L’Anse aux Meadows

Viking legends proven true at this long-buried settlement.

Written by Nelle Oosterom

Posted January 28, 2011

This reconstructed Viking village is on the isolated northern tip of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. Tales of Vikings travelling to North America are contained in ancient Norse stories known as the Vinland Sagas. The sagas say that about a thousand years ago, Leif Eriksson landed on the continent, which he called Vinland, Land of Wine, because wild grapes were found.

Other Vikings followed, according to the sagas, but proof of their presence did not materialize until 1960, when Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad conducted an extensive search along the coast. Local resident George Decker led him to an area of overgrown mounds and ridges. Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, spent the next eight years leading an international excavation of the site.

They uncovered the ruins of buildings, cooking pits, and an iron forge. They also found smaller artifacts such as a bronze cloak-fastening pin, bone needle, and spindle whorl. The latter two items for sewing and knitting suggested there were women in the settlement. It was likely a seasonal camp for obtaining timber and game to be transported back to Greenland.

The Vikings did not stay at L’Anse aux Meadows long. The sagas tell of clashes between the Norsemen and the indigenous people, who they called Skraelings. Vastly outnumbered, the Norse returned to Greenland after a few years.

The place is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Time period: 1021 AD.

Things to do: Wander the reconstructed Viking encampment, where costumed actors play the parts of ship captain, captain’s wife, servant, and crew members. Listen to sagas in the chief ’s sod house. View demonstrations on how iron was first forged in the New World and learn about the making of textiles, the cooking of food and other daily activities in the settlement. Drink in the harsh but beautiful landscape of this rugged land.

Getting there: L’Anse aux Meadows is about a four- to five-hour drive north of Gros Morne National Park on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. An airport is located at Deer Lake, just south of Gros Morne.

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