The Farfarers

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The Farfarers
The Farfarers Before the Norse - bookcover.jpg
Hardcover edition
Author Farley Mowat
Country Canada
Language English
Subject Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Key Porter Books
Publication date
November 1, 1998
Media type Print, e-book
Pages 377 pp. (1st edition)
ISBN 978-1550139891

The Farfarers: Before the Norse is a non-fiction book by Farley Mowat, setting out a theory about pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. Mowat's thesis is that even before the Vikings, North America was discovered and settled by Europeans originating from Orkney who reached Canada after a generation-spanning migration that used Iceland and Greenland as 'stepping stones'. Mowat's ideas are controversial and have been accused of being over-speculative. The book has been published in the UK as The Alban Quest.

The 'Albans'[edit]

Mowat's premise is that North America was visited by a European pre-Celtic race. In the 7th century BC, Europe was settled by the highly successful Celtic peoples, who displaced earlier cultures about whom little is known. Mowat calls these people the 'Albans' and includes among them the Picts, Armoricans, and the 'broch-builders' of Scotland. He argues that these peoples were slowly pushed to the fringes of north-western Europe, and ultimately survived only in Orkney, off northern Scotland. There, he theorizes that, fueled by a burgeoning demand for walrus ivory in continental Europe extending as far as Rome and wealthy Slavic lands,[1] they developed a seagoing culture that used sophisticated long-distance fishing crafts with hulls made of hide. These boats, themselves dependent on walrus-blubber tar to stay afloat, enabled them to discover and settle the North Atlantic islands around Baffin Bay, into the Hudson Bay and as far south as Labrador and possibly Newfoundland.[2]


Mowat points out that an island, Ultima Thule, which he claims is actually Iceland, appears in the Atlantic in early maps before Iceland was settled by the Vikings. He argues that Iceland was already known because it had been discovered and settled by 'Albans', who mainly traded walrus ivory. In support of this, he cites the Viking Sagas, which state that the Viking discoverers of Iceland found it to be already inhabited, a fact that modern scholarship has always found puzzling. Mowat argues that the Vikings overran the Albans, who survived only because they had already discovered and settled Greenland.


Mowat theorizes a similar story for the Albans in Greenland: they discovered and settled the habitable southern end of the island (which was then uninhabited by any natives). Afterward, their trail was followed by the Vikings, who again displaced them.


Pamiok Island (near Kangirsuk), Longhouse No. 2

It is now an established archaeological fact that Vikings settled in Newfoundland, Canada (which may be the place called 'Vinland' in the sagas). Mowat theorizes that the Albans did this first. He claims to have found low stone walls shaped to provide a foundation for upturned boats (used as dwellings) on pebble beaches in Ungava (northern Quebec) and Labrador. He further argues that the Albans settled in Newfoundland.

Finally, Mowat suggests that the Albans were gradually driven into hiding as the Vikings, and later the Basques and English, settled Newfoundland. Although he considers it likely that their ethnic distinctiveness disappeared in intermarriage, he suggests that a group of relatively dark-skinned Newfoundlanders known as the Jakatars (also known as Jack-a-tars or Jackatars, whose ethnic origins are unknown to outsiders, but are most often thought of as a mix of Mi'kmaq and Acadian peoples), might conceivably be the last surviving descendants of the Albans.


Mowat's ideas are avowedly speculative and often stretch the evidence farther than might be permissible. In addition, his book incorporates passages of overt fiction, in which Mowat describes the lifestyles of the Albans in novelistic detail. Because of this, scholarly reaction has been muted and dismissive. He hoped that further study might find more evidence for his ideas.


  1. ^ Walker, John Frederick (2010). Ivory's Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants. Grove Press. pp. 55–57. ISBN 978-0-8021-4452-2. 
  2. ^ Mowat, Farley (1998). The Farfarers: before the Norse. Key Porter Books. 

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