Tuesday, January 15, 2013

While It May Not Be True...

Our world is full of mysteries. In the Victorian Era they tried to pin down the past, but as we continue to learn more, that Victorian Era picture of our history unravels. For some things there isn’t exactly proof, only tantalizing clues. We crafters of fantasy worlds can make use of those mysteries in our writing, whether they are true or not is irrelevant in the fictional worlds we create.

What sparked this thought is the History Channel show, American Unearthed (shown on H2). What I really like about that show is that he doesn’t make hard and fast statements of what he finds, only that his findings are intriguing. I highly recommend it, especially to writers. My mind has been churning over just the three episodes I’ve seen.

What the gist of the show is, and an idea backed up by other things I keep finding, is that there are many things we do not know. We live on the perfect continent for such discoveries. The generally accepted history is that the Vikings sailed over to Newfoundland in about the year 1000, followed 500 years later by Columbus. What the host of America Unearthed is striving to show is that the evidence for previous visits exists and should be taken seriously. He’s from Minnesota and this probably stems from a long held belief that the Vikings made it inland that far. Not too hard to believe considering the Great Lakes, but as of yet unproven.

So far what he has uncovered has been 12th century Englishmen in Arizona, 3000 BC Minoan copper mines in Michigan, and pervasive claims of Vikings in Minnesota, including a runestone. I’m not saying we should believe this. The skeptic in me has its doubts, but think of the story ideas this opens up. Imagine the adventure a group of Englishmen would have had in the 12th century to end up in Arizona. Just imagine the possibilities. Put it in a fantasy setting and there are even more possibilities.

The are more mysteries like this that are harder to disprove and explain. The caucasian mummies of the Silk Road in China. Stone tool technology in the Americas that is closer to Europe than Asia. Chinese stone anchors found off the California coast. People in a remote part of Africa who are genetically Jewish. What it all means is that we humans have been traveling the globe for thousands of years. These wanderers and adventurers went places that their cultural relatives couldn’t even imagine. For many this was likely a one way journey which explains why no one knows about it. For the 12th century Englishmen in Arizona, the journey of one ended in death with a carved runestone marker. That means there was someone to carve it, but what happened to them?

It is impossible to verify any of these things. Coincidence, forgeries, and alternate explanation abound, but that isn’t the point. The point was really made by Thor Heyerdahl. He set sail in several boats using primitive and ancient construction methods. He crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in ships that could have been built 1000 or 5000 years ago. While it doesn’t prove that anyone did make such voyages, it proves ancient peoples could have and opens up the possibility that someone did and that some legends are based on visitors from other shores.

Now turn from our world and enter the realm of fantasy world building. Let your mind wander with the possibilities. Seafaring cultures can go as far as their ships can take them. You can have an outpost of a far away land, you can have a ship get storm tossed and end up in some new corner of the world. You can have legends of a far away land and a group of adventurers determined to go there. The possibilities are endless, but sea voyages have not often been part of creating a fantasy world. They should be. If nothing else, this information should prove that seafaring is an old and wide spread profession and we do not fully know what contact was made that we have no records of.

The oldest ships date back to the time when the seas finished rising after the last ice age. The ice age shoreline is miles from the present one and deep under water, making any archaeology impossible. So we don’t know how far back we humans have had seafaring cultures. It’s definitely 10,000 years, but unknown how much further back it could go. And if we are talking about a created fantasy world where we can shape everything, it opens greater possibilities. Even if you don’t want to deal with sea travel in your stories, you can still have groups who got where they are now by sea. The big thing is that all this challenges the notion that in past centuries we didn’t move around as much, the era most emulated for fantasy settings. The evidence points to just the opposite, that we’ve always gotten around just fine, on land or sea.

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