The recognition of the archaeological reality of Viking landings in Canada is largely responsible due to the efforts of two fanatical archaeologists: Helge and Anne Stine Insgtad. In the s, the Ingstads used the 12th and 13 century Vinland Sagas to search for textual evidence of Viking landings on the North American continent and then conducted archaeological investigations along the Canadian coastline.
They eventually discovered the archaeological site of l'Anse aux Meadows "Jellyfish Cove" in French , a Norse settlement on the coast of Newfoundland. But there was a problem—while the site was clearly constructed by Vikings , some aspects of the site vicinity didn't match what the sagas described. Three place names are given in the Vinland sagas for sites the Norse inhabited on the North American continent:.
Since the original excavations conducted by the Ingstads, archaeologist and historian Birgitta Linderoth Wallace has been conducting investigations at l'Anse aux Meadows , part of the Parks Canada team studying the site. One aspect that she has been investigating has been the term "Vinland" which was used in the Norse chronicles to describe the general location of Leif Eriksson's landing.
According to the Vinland sagas, which should like most historical accounts be taken with a grain of salt, Leif Eriksson led a group of Norse men and a few women to venture out from their established colonies on Greenland about CE. The Norse said that they had landed in three separate places: Helluland, Markland, and Vinland.
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Helluland, think scholars, was probably Baffin Island; Markland or Tree Land , probably the heavily wooded coast of Labrador; and Vinland was almost certainly Newfoundland and points south. The problem with identifying Vinland as Newfoundland is the name: Vinland means Wineland in Old Norse, and there aren't any grapes growing today or at any time in Newfoundland.
Wallace argues that Vinland did mean "Wineland", because Saint Lawrence Seaway could be included in a regional name, where there are in fact abundant grapes in the area. In addition, she cites the generations of philologists who have rejected the "pastureland" translation. If it had been "Pastureland" the word should have been either Vinjaland or Vinjarland, not Vinland. Occasional visits to the Labrador region in order to gather wood seem to have continued, though. They tell the stories of the Viking journeys to America, which allegedly took place sometime between c.
While the two disagree on some points, their similarities are striking enough to support the idea that these sagas - although hardly eye-witness accounts - remember real people and events at least partially preserved through an oral tradition.
Analyzing the Vinland Map : Vikings came before Columbus
While exploring the surrounding lands, Leif and his men discover grapes and timber which they bring back to the less plentiful Greenland, but not before naming the new area Vinland. His brothers Thorvald, Thorstein, sister Freydis, and his sister-in- law Gudrid with her husband, Thorfinn Karlsefni, all launch subsequent expeditions to America, exploring it further and coming into contact with the natives in both a positive and a negative way.
This saga combines the four expeditions of The Saga of the Greenlanders into a single big one, led by Thorfinn Karlsefni and his wife Gudrid with a mainly Greenlandic-Norse crew. Subsequently, an expedition would indeed have been launched from Greenland. Leif, whose father Erik the Red ruled Norse Greenland at the time, would have been just that. Tracking down the actual historical presence of the Norse in North America is not a simple matter of following the sagas as if they were a travel guide, directly translating its locations into colourful dots on detailed maps. Much discussion has gone into puzzling out which areas the Vikings may have touched upon in the decades surrounding CE, where possible uniting the scarce archaeological evidence with theories leaning on the saga descriptions.
Butternuts and butternut burls that were found at the site are not local but grow in the verdant area further south around the Gulf of St Lawrence including New Brunswick, indicating Norse journeys there. Thus, it is generally thought that the Vinland from the sagas encompassed the whole area from the Strait of Belle Isle in Newfoundland to the Gulf of St Lawrence and its southern shores, perhaps stretching to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. It is thought that each expedition may have lasted between one and three years. To give an indication of the vast distances involved: these last two are already more than km apart, and the journey would have taken an estimated minimum of two weeks and perhaps as much as six weeks or more in one direction.
To continue on to New Brunswick or Labrador to gather the produce they were after easily adds another km to the journey to not even speak of the remote Baffin Island, although this would have been easier to reach directly from Greenland, without stopping in L'Anse aux Meadows. Although Viking ships were famously advanced, the journey would have been no cruise.
Because of the striking stories from the Vinland Sagas, interest in finding tangible archaeological evidence to support them goes back a long time. From CE further excavations were undertaken there, led by Parks Canada. The ruins lie on a narrow terrace about m inland, sandwiched between bogs. Each complex contains an imposing hall with multiple rooms alongside a small, single-roomed hut, and one of the complexes has an additional small hut. The buildings are almost all dwellings and have large storage spaces and fireplaces, while the southern hall also featured a smithy workshop and the middle hall housed a carpentry shop.
The site also had ship-repair facilities but lacked outbuildings and structures for livestock; these would have had to graze outside throughout the winters that were relatively mild compared to those in Greenland. These include a soapstone spindle whorl, showing the presence of some women , the butternut burls that confirm more southerly journeys, ship rivets, and a ringed pin of the Dublin Viking type which ties in with information from the sagas stating the explorers were Vikings with family connections in Ireland.
This venture was no family affair but focused on business, although a few women were present for domestic chores. Supplies could be stored at the settlement until they were taken back to Greenland and beyond. Despite all of its riches, America was not an uncontested land of plenty for the Norse. In all of the areas they visited, they seem to have bumped into groups of natives. As Peter Schledermann words it,.
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It was truly a momentous meeting between two worlds, east and west, the Old World and the New; a coming together of human beings separated at a distant and forgotten point in the history of human evolution. The Indians facing the Norse voyagers were descendants of people who had migrated through northeast Asia, crossed the Bering land bridge, and pushed south and east as the vast ice sheets melted away. The Norse name for the land they discovered, Vinland, reflected reality.
Wine was a luxury drink, cherished by the elite in Norse society as part of an ostentatious lifestyle, and it was a means to power and influence. It was also an area with impressive hardwood forests where excellent timber could be harvested, a treasure for Greenlanders who lacked forests. It is called Vinland because vines producing excellent wine grow wild there.
Why then, did the Norse so soon abandon Vinland?
The distance from Greenland was great, more than 3, km 2, miles to the area of good hardwoods and grapes, farther than back to Norway where they could obtain the same kinds of goods. Furthermore, they were not alone in the new land; it was already occupied by people who outnumbered them by the thousands. A colony of only or so people simply did not have the manpower to settle and maintain a splinter colony so far from home.
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