Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Rafn, Karl Christian

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Appletons' Rafn Karl Christian - Newport Arnold mill.jpg

RAFN, or RAVN, Karl Christian (rown), Danish archæologist, b. in Brahesborg, Funen island, 16 Jan., 1795; d. in Copenhagen, 20 Oct., 1864. His father, a man of education and refinement, cultivated a farm on his ancestral estate, and sent his son to Odense, and in 1814 to the University of Copenhagen, where he was graduated in jurisprudence and then served as lieutenant in the light dragoons at Funen, devoting his leisure to the study of Norse literature, and engaging in researches on the ancient history and literature of the Scandinavian countries. He taught Latin in the Military school in 1820, became in 1821 deputy librarian of the Royal library of Copenhagen, and was one of the founders in 1825 of the Society for northern antiquities, having for its object the collection and publication of ancient manuscripts throwing light on the history of the Scandinavian peoples, of which he was the secretary till his death. While assistant in the library of the university, he undertook a critical revision of all the inedited Norwegian and Icelandic manuscripts in the collection. He studied especially the ancient Sagas and the expeditions of the Icelanders to North America. Gov. Arnold's “Old Mill” at Newport, which is represented in the illustration, he considered a relic of one of their colonies. Many honors were bestowed upon him. In 1828 he was made a knight of the order of Danebrog and also held the title of Etatsraad, or state councillor. Of his works, which number about 70 volumes, the best known is “Antiquitates Americanæ” (1837), which has been translated into various languages. In this he holds that America was discovered by Norsemen in the 10th century, and that from the llth to the 14th century the North American coast had been partially colonized as far as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and that the Vikings had been as far south as Florida. He gives an account of the discovery of the “Skalholt Saga,” a Latin manuscript dated 1117, found in the ruins of Skalholt college, which describes a voyage along the coast of North America southward from Vinland (Massachusetts) to a point where the explorers repaired their ships and then sailed northward until stopped by numerous falls, which they named Hvidsaerk, and there buried the daughter of Snorri, who was killed by an arrow. The locality was supposed to be the Chesapeake bay, and the falls those of the Potomac river. His works include “Nordische Helden-Geschichten” (3 vols., Copenhagen, 1825-'30); “Krakumal, seu Epicedion Rognaris Lodbroci. regis Daniæ” (1826); “Fornaldar Sagner Nordlanda” (3 vols., 1829-'30); “Fareginga Sagu” (1832); “Antiquitates Americanæ” (1837); and “Gröenlands Historiske Mindesmaerker,” in conjunction with Frim and Magnussen (1838-'45).