Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/48

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the Skrællings so much, that, as the Saga says, "they carried away their winnings in their bellies." Such is the account that we have of the Skrællings in the Sagas relating to America. These people do not appear to be referred to again in connection with the voyages, though a geographical fragment mentions "Helluland," which is called "Skrællings Land," not far from Vinland the Good.[1]

The delineation of the people found by the Icelanders in the mild regions of the Atlantic coast is brief, but it is sufficient to fix their character. Rafn, when editing the original Icelandic records, pointed out the fact that these people agree with the Esquimau and Greenlander of to-day. The critic who supposed that the Saga writer should have described a people with the characteristics of the red-man fancied that he found an error indicating their unhistorical character. The Indian, however, was a late comer upon the extreme eastern border of North America. Indeed, the oldest distribution of the American races does not antedate the tenth century, and therefore the appearance of the Skrælling in the Sagas, instead of the Indian, is precisely what the truth required.

It is hardly necessary to restate the points in the description; for, instead of the tall red-man found by later voyagers on the coast, so gentle, kindly disposed, generous, and hospitable—traits wellnigh obliterated by subsequent contact with the whites we have men of short stature, bushy hair, rude, fierce, and devoid of every grace. Also, here in a country covered with fine forest-trees, the principal article of value to the Icelander, the people made their boats of skin like the Greenland kyjack, instead of the bark or the trunks of trees, as often practiced by the Indians, and described by Champlain.[2] The men described in the Saga evidently did not know the use of metals, and they despised the axe when it was found that it would not cut stone. In the fight with Karlsefne's men they slew Thorbrand with a flat stone (hellusteinn), perhaps a celt, which they "drove into his head," thus illustrating, possibly, the rude warfare of the glacial man. Nor should it be forgotten that, while even in the dead of winter the New England Indians wore almost no clothing, these men, encountered by the Icelanders were clad in furs after the spring had set in.

Another resemblance is found in the fact that both the Skrællings and the Greenlanders used slings, the latter being mentioned by Davis, the first European who visited Greenland in modern times. But a still more valuable fact is mentioned by this writer in connection with the voyage of 1585. It has already been stated that, when in Vinland, Karlsefne found that the Skrællings used to indicate peaceful intentions by pointing certain implements toward the sun, while, when turned from the sun, they indicated war. Thus in Greenland the natives, to indicate peaceful intentions, pointed to the sun with their

  1. "Pre-Columbian Discovery," etc., p. 49.
  2. "Œuvres," tome iii, pp. 59, 60.