The Viking warriors swept down from the north like ravenous wolves, spreading terror and bloodshed wherever they went. From their Scandinavian homelands, they ranged as far south as Spain and as far east as Russia. Throughout Europe, people trembled in fear at the very mention of their name.

 

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford Illustrated Histories)

 

The Viking raids began in the ninth century, and the destruction they wrought greatly contributed to the turmoil experienced by western Europe during the Dark Ages. However, the Vikings were not merely roving pirates: they were explorers, traders, colonizers, conquerors. In the course of their expansive travels, the Vikings opened up trade routes that enabled valuable goods from the Middle East and Asia to reach the Europeans. Invaders from Denmark gained control over a large section of England – which became known as the Danelaw – and at various times during the eleventh century, the entire nation of England was ruled by Scandinavian kings. The French region of Normandy was conquered in the tenth century by Viking warriors whose descendants achieved important military victories in the 1000s, including the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and the liberation of Sicily from the Muslims in 1091. And around the turn of the millennium, Viking sailors from Iceland discovered North America and established settlements on its coast – the first European to do so.

Clearly, the exploits of the Vikings had positive effects on Europe as well as negative ones, and their accomplishments were essential in shaping the course of European history. Yet as the year 1000 dawned, the Viking age was already nearing its end. Across Scandinavia, the pagan worshipers of Odin and Thor began to convert to Christianity; as good Christians, they became reticent to attack the churches and monasteries that they had once plundered with abandon. The growth of strong centralized monarchies in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden also “ultimately resulted in taming the Viking spirit,” according to historian C. Warren Hollister. “As Scandinavia became increasingly civilized,” he writes, “its kings discouraged the activities of roaming warrior bands, and its social environment gave rise to a more humdrum life.” By the middle of the eleventh century, the glory days of the Viking raiders had faded into twilight, never to return.

 

 

The Vikings reached North America. This is an historical fact. The evidence, written, and archaeological, allows for no doubt sometime around the millennium men whose cultural ties reached beyond Greenland and Iceland to Scandinavia arrived on the shores of North America. To deny or even to cast doubt on this would be to fly in the face of overwhelming historical evidence.

 

 

The question of the historicity of the Vikings in the New World arises only because it is related to the question of who actually discovered America. The fascination with the discovery of America is really a fascination, not with the discovery of the Western Hemisphere – it was discovered perhaps 30,000 years ago by Asiatic – but with its much later discovery by Europeans: who was the first European to sight the New World? A more significant question historically would be: what circumstances, what patterns of human development led to a European presence on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean? The discoveries in the late fifteenth century led to European settlements and, since then, to a continuous and dominant European presence. If not Christopher Columbus, then surely someone else would have landed in America during the last decade of the fifteenth century. The person is less important than the historical forces at work which made, at least at that time, such a discovery inevitable. In the Viking age, four centuries earlier, still other forces made a landing in North America a virtual inevitability. The identity of the first Viking to sight America may never be known, perhaps with historical justice, for the first Viking to make landfall there was driven by forces spanning in distance the North Atlantic from the fjords of western and southern Norway and spanning in time several centuries of Viking explorations.

The Viking Explorations

In about the year 1000 Vikings sighted, landed at, explored, and attempted to settle on the North American littoral [coast]. The earliest written source is not, as one might suspect, the saga accounts, which exist in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts drawn from twelfth- and thirteenth-century texts. The earliest written source dates from within a few generations of the attempted Viking settlement in America: The History of the Archbishops of Hamburg, completed by Adam of Bremen in about 1075. Book four of this history is entitled ‘A Description of the Islands of the North,’ which makes Adam the earliest known German geographer. Sometime during the late 1000s Adam of Bremen visited the Danish court to gather information for his history and, while there, interviewed inter alois [among other persons] King Svein Estrithson, nephew of King Cnut the Great.

The king spoke about yet another island which had been discovered by many in that ocean. It is called Vinland because there grow wild in that country vines which produce fine wine. Free-growing crops abound there. I have learned this not from fanciful tales but from the trustworthy reports of the Danes.

The Reign of Cnut: The King of England, Denmark and Norway (Studies in the Early History of Britain)

 

Adam of Bremen had gathered this information in the late 1000s. King Svein, at whose court he learned these things, had been born in 1017, about the time when Vikings were attempting to colonize Vinland. It will never be known exactly when Svein learned about this land – as king (1047-74) he seems to have been visited by the Icelander Eadwine bearing the gift of a polar bear from Greenland – but what is certain is that we are dealing here with a nearly contemporary account.

Three other early, non-saga references, confirm the continued knowledge of the existence of Vinland in Iceland. A geographical treatise of the twelfth century states:

South from Greenland there lie Helluland and then Markland and, not far beyond, Vinland.

The Icelandic Annals under the year 1121 record that “Bishop Eric of Greenland set out in search of Vinland.” Iceland’s first great historian, Ari Thorgilsson, writing in about 1127, indicated that he knew of Vinland and its native inhabitants from his uncle, Thorkell Gellison, who had learned about these things from one of the original settlers of Greenland. And thus, within a hundred years or so of the Vinland settlement Ari wrote about Vinland, almost incidentally, without need of explanation for none was needed.

Information From The Sagas

The sagas, arising out of a different, if kindred, tradition, support this information and add significant facts of an indisputably historical nature. Meant for entertainment, the sagas existed in oral form at first and were written down only much later. The sagas require care in the use made of them by historians: not every detail can be relied on and not every statement rejected. Sagas celebrated the great deeds of the ancestors of later Icelanders, who enhanced their own importance through the flattering descriptions of the heroic men and women from whom they claimed descent. The two sagas which describe at length the Viking experience in the New World derive from this entertainment-giving, ancestor-praising tradition of the sagas. The Greenlanders’ Saga, the earlier of the two was committed to writing in the twelfth century and has about it a primitive crudeness which, while not particularly attractive literally, does add to its historical credibility. The great anthology of Icelandic material, the Flatey Book, compiled towards the end of the fourteenth century in northern Iceland, contains the earliest extant text of this saga. The Eric Saga, on the other hand, has a more polished appearance and dates, in its earliest written form, from the mid-thirteenth century, but exists only in two later medieval versions. . . . The Geenlanders’ Saga and the Eric Saga tell essentially the same story, yet in some places they complement and in other places they contradict one another. It is known that the Greenlanders’ Saga is more reliable and its text more faithful to an oral original. Its story should be related.

 

 

The Greenlanders’ Saga tells the Vinland story in three stages: the sighting, the exploration, and the attempted settlement of Vinland. This land to the south and west of Greenland, according to the saga, was discovered not by Leif Ericsson but by Bjarni Herjolfsson. This Icelander was accustomed to spend alternative winters in Iceland, with his father, and Norway. One winter while Bjarni was in Norway, his father Herjolf moved from Iceland to Greenland with Eric the Red and established a homestead there at Herjolfsnes. Bjarni did not learn about this until the following summer when he arrived in Iceland. Although neither Bjarni nor any of his crew had ever previously sailed to Greenland, they set sail and headed west. Strong north winds and deep fog forced them off course. When the bad weather lifted, they hoisted their sail and headed west once again. One day later they sighted a land, which was thickly forested and had low hills. This did not tally with the description of Greenland Bjarni had been given in Iceland, and, instead of landing, he turned the prow of his ship north. The land ebbed away from his port side. Two days later land was once again sighted. This flat, wooded land, was not the Greenland of the glaciers, and, against the advice of his crew, Bjarni ordered his ship to sea once again. Three days later they sighted a land, mountainous, glacier-topped, and, in Bjarni’s estimate, worthless. Putting this land astern, Bjarni sailed his ship in front of strong, gale-force winds from the southwest and four days later they sighted a fourth land. Bjarni judged this to be Greenland and landed at a promontory, which by chance would have it was Herjolfsnes. There he settled and, in time, took over his father’s farm.

 

The settlement of Iceland, a critical approach: Granastadir and the ecological heritage

 

Some years later Eric the Red’s son Leif, who, like all Greenlanders, was curious about new lands, decided to explore the places sighted by Bjarni. He bought Bjarni’s ship – was there a feeling that the vessel might know its own way? – and enlisted a crew of thirty-five. The sailing plan was simply to retrace Bjarni’s route. This they did successfully. They sighted, first, the mountainous, glacier-topped land, which Bjarni had sighted last. Unwilling to bear the same criticism that had been heaped on Bjarni, Leif lowered a boat and went ashore. The land was, indeed, worthless: glaciers inland and, between glaciers and the sea, slabs of rock. He called the place Helluland (i.e. Slab-Land). The next land they sighted had white sandy beaches and, beyond these, flat woodlands. Leif landed, called it Markland (i.e. Forest-land), and sailed on. Two days later they caught sight of land again. To the north of this land lay an island and they landed there. They put the dew from the grass to their lips and marveled at its sweetness. Leif now ordered his ship to go west around the promontory which lay to their south into an open sound. Not waiting for the tide to turn, they rushed ashore. Late they brought the ship up a river and anchored it in a lake at the riverhead, where they set up temporary shelters for themselves. The river had salmon bigger than they had ever seen and the plentiful grass appeared abundant for their livestock. They decided to winter there and so built houses. Leif arranged exploring parties to go out from their camp, but one of his men, a southerner (a German?) called Tyrkir, disappeared and, while Leif was preparing a search. Tyrkir stumbled into the camp, tipsy on the grapes he had found. Leif called the place Vinland (i.e. Wine-land). Night and day in this land were of more equal length than in Greenland. Leif and his crew readied a cargo of vines, grapes, and timber and returned to Greenland the following summer. That was the extent of Leif’s involvement in the explorations: he had retraced Bjarni’s route, landed at three places, named them, and spent a winter at the third (Vinland). Thus ends the story of Leif Ericsson and the New World.

 

Before Columbus: The Leif Eriksson Expedition: A True Adventure (Landmark Books)

 

The Saga of Eric the Red : The Vikings Discovery of America (Kilcoyne’s Viking Sagas)

 

Encounters With Native Peoples

The colonizing expeditions which followed involved other children of Eric the Red: Thorvald, who died in Vinland, Thorstein, who never reached his destination, the latter’s widow Gudrid and her then husband Thorfinn Karlsefni, and Eric’s murderous daughter Freydis. The boat which had taken Bjarni by accident and Leif by design was sold to Thorvald Ericsson. With a crew of thirty he sailed to Vinland and found Leif’s houses, where they wintered. Explorations to the west revealed attractive country of woods and sandy beaches. After another winter at Leif’s houses Thorvald and his men sailed, first, eastward along the coastline and then, north, putting in at a thickly wooded promontory between two fjords. It was here that the Vikings made their first recorded contact with the native people of North America. The Vikings noticed what looked like three humps on the beach; closer inspection showed the humps to be skin boats, each covering three men. One man escaped; the other eight were captured and executed. Europe met America in unprovoked violence. Suddenly the fjord was alive with skin boats, and the Europeans fled for their lives, although Thorvald, stung by an arrow, failed to escape with his. The crew returned to Greenland without Thorvald’s body but with tales of skraelings (uglies) on the beautiful shores of Vinland.

Thorstein, another son of Eric, went with his wife Gudrid and a crew of twenty-five in search of his brother’s body so that he might bring it back to Greenland. They set out in the same ship, which had already travelled the route three times, but foul weather tossed them mercilessly until it was almost winter when they were able to land at the Western Settlement of Greenland. During that winter, sickness struck the settlement, killing Thorstein and leaving Gudrid widowed. She returned with her husband’s body to Brattahlid, in the Eastern Settlement, where she buried it in consecrated ground. There she met a visiting Icelander, the wealthy Throfinn Karlsefni, and they married. At Gudrid’s urging Karlsefni agreed to undertake a colonizing expedition to Vinland. Together they sailed, taking with them a company of sixty men, five women, and a cargo of livestock of various kinds. The familiar voyage – presumably some of the men had sailed this way before – was easily accomplished. The new settlers quickly adjusted to life at the Leif site: they put their cows out to pasture, lived off the wild fruit and crops as well as the game and fish they caught. The intention was to stay and create a permanent settlement. After the first winter they encountered a large number of skraelings, who one day simply came out of the woods at the settlement site. The settlers’ bull roared at the skraelings and frightened them. Soon, however, the Vikings and the skraelings were trading: the natives’ furs for the colonists’ cow milk. During the summer Gudrid gave birth to a son Snorri, the first European reported born in the Western Hemisphere. Early the next winter the skraelings returned to trade and, in a disagreement, a skraeling was killed. Battle soon followed and the Vikings, pushing their bull ahead of them, drove their attackers away. Karlsefni decided, when spring came, to abandon the settlement. After only two winters the colonists returned to Greenland. Karlsefni, Gudrid and the young Snorri eventually settled in Iceland. After her husband’s death Gudrid was to travel to Rome and, later, back in Iceland she became a nun. Among her descendants were three twelfth-century Icelandic bishops: small wonder that the twelfth-century Greenlanders’ Saga sang the praise of this woman and her relations (Eric’s family and Karlsefni).

One member of Eric’s family, however, is not praised in the Greenlanders’ Saga, and that is Freydis, Eric’s daughter. In partnership with two Icelanders she sailed to Vinland and the Leif site. Disagreements broke out there, and Freydis had her partners and their men killed, she herself slaying their five women with the sharp end of an axe. This tale of the murderous Freydis ends the Saga’s description of the attempted settlements in Vinland: three in number, all the same site, two unsuccessful because of hostile encounters with the native people and the third unsuccessful because of a wicked woman. Nine brief chapters and the story of Vinland is told – or, at least, part of the story.

The Eric Saga tells a fuller story, repeating some of the details of the earlier saga, omitting some, changing others, and adding still others. This saga makes no mention of Bjarni and attributes the discovery of the New World to Leif Ericsson, now described as a missionary sent by King Olaf of Norway to evangelize Iceland and Greenland. Difficulties at sea threw Leif’s ship off course, and he sighted a new land where there grew wild wheat, grapes and mosur (maple?) trees. Nearby he discovered and saved some shipwrecked men, and from this time he was called Leif the Lucky. After one winter there Leif made his way to Greenland to carry out his evangelizing mission. At this point, after less than a chapter, Leif disappears from the Eric Saga. The next voyage was led by Kalsefni and his wife Gudrid, widow of Thorstein Ericsson, and contained a company, including Freydis and Thovald, intent upon settlement. They sighted and landed briefly at a place they called Helluland and later at place they called Markland. Beyond a long stretch of sandy beach – they named it Furdustrand – they found inlets and after some exploration put into a fjord, where there were vines and wild wheat. The first winter proved so severe that they decided to sail further south. After sailing for a long time they came to the estuary of a river that flowed from a lake. Here there were vines and wild wheat and the sea teemed with fish. They settled here; no snow came that winter, but in the spring there came the skraelings, first to trade – skraeling pelts for Viking cloth – and later to do battle. At this point the Eric Saga seeks to rehabilitate he memory of Freydis and portrays her as a valiant woman who, standing her ground while men fled, pulled out one of her breasts and slapped it with a sword as the skraelings fled in terror. Despite her heroism the Vikings decided to return to Greenland. On the way they made several stops. At one place they met a uniped, who slew Thorvald with an arrow; at another place, Gudrid gave birth to Snorri. The saga ends by naming the three twelfth-century Icelandic bishops descended from Karlsefni and Gudrid.

 

A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America

 

What can be concluded from these saga accounts? Three facts stand out above all else as indisputable: The Vikings reached North America; they then attempted to establish a settlement at Vinland; and they abandoned their settlement after hostile encounters with the native people. Minor stories such as the tipsy Tyrkir or the breast-thumping Freydis can be placed to one side; interesting when telling a story, but not necessarily for anything else. Sagas had to be created within an historically and geographically credible context. The heroes had to be real people, their voyages true voyages, the sailing directions believable to sophisticated seafarers. Some details should be looked at. The omission, for example, of Bjarni as the discoverer of the new lands in the story as told in the Eric Saga is quite suspicious. That saga writer, well aware of the account of the Greenlanders’ Saga, suppressed the Bjarni incident entirely and left it to a sea-tossed Leif to sight the new land. The Eric Saga throughout magnifies the families of Eric and his daughter-in-law Gudrid, and, in the case of Leif, this author attributed to him the conversion of Greenland, which we know is untrue. The conscious bypassing of Bjarni in favor of Leif fits into this general patter. (Consider, too, the turning of the murderous Freydis into the valiant woman!) It is Bjarni Herjolfsson whom we must see in the sagas as the discoverer of North America. The references to the details of the land itself are so insistent and so much in agreement that there an be little doubt the Vikings found a land where crops and what appeared to be grapes grew wild and where salmon ran in the rivers. This is firm ground for a historian.

 

 

Further questions impose themselves: when did these Europeans visit the New World? And where did they land there? The latter question will be dealt with presently; the other, easier question, now. Bjarni made his discovery in the year in which Eric the Red brought settlers back with him from Iceland to Greenland. There is unanimous agreement that this has to be 985 or 986. It was in the late summer that Bjarni failed to find his father in Iceland and sailed on to sight the new land. Dating Leif’s voyage of exploration requires some attention. The Greenlander’s Saga, which generally is preferable, recounts that this voyage occurred while Jarl [Earl] Erik ruled in Norway (1000-14), whereas the Eric Saga portrays Leif as a missionary sent by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway (995-1000). Olaf was killed and Jarl Erik became the ruler of much of coastal Norway in September of the year 1000. Bjarni’s visit to Eric can be dated as 1001 at the earliest and 1014 at the latest. Bjarni stayed in Norway a winter and returned to Greenland in the following summer, 1002 at the earliest and 1015 at the latest. It was at this point that Leif then sailed. Greater precision is unnecessary. The only settlement mentioned in both saga accounts was the settlement built by Thorfinn Karlsefni and Gudrid his wife; by each account it lasted three years. When did it take place? At the time of this settlement Snorri was born. We can follow his line. Snorri had a daughter Hallfrid, who gave birth to Thorlak, future Bishop. The Icelandic annals state that Thorlak was born in 1085. If we assume that Snorri was forty years old when he sired Hallfrid and that Hallfrid was twenty years old when she bore Thorlak, this would mean that Snorri was born in 1025. Other assumptions, of course, would lead to other conclusions. Yet it seems fairly safe to say that the Karlsefni settlement, during which Snorri was born, took place sometime during the second or third decade of the eleventh century. Where he was born and where this settlement was located remain to be seen.

The Location of Vinland

The vexed question concerning the location of Vinland must be faced. One distinction should be made at the outset. The Vikings, in giving names to places, gave names to large regions (for example, Iceland, Greenland) and names to particular places (for example, Breidafjord, Brattahlid). The names Helluland, Markland and Vinland were given to large regions, to areas with hundreds of miles of coastline. Historians are virtually unanimous in locating Helluland at Baffin Island, just two hundred miles across the Davis Strait from Greenland. There the land is much as it was at the turn of the millennium, towering glaciers in the interior and stone slabs sloping from them to the sea. Markland, that thickly wooded region with miles of sandy beaches, must be seen as Labrador, for, despite intervening climatic changes, the area of Labrador south of Hamilton Inlet is still thickly forested with a strand of sandy beaches, and in Viking times the timer-line might have been as far north as Okak Bay. No mountains are to be found here, just a rolling coastal plain. It was along this coastline that Karlsefni found an extraordinary length of sandy beach, which he named Furdustrand (i.e. marvelous shore). This should be identified, it would seem, with the Porcupine Strands, which are forty-five miles of virtually unbroken beach, at most points about fifty meters wide and backed by dunes.

 

 

Vinland, the land to the south of Markland, has been located at scores of places along eh eastern coast of North America, as far south even as Florida. Local pride, enthusiastic amateur archaeology, and (alas!) fraud have produced most of these claims.

Serious attention in recent years has been given to two archaeological projects in Canada, one in Quebec and the other in Newfoundland; neither has arisen or taken hold from sentiments of local piety. The first was undertaken by Thomas E. Lee in northern Quebec along the western shore of Ungava Bay at two sites (Payne Bay and Deception Bay). It would not appear unreasonable that Norse Greenlanders would have sailed south of Baffin Island through the Hudson Strait into Ungava Bay. Mr. Lee discovered at these sites a number of longhouses as well as stone implements, a piece of bone, and an iron axe-head, which was apparently laminated. The material object can be dated to the Viking age, and, although some opinion held them to be Norse, a scholarly consensus considers them not Norse but Dorset Eskimo, having parallels with known Dorset-type materials found elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic.

A Momentous Discovery

Until 1960 L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, was a tiny, unknown fishing village of about seventy souls, cut off from its neighbors except by the sea. Now a road runs into that village, a national park has been opened there, and its name has been broadcast across lands and seas. L’Anse aux Meadows is the site of the well-publicized excavations which have unearthed ineluctable evidence of an early Norse settlement in the New World. In 1960 Dr Helge Ingstad, former Governor of Greenland, sailed north from Rhode Island along the northeast coast of North America in search of a Vinlandic site. At the village of L’Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland he asked George Deeker, a descendant of original English settle, about any ruins in the vicinity. Dr Ingstad was led a short distance west from the village to the shores of Epaves Bay at Black Duck Brook. Contours on an old beach terrace led him to believe that this might be a site worth further investigation. Behind this beach-side site rise low, rolling hills. The forests are now some distance away. The outstanding feature today is the lushness of its fields, unparalleled at this latitude in North America. Great Sacred Island stands sentry-like to the north of Epaves Bay. Dr. Ingstad decided to excavate. Every summer from 1961 to 1968 the archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, his wife, directed the operations at the site, and in 1977 she published a scientific report of the excavations. Further work on the site was done from 1973 to 1976, first by Bengt Schonback and later by Birgitta Linderoth Wallace.

 

The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland

 

What did the Ingstads find at L’Anse aux Meadows? Quite simply, they found the remains of a small Norse community of the eleventh century. They discovered to the east of the brook three clusters of houses and to the west of the brook a smithy and a charcoal kiln. The buildings have walls constructed of horizontal layers of turf placed one on top of another. In each cluster there was a longhouse and one or more smaller, satellite houses; they were built on an ancient marine terrace which lies about 4 meters above sea level at high tide. Each of the longhouses had a side wall facing the sea. . . . In general, the buildings at this site represent Scandinavian buildings, and on the basis of the buildings themselves one has sufficient confidence to describe this as a Norse community.

The artifacts found at L’Anse aux Meadows, although not as plentiful as one would have liked, confirm the architectural evidence and point unmistakably to a Norse origin. Near the doorway to [one of the longhouses], a soapstone spindle whorl was found; it resembles very closely a spindle whorl found in Greenland – nothing of this sort can be attributed to aboriginal North Americans at this date – and indicates the presence of sheep at this Norse settlement. A small, rounded stone with a hollow was, no doubt, a lamp used to burn oil; it is very similar to Icelandic lamps of the Viking period and not similar at all to known Eskimo lamps. ,. . . A fragment of a bone needle had a drilled eye, a feature impossible for the Dorset Eskimoes. Of greatest significance is the ring-headed bronze pin, undoubtedly of Norse-Celtic origin. This pin, with a ring looped through a hole drilled at the top of the shank, ha no ornamentation and measures 10 centimeters, and it bears a very close resemblance to pins found throughout northern Europe. Over a score of such pins from the Viking period have been found in graves in Norway alone, a half dozen or so in Iceland, and one, most recently, has been found at the site of the High Street excavations in Dublin.

The age of this Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows is still to be discussed. The excavators have had some of the material found at this site subjected to radiocarbon testing. . . .

The carbon-14 dating would suggest a date at the turn of the millennium. This dating is consistent with the information derived from the sagas. The conclusion is ineluctable: sometime about the year AD 1000 a Viking settlement was established at L’Anse aux Meadows near the northern tip of Newfoundland. . . .

Thus the architectural and archaeological evidence is strongly supported by the carbon dating, and this evidence compels us to conclude that the Vikings reached North America. The saga evidence, as useful as it indeed is, takes second place to what was unearthed in Newfoundland. The significance of these findings can scarcely be exaggerated: the long line of Viking migration which had begun generations earlier in the fjords of western Norway had stretched all the way across the North Atlantic. The line that had reached Iceland in the 870s and Greenland in the 980s reached the shores of North America near the year 1000. . . .

Grapes, Wine, and Vinland

One worrying issue about L’Anse aux Meadows remains: the name Vinland. According to Adam of Bremen and the sagas, the land discovered by the Vikings abounded in wine-yielding grapes. No grapes now grow in this region. Inconveniently, sophisticated pollen analyses of samples taken from the site clearly show that no profound vegetational change has taken place there for the past seven-and-a half millennia and, hence, it is highly improbable that grapes grew there during the Viking age. The climate at the time of the Viking settlement, despite an intervening cold period, was similar to the climate of today: sharp differences between winter and summer temperatures, which, in both seasons, are moderated by the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream, thus producing much fog and a short season (about 100 days) for crops. Grapeless though this land was a thousand years ago, it did produce a wide variety of berries, some of which were ‘wineberries,’ particularly the squashberry and both the red and the black currants; these might quite conceivably have been interpreted as grapes. Currants are still used in Scandinavia for making wine and are commonly called ‘red and black wineberries’ in Sweden, and elsewhere in the north (in parts of Norway and England) the red currant is known as a ‘red wineberry.’ . . .

Is L’Anse aux Meadows, then, Vinland? The answer has to be that L’Anse aux Meadows must have been a Viking settlement in the large region called Vinland. It would be rash, indeed, to identify this settlement with any of the settlements mentioned in the sagas, although the temptation, which must be valiantly resisted, to see this as the colony established by Thorfinn Karlsefni is strong.

It still remains for scholars to determine the extent of Vinland. How far west did it extend? – to Ungava Bay? – to Hudson Bay? And how far south did it extend? — to Nova Scotia? — to the Maine coast? — to Cape Cod? — to Narragansett Bay or beyond? It is only archaeological evidence, perhaps accidentally found by fishermen, beachcombers, or amateur archaeologists, which will determine how far the Vikings went in the New World. . . . However far Vinland might have extended – and it remains an open question – there can be no question that the Vikings established a settlement, short-lived though it was, on the marine terraces overlooking Epaves Bay in Newfoundland.

 


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