The Plot

The Site

In 1956, three men meet. One is Mr. Goddard, the landowner of Naskeag Point on Penobscot Bay, Maine. The other two are amateur archaeologists Guy Mellgren and Ed Runge. By September, the archaeologists start excavating at Naskeag Point. They find many prehistoric artefacts and a coin they believe to be a twelfth-century English penny from the reign of king Stephen or Henry II.1

Mellgren and Runge continue to work in Maine until 1971. Afterwards they donate their vast collection of artefacts and research notes to the Maine State Museum.2 They publish about their discovery only once in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society.

The Publications

Twenty years later, a retired military historian reads about the coin. But he thinks the coin isn’t English, but Norse. To confirm his hunch, he brings it to the attention of a British coin dealer. This man, Seaby, agrees and writes an article that he publishes in his company’s journal. By 1979, the leading Norwegian numismatist, professor Skaare, reads the article and travels to Maine to see the coin. After further consultation with archaeologists about the site and its context, he confirms this is a Norwegian coin from the reign of Olaf Kyrre (1067–1093) – even if it is the only Norse artefact found on site.3

The late 1970s is a time of several ‘Viking’ hoaxes in northern America. There is the Kensington runestone, the Beardmore relics, the Newport tower and the Vinland map. Even the excavations at L’Anse aux Meadows are met with scepticism at first. But the Maine penny is not among them. Most will not have heard about it until Edmund Carpenter’s publication in 2003. That is the first time the story about the coin – not the coin itself – is described as a hoax.4

The Truth

To this day, the Norse origins of the coin are undisputed. But the context of its discovery still raises many questions.

Carpenter really does his best to find any traces of wrong-doing by Mellgren and Runge, but can’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. He argues that coins of Olaf Kyrre were not widely distributed in those centuries, certainly not as far as Iceland or Greenland. Yet, there was plenty of opportunity to plant the coin at Naskeag Point. The Gressli hoard, for example, was sold at auction after its discovery in Norway in 1878. It contained similar coins of Olaf Kyrre. And some coins appeared at a New York auction in 1948.5 However, in his 2017 article, Svein Gullbekk goes on to show that the coin could not have been from the Gressli hoard, or from any registered hoard from Norway, for that matter.6

So, for the time being, this still seems to be an original coin and an authentic find from the site at Naskeag Point. There are a myriad of possibilities how it came there. And we like to think after trade or contact between the Native Americans and Norse settlers.

On a side note. The image in the Wikipedia articles is not the actual Maine penny. I wasn’t able to find an image of the coin in the public domain. Thus, you can check my Pinterest site for the image from the Maine State Museum’s web site.

Further Reading

Atlas Obscura – ‘The Mystery of Maine’s Viking Penny.’ A brilliant version of this story and by far the best one online account.

References


  1. Guy Mellgren and Ed Runge, ‘Goddard’s,’ in: Bulletin of the Massachussett’s Archaeological Society, Inc. Volume XIX.3 (1958), pp. 41, 43 [pp. 41–43].  ↩
  2. Svein H. Gullbekk, ‘The Norse Penny Reconsidered: The Goddard Coin—Hoax or Genuine?’ in: Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 33 (2017), pp. 2 [pp. 1–8].  ↩
  3. Edmund Carpenter, Norse Penny. (New York: The Rock Foundation, 2003), pp. 10–11.  ↩
  4. Carpenter (2003), pp. 5, 16–17.  ↩
  5. Carpenter (2003), pp. 6.  ↩
  6. Gullbekk (2017), pp. 6.  ↩

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