In this bestseller, Farley Mowat challenges the conventional notion that the Vikings were the first Europeans to reach North America, offering an unforgettable portrait of the Albans, a race originating from the island now known as Britain. Battered by repeated invasions from their aggressive neighbors—Celt, Roman, and Norse—the Albans fled west. Their search for safety, and for the massive walrus herds on which their survival depended, eventually took them to the land now known as Newfoundland and Labrador. Skillfully weaving together clues gathered from forty years of research, Mowat presents a fascinating account of a forgotten history.
A veteran investigator of early European voyages to North America, Mowat (Westviking) has conjured up a vision of pre-Viking settlement by a people he calls the Albans. Originating in what is now Scotland, Mowat's Albans were displaced in stages between about 700 and 1000 A.D., first to Iceland and Greenland, and finally to the western coast of Newfoundland. The author sees the Albans as driven westward by two forces: the search for valuables such as sealskin and walrus tusk, and the remorseless pressure of Viking raiders. To support his thesis, Mowat presents what scant evidence exists-mainly, stone constructions, like tower beacons and foundations for shelters, which Mowat believes cannot be attributed to the Norse or to native inhabitants of Greenland or Atlantic Canada, and which resemble stonework found in the Orkney Islands. On this basis, Mowat accepts that the Albans existed and sets out to imagine what their migrations were like. Scattered throughout the book in italicized passages are stories set in that era, telling how the Albans might have explored their new surroundings and survived, even prospered, in the Arctic. The Albans lost their separate identity, Mowat believes, by merging into the aboriginal population of Newfoundland. This account rests on informed speculation, as Mowat explicitly acknowledges, and is not intended as a formal exposition of all the evidence for and against the author's thesis. The book is best enjoyed as a richly detailed and imaginative reconstruction of how a long-vanished European people may have been the first of their kind to venture into the New World. Illus.