Norse sites and settlement in Canada.

Description

The sagas of the voyages of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red relate stories of Norsemen travelling to places in northern Canada. They called them Helluland and Markland. These names do not occur in any present-day map. Still, several sites have been uncovered and some discovered objects may be of Norse origin.

Viking Age Relevance

L’Anse aux Meadows

In the 1960s, a local guide took Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad to the northern tip of Newfoundland, to a camp thought to have been inhabited by ancient Inuit tribes. The husband and wife excavated the site and indeed found signs of habitation as far back as 6,000 years ago. They also unearthed a total of nine houses dating back to the eleventh century. These houses strongly resembled the houses on Greenland and Iceland during the Viking Age. Their conclusion that the Norsemen built these structures was considered a hoax at the time. The Ingstads’, however, continued their research and went on to prove the buildings were indeed metal and carpentry workshops as well as houses. By 1978, UNESCO declared L’Anse aux Meadows a World Heritage site.1 Recently, a scholar suggested the location was perhaps used a temporary boat repair location, given the apparent lack of burial rituals one would normally expect in a settlement.2 

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

Smaller sites 

Archaeological excavations revealing possible Norse presence were conducted at Nanook on Baffin Island, Willow’s Island, Avayalik’s Island, Nunguvik and Sop’s Arm. The sites and objects found became the aim of a new project started in 2012. The Helluland Project came to a halt before any conclusion could be made. The professor was fired and the project’s funds allocated elsewhere.3 Only by 2018, a new study took a first, in-depth look at one of the yarns found in Nanook and thought to be of Norse origin. The interdisciplinary team came to the conclusion that the textile is originally Inuit and not Norse or Greenland.4 

Point Rosée

In 2016, archaeologist Sarah Parcak discovered a site at Point Rosée. Based on the photos and her previous experience in Egypt, Parcak believed there may be a structure in the ground. Experts raised their doubts. Among others, the southwestern tip of Newfoundland does not make for a good landfall for ships. A BBC TV crew and historian Dan Snow joined her for the excavation. Whereas in the documentary speculated about Point Rosée being a Norse site, Parcak remained careful not to make strong claims.  When the research report was published in 2017, it did not receive much publicity. It confirmed that the evidence turned out to be 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. doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2018.06.005.  ↩
  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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