Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The Norsemen Came Here
Photos: August 13, 2016
We visited the L'Anse aux Meadows Historic site where around the year 1000, Norse men from Greenland first set up a camp in North America.
Is this where the Norse men (aka the Vikings) sailed as they came to land at L'Anse aux Meadows? The sagas tell us that the Greenlanders voyaged to North America several times. First Bjarni Herjólfsson was supposedly blown off course and sighted land. When Leif Ericsson heard about this he bought Bjarni's boat and organized an expedition to go exploring. On arrival he set up a camp. There are other expeditions described after his in the sagas. Were these tales or were they based on truth? The sagas describe three places: Helluland, now believed to be Baffin Island, Markland, possible Labrador and Vinland, which could be the area reaching all down the Gulf of St. Lawrence, possibly to parts of New England.
In 1914, Newfoundlander, William Munn published a book which suggested the site where Ericsson landed was near L'Anse aux Meadows. In 1960, Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered proof of Norse habitation at L'Anse aux Meadows.
These raised areas are the outlines of the buildings that had been built here. Through what has been found in each spot, archaeologists have been able to piece together what each building was used for. One of the guides at the L'Anse aux Meadows Historic Site told us of playing on the mounds as a child. They thought they were evidence of Native American settlements. He remembered watching Helge and Anne and their crew investigating the site.
So much has changed since Ericsson's arrival. There were probably trees. Once cut new trees grow extremely slowly in the acidic soil (much of it is bog) and the winds and heavy snow in winter do not help. Now they are great places for berry pickers.
There are some reconstructions of Norse dwellings and out buildings on the park site. They are modelled after buildings, found in Iceland, which had been buried by one of Hekla's eruptions.
Some items found on the site include slag from metal smelting to make nails to repair the ships, a stone lamp, a spindle... All these confirmed the Norse presence.
Those who ultimately settled this area are strongly connected to the sea. Fishing, trapping of shellfish are the way of life for many on the extensive coasts of Newfoundland. So much so that a moratorium had to be put on the cod fishery - one of the mainstays of Newfoundlanders. Cod is still the most popular food in Newfoundland.