Posted by: nancycurteman | October 4, 2017

Vikings in North America: Fact or Myth

Vikings were early great explorers. Many stories surround their exploits as well as questions. One much-debated question relates to whether they ventured as far as North America. I will share some archaeological information related to this question and you can decide for yourself whether Vikings in America is fact or myth.

Around the year 1000 Vikings purportedly landed in a place called L’Anse aux Meadows in New Foundland. L’Anse aux Meadows comes from the French L’Anse-aux-Médusa or Jellyfish Cove. The region is believed to have been the settlement established by Leif Erickson approximately five centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

How did this happen? As Europe emerged from the “Dark Ages,” stories began to circulate about a land of plenty across the Atlantic—a place called Vinland, land of wine or land of wild grapes. The stories originated in about 985 from Bjarni Herjolfsson, an Icelandic trader. He was on his way to Greenland, got lost in a storm, was blown off course and sailed along the Atlantic coastland of a new land we now call North America. Leif Erickson, son of Eric the Red, heard the stories and set out on an expedition of thirty men and women to explore lands to the West and possibly find the new region.

Erickson’s expedition came first to an icy land he called “Helluland” or Land of Flat Rocks. Not the land of plenty he sought. He sailed further south and encountered a forested land he called “Markland” or Land of Forests. Still not the idyllic land he’d hoped for. He continued south until he came upon a warmer, more hospitable area where he constructed “Leifsbuoir” or Leif’s Camp. He believed this area was Vinland. The wild grapes for making wine and the abundance of coveted hardwood forests made it a very attractive land to the Vikings.

Artifacts indicate the settlement consisted of sailors, farmers, a blacksmith, women and slaves. Leif’s family members including three brothers and one sister, Freydis, led expeditions to Vinland before abandoning the settlement. The settlement only lasted for about three years.

There were three basic reasons for abandoning the settlement. The distance from Greenland was about 2200 miles, too far for easy transport of goods back to Greenland. Second, the Greenland settlement consisted of only 500 people, too few to spare settlers to establish and maintain a splinter colony. Finally, the Vikings were outnumbered by the indigenous people and when trade with the natives turned to warfare the Vikings knew it was futile to try to win any battles and decided to abandon the project.

The evidence that the Vikings did reach North America. What do you think, fact or Myth?

Vinland was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1969.


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