The Finnmen — Inuits In Early-Modern Scotland

James_H

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Finally found the bugger! @Kingsize Wombat posted the following:

"One of the most dramatic pieces of evidence for a pre-Columbian crossing of the Atlantic is to be found in a single Latin marginalia, that is some words scribbled into the margin of a book. The sentence in question appears in a copy of the Historia rerum ubique gestarum by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini which was published in Venice in 1477. In that work Piccolomini discusses the arrival of Indians in Europe blown from across the Atlantic at a date when America was unknown to Europeans (another post another day). Next to this passage a reader has written in Latin the following extraordinary words:

"Homines de catayo versus oriens venierunt. Nos vidimus multa notabilia et specialiter in galuei ibernie virum et uxorem in duabus lignis areptis ex mirabili persona."

the author of the marginalia is remembered by history as Christopher Columbus. He was most likely in Ireland in 1476-1477 on a sailing trip to the north. This accidental encounter with a Amerindians (or Chinese as he believed)..."

https://forums.forteana.org/index.p...ailed-the-ocean-blue.6731/page-8#post-1783712

Probable/possible translation of the Latin:

"Men from Cathay [China] come towards the west. We saw many remarkable things and particularly in Galway in Ireland a man and a woman on two pieces of drift wood of the most extraordinary appearance.

maximus otter
Excellent find
 

eburacum

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The Inuit had larger boats called umiaks, which might have been sufficiently large to survive the ocean crossing. They might even have been able to stow a kayak or two on board. These larger boats had sails made of seal intestine.
640px-Umiak.jpg
 

Lb8535

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I believe that might be due to some intermingling with non-Saami over the years. However I don't think they were ever mongoloid, so more likely what Columbus saw were inuits.
Mongoloid as a word is long out of use, but the genetic makeup of the Saami does not show any close relation to the east Asian gene pool, at least more than does the rest of the Scandinavian population. They tend to have the same coloring as their non-Saami neighbors.
 

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Kondoru

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We dont know what Mr C saw.

He says Chinese...Did he ever meet a Chinese person, How would he know what any looked like?

If we are simply saying `Folk who look different to locals` It could mean anyone. Sailors get around.

I have a hunch they were shipwrecked Moorish pirates.
 

eburacum

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Two interesting things about this account.
Columbus (or whoever he got the tale from) said these seafarers arrived on driftwood. Both kayaks and umiaks were generally built from driftwood.

The story dates to the 1470s; only a decade before a wanderer in a kayak turned up in Orkney. Perhaps there was a general trend or fashion for long-distance exploration among the Inuit at this time. The last Viking ship left Greenland in 1410, after a period of increased interaction with the skraelings; I wonder if the Inuit were looking for their departed comrades?
 

Bullseye

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As an aside, there is a chap in town who builds kayaks from plywood and transparent fiberglass, he tows his personal one behind his pushbike when he takes it to the sea. It truley is a thing of beauty.
 

Kondoru

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A proper Greenland kayak is a work of art and a highly technical device.

Many folk made do with a pointy coracle.
 

James_H

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A mysterious benefactor has given me access to the articles mentioned in my first post (thank you!). Some new information gleaned from the first one (The Kayak in North-Western Europe, David MacRitchie, 1912):

1) The Aberdeen kayak's frame is made of scots fir, probably grown in the Baltic region. So it's likely of European manufacture, though of course the wood could have got to the Americas by trade or as driftwood. Wooden frames for kayaks are more common in Greenland, Canadian Inuits preferring whalebone.

Here's an old picture of the Aberdeen kayak:

EkXBd03XcAAtsgs

2) Rev. Wallace quotes a previous book he'd read describing an encounter with inuit people in the Davis Strait, and said the man he encountered 'seemed to be of the same people'. The book was illustrated, so he would have some idea what he was talking about. Wallace, Jr. in his later foreword explicitly identifies the finnman as an inuit.

3) Wallace, junior also knows how kayakers would tie themselves into their kayaks, only untying themselves to go to the toilet or come ashore, which the author claims is a detail never previously noted in European writings on kayaks (i.e. Wallace Jr. couldn't have read it in a book, and would have learned it either firsthand or from witnesses in Orkney)

4) The Physician's Hall kayak was given to Edinburgh University in 1696, eight years after they received it. (According to this book, it's missing and the search for it is a 'lost cause'. The book mentions at 1933 list of 18 (historical) kayaks in Scotland (!), several now disappeared. I'll try and write up something from this book later)

5) Another kayak was kept in the church at Burray (Orkney) — it has also now disappeared. The church itself is ruined and no longer in use, the parishioners being served by a church on nearby South Ronaldsay.
k_taing.jpg

I wonder if an archaeological dig might throw something up?

From the article:
Dr. Wallace throws no light on the circumstances attending the acquisition of the Burray specimen. It is possible that it may be the " little boat" referred to in the Session Record of South Ronaldshay and Burray in 1661. That Record states that on Sunday, 26th May, 1661, in St. Peter's Kirk, South Ronaldshay, a collection of 16s. 6d. was taken as " charity to ane poore Yetland (i.e., Shetland) man whom God had wonderfully preserved into a storme at sea into his litill boate, and taken in by ane vessell finding him upon- the seas."
This seems like a bit of a stretch to me, though - the locals would be unlikely to think an inuit was a Shetlander, and sometimes a little boat is just a little boat.

6) Another book quoted ('La Peyrere's Report of Greenland' 1647 Isaac de la Peyrere, Historie de Groenland, 1647) describes Inuits captured for exhibition trying to escape in their kayaks. That means that captured inuits had access to kayaks, lending credence to the idea that the Finnmen were escapees. La Peyrere also describes a couple who did manage to evade their captors: "They were pursued as far as the entrance of the Sound, but could not be overtaken, so that, it is probable they were lost, it being not likelv they could reach Greenland in their small boats."

7) On the legendary Finfolk:
Both the men and the women possessed a specially prepared skin, which enabled them to swim like a seal in the sea. When they came ashore they discarded this skin. That is one version. Another version simply speaks of this skin as a boat, which they propelled at a marvellous speed. It is said that they could pull across to Bergen from Shetland in a few hours, making nine miles at every stroke. With the statements of the Wallaces and Brand in view, it seems quite obvious that these swift sea-skins or boats were simply the kayaks already described

8) There were other transatlantic kayaks in Europe, including two described by Olaus Magnus 'hanging in the cathedral at Asloë' in 1505 (I can't find any such place on Google, perhaps the spelling has changed since?). They were said to have been captured from 'Greenlandic pirates' by King Haco (who lived in the 1200s)

9) There are accounts of Skraelings living in Norway in the 1400s!

The earliest example (after those attributed to King Haco) of a kayak preserved as a trophy in a European church is also furnished by Dr. Nansen. It is of the year 1430. The chronicler is a certain Dane named Claudius Claussön, or Clavus, who informs us that to the west of the Wild Lapps "are the little Pygmies, a cubit high, whom I have seen," he affirms, "after they were taken at sea in a little hide- boat, which is now (about 1430) hanging in the cathedral at Nidaros (Trondhjem). There is likewise," he goes on to say, " a long vessel of hides, which was also once taken with such Pygmies in it."'

Dr. Nansen also cites Michel Beheim, who travelled in Norway in 1450. There he saw or heard of a people called "Skraelings" who are only three "spans" high, but are nevertheless dangerous opponents both on sea and land. "They live in eaves which they dig out in the mountains, make ships of hides, eat raw meat and raw fish, and drink blood with it." Then there is the similar testimony by Archbishop Erik Walkendorf, who, in his description of Finmark, written about 1520, says: " Finmark has on its north-north-west a people of short and small stature, namely, a cubit and a half, who are commonly called 'Skraelinger'; they are an unwarlike people, for fifteen of them do not dare to approach one Christian or Russian either for combat or parley. They live in underground houses, so that one neither can examine them nor capture them."
This is perhaps the most fascinating part of all. If there were a colony of Inuit people living in remote northwestern Norway, the frequent sightings of Finnmen in the 1600s would make more sense. However, as far as I know there's no archaeological evidence for such a colony.

10) Another group of people assumed to be inuits were found off the coast of England in 1508 -- all but one died:

" In 1508, a French ship picked up near the English coast a small boat, made of bark and osiers, containing seven men of medium height, darkish hue, and attired in fish skins, and painted straw caps. Their broad faces with their habit of eating raw flesh and drinking blood would imply that they were Eskimos; but it is difficult to conceive of a boat drifting across the Atlantic with sufficient stores of food to avoid cannibalism. Cardinal Bembo adds, however, that six of them died-which may mean that they had been starving-and that the sole survivor was taken to Louis XII."
(An American writer in 1892 quoting Cardinal Pietro Bembo)

Another 'seaman' who ate raw fish and spoke an unknown language was captured off Skinningrave, Yorkshire in 1535:

'Old Men that would be loath to have their Credyt crackt by a Tale of a stale Date, report confidently that sixty Yeares since, or perhaps 80 or more, a sea-man was taken by the Fishers of that place [Skinningrave], where duringe many weeks they kepte in an oulde House, giving him rawe Fishe to eate, for all other fare he refused; insteade of Voyce he skreeked, and shewed himself courteous to such as flocked farre and neare to visit him ;-fayre Maydes were wellcomest Guests to his Harbour, whome he woulde beholde with a very earneste Countenaynce, as if his phlegmaticke Breaste had been touched wth a Sparke of Love.--One Day, when the good Demeanour of this newe Gueste had made his Hosts secure of his Abode wth them, he prively stoale out of Doores, and ere he coulde be overtaken recovered the Sea, whereinto he plounged himself ;--yet as one that woulde not unmannerly depart without taking of his Leave, from the mydle upwardes he raysed his Shoulders often above the Waves, and makinge signes of acknowledging his good Enterteinment to such as beheld him on the Shore, as they interpreted yt;-after a pretty while he dived downe and appeared no more."'

And a 'sea woman' in Edam, Netherlands (yes, the cheese place) in 1430:

Mention may also be made of the sea-woman captured near Edam, West Friesland, in 1430Q The Friesland girls dressed her in clothes like their own, and taught her to spin. She was afterwards taken to Haarlem, where she lived for several years, and was instructed in her duty to God. So says Parival, in his Delices de Hollande, according to Mr. Baring-Gould (Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 1868, II, 244). It is difficult to reconcile some of these statements with the idea of a marine animal, although they would be quite intelligible if the captive was a woman of Eskimo type

10) 'Greenland' in the 17th century referred not only to Greenland but also to several areas of artic Russia, including Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya, some of whose indigenous inhabitants made use of kayaks. The 'Greenlandic pirates' mentioned earlier might have been Siberian natives.
 
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EnolaGaia

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8) There were other transatlantic kayaks in Europe, including two described by Olaus Magnus 'hanging in the cathedral at Asloë' in 1505 (I can't find any such place on Google, perhaps the spelling has changed since?). They were said to have been captured from 'Greenlandic pirates' by King Haco (who lived in the 1200s) ...

RE: Asloë

Based on its appearance in old books, I believe this is an archaic rendering of 'Oslo' in French.
 

Sid

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Point 7) makes me wonder if that might be related to the idea of the selkie. That the sealskin that you hide from them, is actually a seal skin kayak.
It seems that the meaning of the word 'Selkie' is that of the mythical Mermaid i.e. a person dressed in a seal skin?
You can see why the Mermaid myth was dreamt up!
 

Spookdaddy

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a) The Old Physicians’ Hall in Edinburgh wasn’t begun until 1776. That doesn’t rule this out, but l wonder where the kayak was kept for - eighty? - years...

The organisation that commissioned that building had already been around for about a century when the foundation stone for this building was laid, and used to meet somewhere down in the Cowgate, I believe. Subsequent conflation of detail may be the explanation for any apparent anachronism.

(Ironically - and much to the apparent confusion of overseas tourists - the 1776 building might well be considered 'New' rather than 'Old' by residents of the Athens of the North. The 'old' stuff is tumbling down the Royal Mile, Grassmarket and Cowgate - whereas the upstart New Town has been around for barely a quarter of a millennium.)
 

blessmycottonsocks

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Interesting thread.
Every time I scroll past it though, I misread it as "Insults in Early-Modern Scotland" and anticipate something like "Och, away an bile yer heaid pal."
 

Kondoru

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James H; the Indians and Europe book you mentioned is a very good one for that interesting subject...and yes it does mention Inuit folk too.

We recall the Selkie legend, and in Shakespeares `The Tempest` Caliban is mistaken for a strange sea beast, when found on the beach in a fish (ie seal) skin coat.

The Burray story is strange; a Finman would be relatable to Shetlands, -both small, dark folk, and I assume a Finman might well speak some variant of Norse. But would they have a whip round for him? As a pagan, he would have no business in being in a church, and though he might require rescue and shelter from the storm, he would not be like the proverbial shipwrecked sailor, destitute, and might well be sent on his merry way in his little boat when better weather came....16s 6d probably would be a ridiculous fortune for impoverished islanders.

Neither Svalbard or Novaya Zemlaya have natives.

(What sort of boats do the Nenets use?)
 
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