July 28, 2019
Just west of where I was staying in Quirpon, Newfoundland is the small coastal village of L’Anse aux Meadows. It was here that a husband/wife team of archaeologists helped unearth what is now the only known Viking settlement in North America. This discovery only “recently” occurred in the 1960’s.
My Airbnb host actually works at the National Historic site there and it was clear from our discussion the night I arrived that he is very passionate about it. I’m normally not much of a history buff and don’t often visit or spend much time at these types of places but I was planning to see this one anyway (they’re the Vikings for crying out loud…). He said there would be a 17-minute movie and I could then take a 45 minute guided walking tour of the grounds.
I went to the Visitor Center and took a casual look around. This is a model of a Viking “landing craft”. They had a number of different of ships for various applications.
And this is a model of the replica village, near the actual archaeologic dig, which depicts how it might have looked 1,000 years ago when they first arrived. Yes, the Norsemen came to North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. When they arrived they encountered the indigenous Dorset people (who, under there breaths were probably saying “dibs”).
I often skip the introductory video but my host had convinced me that I should take the time to watch it and I’m glad I did. I must say that it is, by far, the best such movie I have ever seen. Modern and extremely well done.
After the movie it was time for our tour.
This is the view from the back deck of the Visitor Center looking down at the recreated village and neighboring landscape:
Our extremely knowledgeable guide, Paul, took us down a series of wooden walkways and, with his permission, out on some of the actual ground where the foundations were discovered, and explained the likely background of the arrival and the people who landed here. First of all, Viking is generally misused. According to Paul, Viking isn’t something you are it’s something you do – you go “a Vikin”. The proper term for people from Scandinavia is Norsemen.
Second, the overall image people have been “taught” about Norsemen is somewhat incorrect. Think the “Vikings” had dragons at the front of their huge sailing ships and wore helmets with horns? OK – where’s your proof, Skippy? Yes, the Norsemen were skilled ship builders and sailors and possessed strong military prowess. Yes, they did have dragons (well, dragon heads) carved at the front, and sometimes rear, of their oceangoing ships. Horns? Not so much. There is NO archaeological evidence to support the notion that Norse helmets had horns (or worse yet that they had horns growing out of their heads!).
The “Vikings” have a bad reputation as a people who would swoop in and rape, pillage and plunder their victims. That they were violent pirates and heathens. To use a word my Airbnb host said during our discussion the night I arrived, the Norsemen have been demonized, themselves made victims of clichés and stereotypes. More likely, to use a phrase I read online, they merely “raided and traded”.
Norsemen built a variety of ships, either for merchant trading or warfare, and were highly skilled sailors. They came through Greenland, Iceland and eventually here – at the northern tip of Newfoundland. They named various regions of this “new world” for their various attributes: Helluland (stone), Greenland (open farmland), Markland (forests) and Vinland (wine country – yay!!).
That last one, Vinland, is rather curious. What became known as Vinland covers a wide area – the south coast of Labrador, the north and west coast of Newfoundland, the eastern portion of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia provinces and all of Prince Edward Island. Only one problem – grapes don’t grow in Newfoundland. Never have. In fact, the only one of those areas I mentioned which grows grapes (and has butternut trees) is New Brunswick province yet there were very small traces of butternuts found here.
Ok, so we walk around the grounds listening to Paul and eventually come to little mounds which were the foundations of buildings unearthed during the archaeological dig in the 60’s. Artifacts found here tell the story of who was here, how many and what they likely did. They weren’t here long in the grand scheme of things.
Once Paul “released” us we were free to roam through the reconstructed village and interact with the people working there who were in period costumes (like the guy on the left in the first photo below), who shared stories of how the people lived.
The brown you are seeing around the doorways isn’t wood, it’s peat.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION – Added after original post:
My friend and frequent commenter Shawn asked if I had taken any photos of the interior. I did not take inside photos. It was understandably very dark inside and with all the other tour guests watching and workers explaining their crafts I didn’t want to use the flash. I looked online and there are photos of these structures specifically and of similar structures at other venues. These modern recreations have safety and aesthetic enhancements (like wooden paneling and benches for guests) which the originals likely wouldn’t have had.
Thanks, Shawn, for a great question.
And one more thing – Icebergs!! I was really bummed that I didn’t see any but I had read in my research for this trip that I might. They are generally small by the time they get this far south, but there are organized “iceberg” boat trips which embark from this area and there were several icebergs (maybe the size of a small strip mall), floating by just offshore, in the introductory video I had seen. When I arrived Saturday night my Airbnb hosts offered me a drink and it was served over actual iceberg ice!
As I walked back up the path to the Visitor Center I returned to this piece of artwork, recently installed, which we had seen on our walk down to the village.
It depicts the “new land” on the right, and the Norse ship with it’s billowing sails and evil dragon head at the front, on the left.
And finally, in the little village of L’Anse aux Meadows not far from the site, a huge statue of Leif Erikson (some prefer Ericson).
Please note that he didn’t have horns!