Trans-Atlantic deep-rooted Orkney connections

An article written by Orkney News reader  Alexey Parkhomenko from Russia.

My interest towards the history of Orkney started more than ten years ago on a cold day, when awaiting repair of my car, I looked through the journal “Popular Mechanics”. In one of the articles the author reviewed genetic reconstruction of prehistoric routes, along which the humans had spread from Africa to other continents.

I was very much surprised to read, that ancestors of the North American Indians had split into two groups somewhere in the grasslands of Eurasia: some of them had continued their way eastwards while others had turned in North-West direction and reached the islands of Orkney.

The article was based on research by Bryan Sykes (University of Oxford) and his colleagues on mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), inherited on the mother’s line. The Orkney people still have a relatively high percentage of Haplogroup X of mDNA, and that suggests their genetic links with the Druze, the Georgians and the Amerindians from the East of the USA and Canada.

After that I undertook a brief e-search of images from Orkney, and that was a jaw-dropping experience for me: I was especially impressed by Horse-Festival costumes, which looked in style and details like garments from pow-wow events in the Prairies.

I thought then: why should we cling to one theory of ancient migrations? Might it be, that a vessel of native Americans was caught in a storm and carried away by the west wind and the North Atlantic Current, finally reaching your blessed shores, where they could settle?

But the voice of my common sense repeated inside me: ”Low chance!”

Another theory of mine suggests somewhat more realistically, that the Norse sea-farers could bring women from Vinland to Orkney. Something like that apparently happened in Iceland, which is now demonstrated by the specialists in genetics (Carles Lalueza-Fox, Sigriður Sunna Ebenesersdottir), who studied distribution of Haplogroup C.

Let us recollect the pop-star Bjork, who has a mysterious similarity of her appearance with Asian (but may be rather with Amerindian) people. The Vikings and the Skraelings (- Indians) often had clashes with each other in Vinland, but only an ultra pessimist would claim, that there were no positive exchanges between the two people during a third of millennium (986 – 1347 AD), – time of the expeditions undertaken by the Scandinavians to America.

The similar time span we can extend from 1585 (start of Britain’s colonization of Virginia) to the year 1946. There might be romances like of Pocahontas in the Viking times, or far less positively there were cases of taking captives.

Recently I had an internal crisis in my amateur search in this field after reading in the scientific sources about the Haplogroup X types: the ones from the Old World (including Orkney) – X2b – differed from the counterparts derived from America – X2a.

That cold shower of knowledge about X2a and X2b, however, brought an idea to me that I had used an incorrect basic approach. Why should I necessarily seek for the ways of importing something to the Islands (- genes, traditions)? Rather the Orcadians in fact belong to a widely-spread community, branches of which touch each other from time to time. And value of each branch is not less than of any other.

The Atlantic Ocean has played dividing, and at the same time connecting role. Such importance of the vast water expanses can be seen in other parts of the world. For example, some traditional Dolhareuban sculptures in South Korea have much in common with the statues of the Easter Island situated in the opposite part of the Pacific.

In Myanmar ladies apply on their faces various patterns with yellowish-white paint, almost exactly like it is done thousands miles away in the Comoros and in Madagascar. I think that long journeys and fundamental exchanges were viewed by ancient people as something very natural, – to the extent, that the discovery of Madagascar by the Malay travelers was not reflected in the legends.

But specific phenomena of cultural exchanges are reproduced not only in space, but apparently also in time. There is a saying: «History repeats itself». Sometimes this seems to be just a coincidence. For some strange reason, about 200 years ago the Orcadians used to form the bulk of staff in the Hudson Bay Company (as if the rest of Britain lacked labour force), and they had romances with the indigenous American women.

Some fourteen years ago the descendants of those mixed unions decided to visit Orkney to see the common roots. I doubt, that the word “mixed” is totally correct here, if you know, what I mean.

I would not be surprised if eventually it turns out, that the Orkney-American contacts is a long chain of events, which begins in deep pre-history.

Maybe, there are traces of Trans-Atlantic links in your tales, not only in the costumes for the Horse Festival? I would be glad to hear of that.

Few words about myself: I am a Russian psychiatrist living near Moscow. In the 1990s I had the privilege to work for the British-Russian Hospice Society as a MD specializing in palliative care and as an interpreter.

Best regards, Alexey Parkhomenko

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4 replies »

    • Good day, Bernie, thank you for the vivid description of your walk. I admire the hospitality of the cafe and uniting force of the poles.

      • my P.S. of the article:
        to my ear, FARA’s official treck of “Three Fishers” in the first one and a half minutes sounds very much alike Native American songs. Do you agree?

  1. I hadn’t thought of it before, but I’ve just had a listen, and I can see what you mean – it’s the rolling beat of it.
    I have heard traditional Scots and Irish music, particularly with a bodhran, which has reminded me of the rolling beat of First Nation rhythms – not surprisingly!

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