LEIF Erikson’s 1000AD voyage to America has been explored in spectacular detail in countless other modern works by extremely talented historians and archaeologists.

The aim of this short article is not to correct or revise their conclusions, or force-feed the reader another outrageous alternative Scots-in-America narrative. Instead, I want to expand upon a few generally overlooked people and events recorded by the original medieval Sagas.

The Grœnlendinga Saga (Saga of the Greenlanders) and Eiríks saga rauða (Saga of Erik the Red) both give differing, though not always contradictory, accounts of the Norse colonisation of Greenland in the 10th and early 11th centuries. The Grœnlendinga Saga is preserved in the late-14th-century Flateyjarbók MS, while two different versions of Eiríks Saga were preserved in the 14th and 15th-century Hauksbók MS and Skálholtsbók MS texts.

The events outlined in both the Greenlander Saga and Erik’s Saga are open to interpretation, but the authenticity of the physical manuscripts is beyond question; the Hauksbók, Skálholtsbók and Flateyjarbók books were all written before the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. This is a notable record because these three books appear to contain the earliest known accounts of European excursions around the coast and interior of North America, somewhere Columbus never set foot.

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According to Erik’s Saga, King Olaf gave Erikson “two Scotch people” called Haki and Hækja, described by the king as strong and durable, and fleet-footed. Olaf “requested Leif to have recourse to these people if ever he should want fleetness” because the two Scots “were swifter than wild beasts”.

The Saga provides some interesting details about that particular trip and even the attire of Erikson’s Scottish runners: “They were dressed in such wise that they had on the garment which they called biafal. It was made with a hood at the top, open at the sides, without sleeves, and was fastened between the legs. A button and a loop held it together there; and elsewhere they were without clothing.”

While the captain skirted the coast in search of a safe harbour, the two Scots were ordered to “run into the southern regions, seek for choice land, and come back after three half-days were passed”.

Erikson then “cast anchors from the ships, and lay there to wait for them”.

The Saga reveals that the “two scotch people”, or “tvo menn skoska”, dutifully explored and surveyed mainland America. The text casually credits the Scots with the first sleepover, the first temporary encampment and the first recorded observations of North American edible flora: “...when three days were expired the Scotch people leapt down from the land, and one of them had in his hand a bunch of grapes, and the other an ear of wild wheat.”

If this is true, if indeed the “tvo menn skoska” existed, their adventure is worth repeating. For three days (or three half-days), Haki and Hækja explored, slept, ate and recorded to memory their observations.

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Their account should be considered the earliest known European exploration of the North American mainland. Using intelligence gathered from the Scots, Erikson knew “they had found good and choice land” to begin the Norse colonisation in the New World. This is an important point: Erikson is believed to be the first European to reach mainland America, but he sent Scots ahead of him. If they existed, the significance of two fleet-footed Scots reaching America first (not as mysterious navigators, but as experienced surveyors) cannot be overstated.

Scotland’s links to Erikson don’t begin and end with the voyage to the west. While it’s tempting to emphasise his father’s (alleged) red hair and beard, or the fact that we don’t know where Erikson was born, these ambiguities will always be open to misinterpretation.

According to the Sagas, however, Erikson fathered a Norse-Scot son (named Thorgils) during a long, steamy summer in Scotland’s southern isles, with the help of Thorgunna, a Hebridean “daughter of the local chief”.

Father and son were eventually reunited for further adventures in Greenland and beyond. But Thorgils “was not popular”. Some sources describe him as “uncanny”.

We know nothing else about him.