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Vinland MapIn the year 1001 Norwegian, Leif Erickson (a classic golden Viking also named “Leif the Lucky”) returned in his longboat to a Viking town in Greenland with claims that he’d reached a land that he’d named Vinland. While there he’d built a tiny village of communal houses and outbuildings in a place thick with tall forests, which had rushing rivers full of salmon and boundless lush, grassy meadows.

A map discovered in 1957 and worth an estimated US$20 million, called “The Vinland Map” which claims to be a map of the places visited by Leif on that voyage. This fragment of ink-stained parchment is supposed to show Lief’s original settlement. If genuine this would establish Leif as one of history’s great explorers, discovering Newfoundland a full 500 years before Columbus would later discover the land he would name"America".

There is no doubt that the Vikings were one of the great seafaring nations and had travelled across most of oceans of the world and many of the great rivers. However they rarely relied on hand-drawn maps, instead relying on the spoken word and their sagas to remind them of the stars and landmarks that would guide them on their course.

According to chemist Garman Harbottle, a researcher of the Vinland Map, "Many scholars have agreed that if the Vinland Map is authentic, it is the first known cartographic representation of North America, and its date would be key in establishing the history of European knowledge of the lands bordering the western Atlantic Ocean. If it is, in fact, a forgery, then the forger was surely one of the most skillful criminals ever to pursue that line of work."
L'Anse Aux Meadows
Vinland MapL'Anse aux Meadows(51.67 N 55.50 W)

The park has the first historic traces of a European presence in the Americas, the ruins of a Norse settlement from the 11th century, with wooden and earth houses similar to those found in Norway. According to the Sagas, in 985-6 Bjarni Herjolfsson was blown off course from his trip to Greenland and spotted Newfoundland. In 995-996, Lief Eriksson went looking for this land and described Vinland. Thorfinn Karlsefin and Thovald Eriksson led an expedition to find Vinland and established a village for 3 years in what is now L'Anse Aux Meadows. While there the first child born to Europeans on the North American continent was born: Snorri Thorbrandsson.

A Norwegian team in 1960, led by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered the site while searching for Vinland, the first Viking settlement in North America. Helge met a local fisherman, George Decker, who showed him what locals thought was an aboriginal camp. Excavation of the site later discovered the Viking settlement. During the 1920s, Newfoundland author W.A.Munn in his book "the Wineland Voyages" first suggested the L'Anse aux Meadows area might be the site of the Norse Saga's Vinland.

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Discovery of North America by the Vikings
A Viking Age settlement with evidence of Norse artifacts has been uncovered on the northernmost peninsula of Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows located at about 52 degrees north latitude. (See Map) Facing Epaves Bay on Black Duck Brook, Dr. Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Anne discovered a small group of stone and turf buildings similar in style to those used in Iceland and Greenland. This location fits the "Promontorium Winlandiae" of some medieval maps.

In the first season, six house sites were identified, the largest appeared to be about 60 feet long and contained several rooms. Ember pits similar to those in Greenland were found in some of the houses. Radiocarbon analysis of samples from the site dated 1080 +/- 70 AD. A ring-headed bronze pin, commonly used as a cloths fastener by Norse men, was found in one of the houses. Native American stone implements and other artifacts were not found on this site. In general, very few artifacts were found, but the loose, acid soil made for poor preservation conditions.

In the 1962 season, a fragment of bone needle of the type used by Norsemen was found along with a piece of copper that turned out to have been formed by a primitive smelting process unknown to Native Americans at the time. Carbon 14 dating of charcoal from the hearth were these pieces were found indicated a date of 900 +/- 70 AD. Since charcoal would likely have been made from drift wood, a date well before the settlement period is not inconsistent.

Several lumps of iron slag were found in one of the houses that was excavated in the first seasons. This indicated to the Ingstads that the people who occupied this site were extracting bog iron. This is an intricate process which had been developed in Europe as far back as 2000 BC and was known in Norway by 400 BC. It was widely used during the Viking age and in the later middle ages in Norway. It required very close temperature control during smelting as well as knowlege of tempering to obtain useable tools. A source of bog iron nodules was discovered close to the brook, near the house site and the smithy was found across the brook from the houses. Carbon 14 dates from the hearth in the smithy ranged between 890 +/- 70 AD to 1090 +/- 90 AD.

The large house site was further excavated in 1963. This dwelling turned out to have been 70 feet long and 56 feet wide at its largest. It had five or six rooms. The biggest room was 26 feet long and about 14 feet wide. Two smaller rooms at each end make this structure look like a typical long-house. Lumps of slag, rusty nails, a needle whetstone and a stone lamp were found inside this house. A test trench in the large house in the 1964 season revealed a small stone ring which proved to be a Norse spindle-whorl.

After seven excavation seasons, Helge Ingstad concluded:

" An evaluation of the archaeological material can hardly lead to any other conclusion than that the site at L'Anse aux Meadows must be Norse and pre-Columbian. "

Graham-Campbell, James, ed. Cultural Atlas of the Viking World , New York: Facts on File, 1994.
Ingstad, Helge. Westward to Vinland. Erik J. Friis, Trans. New York: St Martin's Press, 1969.
Jones, Gwyn; A History of the Vikings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Copyright 1998 William Bakken Last Update: Dec 28, 1998
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