I enjoy watching Sasquatch shows—not because it’s good history or science, but because I enjoy watching the folks on the Discovery Network, who have aired countless shows investigating the viability of the theory that a large primate stalks the vast untouched forests of the Americas, make fools of themselves. And there’s something appealing about the prospect of adventuring into the wilderness for a weekend; although most of us call that camping, not “Squatching.” These shows should have nothing to do with history or the Vikings, yet the macaques who produced one such show had the audacity of claiming that Leif Erikson had encountered Bigfoot, and that the evidence for it lies in the sagas.
Could this have been true? Did they find something that I missed? In fact, no.
It turns out the show decided to reference a bad translation of the sagas by one Samuel Eliot Morison who, in his title work The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600, translated the Norse’s description of the natives in Newfoundland as, “horribly ugly, hairy, swarthy, with great black eyes.” From this translation, which is unique among the others, Bigfoot “researchers” have deduced that the Norse had witnessed the elusive North American primate known as Sasquatch. What they had seen was, in fact, a primate, but a human, not an ape.
Furthermore, the translation cited by the “bigfooters” lacks authenticity. It ignores cultural expressions. The passage that described the natives of Newfoundland in reality said something closer to, “darker men, ill-looking, with bad hair.”
You read it correctly. The Norse were not describing Sasquatch, they were critiquing the natives’ bad hair. This is not surprising, considering the Norse cultural fixation on personal grooming (see Were the Vikings Dirty?).
It’s usually all fun and games, but what bothers me is that these shows are often interpreted as factual and mislead large portions of the population into believing complete malarky. My concern is that I may some day hear from someone, “hey, I heard on the History Channel that Leif Erikson mud wrestled with Sasquatch. Is that true?”
No my poor, misinformed friend. It’s not. What you saw was as historically factual as Harry Potter.
Think of the power behind media. What other “facts” have we been force-fed that, in reality, are false? What will be the long term implications of this? In a democracy dependent on an educated electorate, it’s crucial that falsehoods are exposed and expunged.
That is why I believe that all shows about Bigfoot, UFO’s, and any other pseudo-scientific or cryptological subject should be prefaced by a disclaimer that tells viewers that it’s fiction, or at least not proven or accepted fact, and not endorsed by any credible academic body. Until then, I am going to boycott such programing. Sorry, Bobo.
If you’d like to read the sagas about Leif’s voyage to Newfoundland, here are a few links for you to explore: