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The Maine penny, also referred to as the Goddard coin, is a Norwegian silver penny dating to the reign of Olaf Kyrre (1067–1093 AD). The Maine State Museum describes it as "the only pre-Columbian Norse artifact generally regarded as genuine found within the United States".[1] The American Numismatic Society has stated that "There is no reliable confirmation on the documentation of the Goddard coin, and much circumstantial evidence suggests that someone was deliberately trying to manipulate or obfuscate the situation. The Norse coin from Maine should probably be considered a hoax."[2] However an extensive analysis by Edmund Carpenter published by the Rock Foundation concluded "Not proven".[3]

Contents

Discovery

A local resident, Guy Mellgren, said that he found this coin on August 18, 1957, at the Goddard site, the extensive archeological remains of an old Native American settlement at Naskeag Point, Brooklin, Maine on Penobscot Bay.[3] A 1978 article in Time called the discovery site an ancient Indian rubbish heap near the coastal town of Blue Hill.[4] Over a lengthy period, a collection of 30,000 items from the site were donated to the Maine State Museum. The coin was at first identified as a British penny from the 12th century and much of the circumstances of its finding were not preserved in the record (as was the case with the majority of the 30,000 finds). The coin was donated in 1974.[3]

Norse origin

In 1978, experts from London considered that it might be Norse. Kolbjorn Skaare of the University of Oslo determined the coin had been minted between 1065 and 1080 AD and widely circulated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Goddard site has been dated to 1180-1235 (ie well within the circulation period of pennies of this type) and the people living there at the time are generally considered to be ancestors of the Penobscot. While the date is around two hundred years after the last of the Vinland voyages described by Norse sagas it is well within the period during which Vikings are believed to have visited North America.

By some accounts the penny was found with a perforation, hinting it was used as a pendant. This area of the coin is said to have since crumbled to dust from corrosion.

The penny's coastal origin has been offered as evidence either that the Vikings traveled further south than Newfoundland or that the coin might have been traded locally. However, the penny was the only Norse artifact found at the site, which according to substantial evidence was a hub in a large native trade network. For example, a single artifact generally identified as a Dorset Eskimo burin was also recovered there, and may support the idea that both the burrin and the penny could plausibly have come to Maine through native trade channels from Viking sources in Labrador or Newfoundland.

It has been suggested that the explanation that the coin was either brought by the Vikings or traded from a Viking site is weak because no coinage has been recovered from the North American Viking site of L'Anse aux Meadows. However it should be noted that this site is around two centuries earlier than the Maine coin site, and was subject to an orderly evacuation. This Maine penny and other similar coins of this era were available on the open market in 1957. Mellgren had the means and opportunity to plant the coin at the site, or to be deceived by someone else planting the coin - though it is hard to see what the motive may have been.[3][2]

The identity of the Maine Penny as an Olaf Kyrre silver penny is not in doubt. While the Maine Museum and the Smithsonian website favour the view that it was found at the site and is therefore evidence of Viking presence on the North American continent the possibility that it may be a hoax has been raised. The well researched assessment of the validity of the find by Edmund Carpenter concluded "Not proven". There is no solid evidence of a hoax, yet there are questionable aspects regarding the archaeologist that produced the coin to leave its provenance in doubt.

See also

  • Beardmore Relics, Carpenter likened the Maine penny to the Beardmore Relics, which were said to have been discovered in Ontario in the 1930s.

References

External links

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