Description

The sagas of the Greenlanders and Erik the Red recount the voyages of Norsemen travelling to places like Helluland and Markland, in northern Canada. These locations do not occur in any present-day maps. But archaeologists have uncovered several sites, and discovered objects in Canada that may have Norse origins.

Viking Age Relevance

L’Anse aux Meadows

The first to look for traces of Norsement in Canada, are Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad. In the 1960s, a local guide takes them to the northern tip of Newfoundland, to a camp site of ancient Inuit tribes. The couple excavates the area and indeed find signs of people living here as far back as 6,000 years ago. More spectacularly, they discover nine houses dating back to the eleventh century. These all strongly resemble Viking Age houses on Greenland and Iceland in the same period.

At that time, many believe their conclusions about Norsemen in Canada, a hoax. Unfazed, the Ingstad’s continue their research and go on to prove that these buildings are indeed metal and carpentry workshops, and houses. And by 1978, UNESCO declares L’Anse aux Meadows a World Heritage site.1 Recently, a scholar has suggested the location is perhaps a temporary boat repair location rather than a settlement. The reason being that there is an apparent lack of burial rituals one normally expects in a settlement.2 

Norse Exploration in the Middle Ages (Source: Wikipedia / Redgeographics).

Smaller sites 

Since the excavations in Newfoundland, archaeologists have excavated other sites, such as Nanook on Baffin Island, Willow’s Island, Avayalik’s Island, Nunguvik and Sop’s Arm. By 2012, a professor starts a new project that aims to discover if the found objects are indeed Norse. Unfortunately, the Helluland Project stops too early. The professor is fired and the funds of the project allocated elsewhere.3 Only by 2018 an interdisciplinary team of researchers picks up where the project left off. Their study takes an in-depth look at the objects, including yarns found in Nanook that were considered of Norse origin. But alas, the researchers conclude that the textile is originally Inuit and not Norse.4 

Point Rosée

In 2016, archaeologist Sarah Parcak discovers a site at Point Rosée. Based on the photos and her previous experience in Egypt, Parcak believes there may be a building of some kind in the ground. Experts raise their doubts, they point out that the southwestern tip of Newfoundland does not make for a good landfall for ships. A BBC TV crew and historian Dan Snow join Parcak for the excavation. Whereas in the documentary speculates about Point Rosée being a Norse site, Parcak remains careful and does not make strong claims. The research report is published in 2017 and does not receive much publicity. Unsurprisingly so, because it confirms that the evidence on site are natural bog deposits rather than the remains of a Norse metalworking site. The site has received little attention since.5

Further Reading

The Viking Archive – The Lost Viking Settlements: 2. The Western Frontier (Parts 1 & 2)

Further Viewing

BBC – New Evidence of Viking Life in America?, April 2016.

LiveScience – In Photos: Viking Outposts Possibly Found in Canada

Ted Talks – Sarah Parcak on Space Archaeology, March 2017.

References


  1. UNESCO, ‘L’Anse aux Meadows National Heritage Site.’ Last Accessed 05 December 2018.  ↩
  2. Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 128–129.  ↩
  3. Owen Jarus, ‘Searching for the Vikings: 3 Sites Possibly Found in Canada.’ LiveScience Published 18 April 2016. Last Accessed 05 December 2018.  ↩
  4. Michèle Hayeur Smith, Kevin P. Smith and Gørill Nilsen, ‘Dorset, Norse, or Thule? Technological transfers, marine mammal contamination, and AMS dating of spun yarn and textiles from the Eastern Canadian Arctic.’ In: Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 96 (2018), pp. 162–174. 
  5. Gary Kean, ‘Archaeology report confirms no evidence of Norse presence at Point Rosee in southwestern Newfoundland.’ The Telegram Published 29 May 2018. Last Accessed 05 December 2019.  ↩

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