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Vikings of L’Anse aux Meadows

Frequently Axed Questions About the Vikings of L’Anse aux Meadows

archaeology, Newfoundland, L_Anse_aux_Meadows, Vikings

Did Vikings come to the New World? Yes. Are we talkin’ Ragnar and Lagertha? No. What’s a L’Anse aux Meadows? Newfoundland’s L’Anse aux Meadows is a Canadian National heritage site and it was also declared a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1972 (Kristensen & Curtis 2012, 70). It is marketed for archaeological tourism that focuses on the fact that it is the first and only pre-Colombian Norse settlement in North America. In addition to viewing the ruins and re-creations of Norse structures, visitors who make the 12hr drive north from St. John’s can participate in “traditional” Viking games, arts and crafts (Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism). The site is also notable for having been occupied by numerous Indigenous peoples for thousands of years (Kristensen & Curtis 2012, 71). Despite this, public interest in the Norse dominates the narrative of the site.

Image of L'Anse Aux Meadows foundations
Credit: Torbenbrinker, Wikicommons 2012

L’Anse aux Meadows is a site that is of interest to archaeologists and historians. Centuries before Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, Norse ships landed in the New World. The Norse, also known as Vikings, were a Scandinavian civilization of raiders and traders that crossed the Atlantic between 800-1300 CE (Common Era) (Suthren 2009, 42). Before there was physical evidence of the Norse in North America, indications were read in the 14th century Groenlendinga Saga (Wallace 2009, 116). These tales recount the voyage of Icelandic explorer, Lief Eriksson, who described the lands of Helluland (Flat Stone Land), Markland (Wood Land) and Vinland (Possibly translated as Grape Land). Sea routes and geographic descriptions suggest these are Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland respectively (Suthren 2009, 44). Furthermore, portrayals of conflict with a group of “skraelings” (Foreigners/Barbarians) in Vinland point to the ancestors of the Innu and Beothuk who inhabited the Labrador and Newfoundland area during the period. The descriptions in the saga fuelled archaeological debate that led to the 1960 discovery of a Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows by the husband and wife team of Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stein Ingstad (Suthren 2009, 45). Their excavations throughout the 1960s revealed Norse artifacts, remnants of sod buildings and iron forges.

Although the Indigenous history of the site is not represented prominently in the tourist marketing and archaeological investigations, pre-contact archaeological research has revealed rich activity in the area dating back six thousand years from the present. These hunter-gatherer excavations uncovered stone tools and ways of life from numerous Indigenous cultures (Kristensen & Curtis 2012, 71). The proliferation of Indigenous archaeological material in the area demonstrates that although L’Anse aux Meadows helped to challenge the notions of what it means to “discover” the New World by predating Columbus, it must be emphasized that people had been living in the area for generations and contributing to Canadian heritage.

Written by Clayton Needham for Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology taught by Dr. Lisa Hodgetts, Western University.

Bibliography

Kristensen, Todd J., and Jenneth E. Curtis. 2012. “Late holocene hunter-gatherers at L’anse aux meadows and the dynamics of bird and mammal hunting in Newfoundland.” Arctic Anthropology, 49 (1): 68-87.

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. “L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site,”http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/PlacesToGo/LAnseAuxMeadowsNationalHistoricSite, Accessed February 10, 2016.

Suthren, Victor. The Island of Canada: How Three Oceans Shaped Our Nation. Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2009.

Wallace, Birgitta. 2009. “L’Anse aux Meadows, Leif Eriksson’s Home in Vinland.” Journal of the North Atlantic, 2 (sp2): 114-25.

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