The Vikings were some of the best sailors of the Middle Ages. They sailed all over the Mediterranean, far up the rivers of Russia and across the north Atlantic to colonize Iceland and Greenland. For a long time archaeologists wondered if they ever made it to other parts of North America besides Greenland. Although some Viking sagas mention a land called Vinland to the west of Greenland, no reliable traces of further Viking settlement were discovered until 1960.
In that year, a Norwegian archaeologist discovered a Viking village on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, Canada. Called L’Anse aux Meadows, the site includes several houses made from sod put over a wooden framework. One building was identified as a smithy, and another as a carpenter’s workshop. Several distinctively Viking artifacts were found, proving they really did make it here.
The settlement has been dated to about 1000 A.D. and doesn’t appear to have been used for very long. One interesting aspect of L’Anse aux Meadows is that it looks like a typical Viking base camp for hunting and exploration. That hints at more Viking sites waiting to be found. Archaeologists found butternuts at the site, a plant that doesn’t grow this far north, suggesting the Vikings were sailing to the south or perhaps trading with the Native Americans.
%Gallery-150700%L’Anse aux Meadows is now a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visitor center explains the history of Viking exploration, and reconstructed sod huts give you a feel for what it was like in those days. Re-enactors explain Viking shipbuilding, cooking, ironworking and navigation. You can even listen to a Viking saga!
There’s a lot of natural beauty to the site too, including rare plants and sweeping views of the sea. Icebergs are a common sight. Although L’Anse aux Meadows is a bit out of the way for most visitors to Canada, you’ll be rewarded with some fascinating history and a harsh but beautiful landscape.
While L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking site in west of Greenland, several controversial sites in Canada and the United States have been proposed as evidence of an extensive Viking exploration of North America. Tomorrow I’ll be writing about those, so stay tuned!
Photo courtesy user Rosino via flickr.