Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vikings and North America: L'Anse aux Meadows

To give you an update on Jehovah and Hades, I just barely started chapter 3. Work and school leave little time to do much else. I also don't yet have an update as far as the cover art goes EDIT: Cover Art has been completed. Thanks for everyone's interest in Jehovah and Hades 1/27/12


What I feel like talking about today doesn't relate to Jehovah and Hades. Well it kind of relates to Hades. Something mentioned in my European Expansion class got me thinking about Vikings again. I took a Scandinavian History class a few years back and had to write a paper on... well maybe a little backstory first. In my European Expansion class, we were talking about Norse explorers and the effect Viking explorations, pillages, and settlements had on the world before the time period we generally discuss in the class. He brought up the one Viking settlement found in North America back in the 1960s called L'Anse aux Meadows. That's what I wrote a paper on back in Scandinavian history. He went over a brief explanation of the Viking sagas (Erik's saga and I forget what the other one is called) and I was surprised how little most of the people in the class knew about the Vikings. I know... that's not really fair. I took a class on Viking history and most of them probably hadn't. So before I launch into L'Anse aux Meadows, here's some cool Viking stuff off the top of my head gathered from various history classes I've taken at BYU:

Areas Vikings raided / pillaged / settled / influenced:

-England (way early in its history there was a king over England named Canute or Knud)
-Russia (the name Russia derives from the word Rus which means red, or the color of the Viking's hair)
-Byzantine Empire (the Varangians (a Viking tribe) were actually the Byzantine emperor's personal bodyguard)
-Greenland (settled by Erik the Red who had to flee after killing a fellow Norseman after a dispute about a borrowed item)
-L'Anse aux Meadows (a confirmed Viking settlement in Canada)
-some parts of North America (which follows from their settlement of L'Anse aux Meadows, but I don't know of any other confirmed Viking sites in North America - generally thought to be associated with Leif Erikson)

So there you go. They had a pretty big effect on the world. I'm pretty sure I even missed a couple places. Anyways, I found the old paper on L'Anse aux Meadows I wrote. I'll go ahead and post it for fun:

Copyright © 2011 by Randall J. Morris
All rights reserved. This essay or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or book reviews.

“L’Anse aux Meadows – is it the gate to the Viking Vinland settlements?”

          L’Anse aux Meadows is the only known Viking settlement in North America. It was discovered in 1960 by a Norwegian explorer, Helge Ingstad, and his wife Anne. They were led there by George Decker who was the first to notice “overgrown bumps and ridges that looked as if they might be building remains.”[i] Helge and Anne excavated the site from 1960 to 1968 and found many artifacts believed to be closely related to Iceland and Greenland, the home of the Vikings.[ii] Among their findings were large iron boat nails or rivets, stone oil lamps, ring-headed pins used to fasten Norse cloaks, small spindle whorls from a handheld spindle, a small whetstone, and scissors. The site is dated to approximately 1,000 years ago, about the time Leif Ericson is said to have established settlements in “Vinland” or North America. The Ingstads were able to excavate a total of eight buildings, some of which were used for dwellings and others for daily work. The artifacts found in each building were able to identify whether the structure was a house or a workshop. The group of buildings included “an iron smithy containing a forge and iron slag, a carpentry workshop which generated wood debris, and a specialized boat repair area containing worn rivets.”[iii] Did they discover the missing port to Vinland or simply a Norse settlement that is totally detached from the Vikings and the Vinland founded in the Icelandic sagas?
Evidence shows that L’Anse aux Meadows shared many elements with Norse villages in Greenland and Iceland from around the same time period and it is speculated that it could have been a part of Ericson’s Vinland because of the time period that Leif Ericson was said to have been in America (according to the sagas). Some archaeologists believe, however, that L’Anse aux Meadows isn’t the Vinland from the sagas, but “an exploration base and winter camp for expeditions heading farther south to the real Vinland, which may have extended to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick.”[iv] Food plays a large role in this speculation. For instance, Vinland was so named because of the prevalence of wild grapes that supposedly grew there and wild grapes are not found in the vicinity of L’Anse aux Meadows. Food remains uncovered at the excavation site included butternuts which “do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick and their presence probably indicates that the Norse inhabitants travelled farther south where they obtained the nuts.”[v]
Although L’Anse aux Meadows doesn’t contain the wild grapes for which Vinland was named, it can be argued that “Vinland was a country, not a place - this site would have marked the entrance to Vinland, which probably extended to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick.”[vi] The latest research in L’Anse aux Meadows shows that it was primarily a boat repair facility where boats could be mended and made ready for the journey back to Greenland. As such, it played a vital role for the Vinland settlement because it provided the only possible link back to the Viking homeland. L’Anse aux Meadows seems to be a site inhabited mostly during the winter. Enough people stayed there to gather food to last throughout the winter which allowed more time to explore Vinland and made a return trip to Greenland to gather supplies unnecessary.
The largest problem with identifying the exact location of Vinland is that the only documents that describe it are the “sagas” which were passed down orally until copied by scribes. Of those written copies, none of the originals remain so we are left with copies of copies of orally handed down stories. Since the sagas have been filtered over and over through retelling and recopying, it is hard to know exact details from the original recounting of a voyage. Who knows how many details were added or subtracted to the account to make it more interesting, sound better, flow more fluidly, or simply by mistake? To add to the confusion, all the sagas basically are derived from two Icelandic sagas (the oldest remaining copies) which “contradict each other on basic issues and internally are vague and contain nonhistorical passages.”[vii] Due to this fact, many Vinland locations have been proposed but none have been validated by Norse artifacts, with the exception of L’Anse aux Meadows. Even though the Icelandic sagas may not be the most reliable of sources, it is still admitted by most scholars that the artifacts found at L’Anse aux Meadows prove that Norsemen did come to America and establish settlements, even if those settlements were only used for a brief time.

The rest of this article is available via Amazon as an e-book.

[i] Parks Canada, “Discovery of the Site and Initial Excavations (1960-1968)”, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada, 9 December 2008, Available from Accessed 19 March 2009.
[ii] “L’Anse aux Meadows: Ancient Viking settlement”, 2002 , Available from, Accessed 19 March 2009.
[iii] “L’Anse aux Meadows”, 26 March 2009, Available from'Anse_Aux_Meadows, Accessed 19 March 2009.
[iv] Ibid., Accessed 20 March 2009.
[v] Ibid., Accessed 20 March 2009.
[vi] Parks Canada, “Is L’Anse Aux Meadows Vinland?”, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada, 9 December 2008, Available from Accessed 23 March 2009.
[vii] Douglas R. McManis, “The Traditions of Vinland,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 59 (December 1969): pp. 797-814.
[viii] M.L. Fernald, “The Natural History of Ancient Vinland and its Geographical Significance,” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society 47 (1915): No. 9 pp. 686-687.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Ibid.
[xiv] Robert McGhee, “Contact between Native North Americans and the Medieval Norse: A Review of the Evidence,” American Antiquity 49 (January 1984): No. 1 pp. 4-26.
[xv] E.A. Williamsen, “Boundaries of Differences in the Vinland Sagas,” Scandinavian Studies 77 (2005): Iss. 4 pp. 451-478.
[xvi] Ibid.
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Ibid.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] Ibid.
[xxii] Iver A. Langmowen, “The Norse Discovery of America,” Neurosurgery online 57 (2005): Iss. 6 pp. 1076-1086.
[xxiii] M.L. Fernald, “The Natural History of Ancient Vinland and its Geographical Significance,” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society 47 (1915): No. 9 pp. 686-687.
[xxiv] “Viking”, 25 March 2009, Available from, Accessed 1 April 2009.

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