraelings"

enter image description here

The Innu were/are Algonquian-speakers (closely related to modern-day Cree). This was historically a hunting-gathering culture that thrived in the wooded river areas that part of North America abounds with. Not a lot is known about the Beothuk, but they were likely also Algonquian. None of these people would be considered very civilized by Viking standards (no large permanent cities and farming).

Further inland, things get really speculative, because we have to go from archeology, and contact information centuries later and try to rewind.

What we know Archeologically is that the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys starting about 1000CE were home to a farming civilization called Mississippian*. This was a largeish settled farming civilization that utilized the Mississippi River valley, with Corn as its staple crop. The Assorted river valleys in the South Eastern US were home to a related civilization called "South Appalachian Mississippian". (They are perhaps similar enough to consider one big Civilization, but there are noticeable differences in archeology, modern language families in those areas, and religion.)

enter image description here

You can still find the ruins of these cities in that part of the US, but they are (rather myopically) called "mounds" rather than cities.

From the groups on the map, the "Caddoan" likely spoke (unsurprisingly) Caddoan, the Oneota and likely the Middle were Siouxan, and South Appalachian Muskogean. The other two its really tough to tell, for different reasons.

* - Yes, this is a smidge late for your "900" time-frame. However, the Vikings themselves actually didn't hit Greenland and N. America until about 1000.

  • Your graphic seems to have a large gap on the New England coast. Some of the later tribes we know of from that region are listed in the Algonquian speakers page you linked. Were they relatively late arrivals, moving from one of the listed areas, or do we just not have data for that area? – justCal Jun 8 '17 at 0:10
  • @user2448131 - The main reason is that at 1000 CE corn-based agriculture was just getting started in this area. There was a Monogahela Culture further upriver (West Virginia and West Pensylvania) starting about 1050. The Eastern Algonquian speakers may not have spread to the East coast yet (they are all closely related, which means likely fairly recent), and whoever was there at this point wasn't farming, so they would have been relatively thin on the ground. – T.E.D. Jun 8 '17 at 5:42
  • ...The Iroquois are between the two Algonquian branches (in the St. Laurence Valley) and were probably there first. So if the Eastern Algonquian expansion was due to them having agriculture and finding good land not in use for that, then the fact that they had to go around the Iroquois means the Iroquois probably had agriculture at that time too. Thus both were likely after this time, so we don't know who was there at 1000 (and again, since they weren't farming folk, there might have been so few of whoever it was that it might not matter). – T.E.D. Jun 8 '17 at 5:48

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