ate and worked inside dark, smoky longhouses like this
one. It was reconstructed at L'Anse Aux Meadows of sod over a timber
frame, using local materials available to Norse colonists over 1000
THE SAGA BEGINS
Around 1000 AD, Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, was accused of murder and banished from Greenland. He sailed westward with thirty others and arrived at a sheltered harbor. Crewmember Tyrkir, the German, is said to have found grape vines in the forest. They brought wood and wine back to Greenland, and the name Vinland, “Land of Wine” was used to describe the place they had visited. Soon 135 settlers returned to this strategic area, a base camp from which they would explore south into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They were welcomed at first by the native people, probably Mi'kmaqs, whom they referred to as Skraelings, or barbarians.
Over next decades, the Norsemen made a number of voyages to the site, mainly in search of hardwood lumber. There was a major conflict with the Skrealings, ending the settlement.
Danish archaeologists had been excavating
Greenland since 1930s. Residents of this part of Newfoundland had long
known about this site, thought to be remains from First Nations, as the
indigenous people are known in Canada. The First Nations, however, had
found a strange house in this area long ago…
In 1960, Norwegian explorer and writer Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Anna Steine Ingstad were following "The Saga of Eric the Red" and "The Saga of the Greenlanders". They knew the Norsemen were traders looking for good land to settle on.
The Ingstads found proof at L’Anse Aux Meadows that the Vikings landed in North America.
people, second or third sons would have made up much of the crew. The
sagas mention a fjord of currents, Straunfjord, and a summer camp Hop.
Both were also referred to as Leifsbudir (Leif's camp). The Ingstads
sought proof that the Vikings landed in North America. A local resident
led them here.
George Decker was the local fisherman who led the Ingstads to one of the world’s most significant archaeological discoveries. Only a few ridges were apparent at first, but as the sun set one night the Ingstads recognized a line of foundations in the pattern of Norse longhouses. They returned with a team of archaeologists and mysteries began to unravel. The Norsemen had left behind evidence of their presence that would prove that the first contact between Europeans and North Americans was here.
Remains of 8 -11th century Norse buildings emerged that were similar to Icelandic structures of that time. There were foundations of three large houses, indicating three ships and around seventy-five people, including sailors, carpenters, and blacksmiths. A building with a conical roof was for hired hands or, perhaps, serfs or slaves.
Charcoal and evidence of a smithy revealed the use of local bog ore to produce iron, a technology otherwise unknown at that time in North America. The discovery of broken rivets and nails showed that the Norse made basic items needed to repair their ships.
This cloak pin in the L’Anse aux Meadows Visitor Center, Newfoundland, is among the evidence of the Norse presence in the North Atlantic over 1000 years ago. .
A bronze ring-headed cloak pin was found-- clear proof of the Norse being there. A small spindle whorl, part of a thread spinning kit, a fragment of a bone needle, and a small whetstone for sharpening it revealed the presence of Norse women.
Nordic artifacts are unmistakable evidence that the Vikings were here.
Was this Straunfjord? Foremost authority Senior Archaeologist Emeritus
of Parks Canada, Birgitta Wallace, who worked with the Ingstads as a
student and continued the later digs, is convinced that it is.
Everything seemed to fit the Sagas except the grapes. Wild grapes are found today only as far north as Southern New England. Was the climate warmer at that time, enabling grapes to grow? The Sagas say the Norsemen drank a sweet tasting dew from the ground. Does the Norse word for grapes refer to all berries, like red currants, which can be made into wine?
Shells and husks of butternuts, used to make dark brown dye, and not native to this region, were found. There is no indication that the native people brought butternuts here. It appears that there were explorations as least as far as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where butternuts –and grapes—are found.
There was evidence of fishing, buildings, and iron smelting, but not animals, usually a part of a permanent settlement. Was it used primarily in winter when the seas were frozen and otherwise as a base for hunting, fishing, and summer explorations?
The Norsemen left after a few years, and no one knows for sure where they went. Both the Sagas and First Nations told of a fierce battle with much bloodshed around the time the settlement ended. Had most died in the conflict? No grave sites were found, but he Norse had recently converted to Christianity and usually brought remains back to churchyards. Had they simply gone home?
L'Anse Aux Meadows was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its significance in the history of worldwide exploration and the movement of peoples. In 2000, it attracted attention and large crowds when the landing of the Vikings 1000 years earlier was celebrated.
The Visitor Center and museum is run by Parks Canada. The historic area remains much as it was when the Vikings, the first European settlers, arrived 500 years before Columbus. Sod huts have been replicated and costumed interpreters recreate Viking life in Norse-style longhouses.
Adjacent to L’Anse Aux Meadows in the Norstad Viking Trade Village, staffed by costumed reenactors.
and you might be asked whether you have any dyes to trade-- woad for
blue, yarrow for mint green, weld for yellow, madder root for red.
Viking wives may have shell brooches or Venetian beads. Were they
plundered or traded? This isn’t a question to ask.
Watch as pig fat is first boiled for soup then burned for use in caulking ships. Buy jewelry hand-carved from shed reindeer antlers. It’s an entertaining finish to a remarkable day.
L'Anse Aux Meadows is reached by Highway 430, the Viking Trail, are small motels and restaurants, most with Viking names and themes, like Snorri Cabins, named for the first known Viking baby born at L’Anse aux Meadows.
At the tip of western Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, Anglicized from the original name, l’Anse aux Meaduses, “jellyfish bay”, L'Anse Aux Meadows is the site of the earliest evidence of European settlers in the Western Hemisphere.
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