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Rick Steelhammer: Scientists speculate whether Vikings' western discoveries due to Eric the Red or Reykjavik Red

If any group of people could have benefited from having aggressive feelings modified by the calming effects of cannabis, it’s the Vikings.

For a culture that plundered its way through the British Isles and on to Italy, North Africa and what is now the Russian republic of Georgia, and celebrated the Yule season by hanging not ornaments, but the sacrificial remains of human bodies, in trees surrounding their villages, chill time was in order.

Last week, Newsweek and other publications brought to light research data recently published in the scholarly journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicating the presence of cannabis pollen in a bog adjacent to the Vikings’ only undisputed settlement in North America.

The weed dust dated back as far as about 1000 A.D., which was the time Vikings were known to have first arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows, on the northern tip of the Canadian island Newfoundland. Some of the cannabis pollen collected from the bog dated into the 1200s, indicating that the Vikings remained at the settlement, off-and-on, nearly two centuries longer than earlier thought.

Newfoundland would have been a comparatively cozy place for the Vikings to have chilled, after having spent time in year-round air conditioned settlements in Iceland and Greenland before heading west.

Back in Europe, their way of life was being homogenized and blended with other cultures, bringing the Viking Age to an end after a 200-year run that ended in about 1060. For the last of the Norsemen who made it to Canada, it may have made sense to light up, kick back, share memories and watch the northern lights flicker overhead.

During the latter part of their era, some Vikings were known to have bleached their hair and beards with soap bearing a high content of lye, in order to keep or make their locks blonde. Maybe they had planned on plundering California, but ended up California dreaming.

And is it unreasonable to speculate that some Viking parents may have been using their fire-starter kits, made by boiling the touchwood fungus in their sodium nitrate-rich urine, to ignite bowlfuls of Reykjavik Red before coming up with names for their kids? I mean, how else do you explain Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake in the Eye, Ubba, or Harald Bluetooth, the last of whom is actually the namesake for the Bluetooth communications device of today?

Some scientists speculate that the cannabis pollen found at the Newfoundland settlement site may have come from plants cultivated for producing hemp fiber, rather than low motivation and the munchies. But I like to think that the last of the Norsemen — Ivar the Bongless, Abba and pals — spent their time in the New World, 200 years before the arrival of Columbus, living in peace.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Thursday, January 23, 2020

Ball, Mamie - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville. 
Browning, Molly - 1 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Coleman, Jason - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Eskew, George - 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Friend, Raymond - 1 p.m., Foglesong-Casto Funeral Home, Mason.

Fuller, Ellen - 11 a.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hood, Melissa - 2 p.m., Gatens - Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

King, Mildred - 1 p.m., Sharon Church of God, Dry Branch.

Miller, LouEllen - Noon, Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Sovine, George - Noon, Culloden Community Cemetery.

Ward, Debra - 1 p.m., Graceland Cemetery, Alum Creek.