Norse Expansion into North America


In 985 or 986, with the Norse expansion west from Iceland into Greenland, the Icelanders met with a distant world, different from what they had left. Opportunities for agriculture were grimmer but game resources infinitely greater. Livestock farmers by preference, the newcomers spent their first decade clearing land for pastures and nursing their herds to increase the limited number of cattle, sheep and goats they had been able to ship over from Iceland. For a while, intriguing tales of lands yet farther west must wait to be pursued.

As the fledgling settlement gained in self-sufficiency, able-bodied men could be spared from the normal chores and expeditions mounted to explore distant regions. Vast herds of walrus were discovered around Disko Island. Their meat was of little interest, but excellent leather could be made from their hides, and, above all, their ivory tusks had immense value in Europe.

Time had also come to search for the lands discovered by Bjarni Herjolfsson west and south of Greenland the same year as the Greenland colony was founded. An expedition was organized under the sponsorship of Erik the Red and led by his son Leif Eriksson to explore and exploit these unknown areas. His and subsequent explorations have been described in the Vinland Sagas.

The Vinland Sagas describe three distinct locations investigated by the Norse. Farthest to the north was Helluland, Land of Stone. Two days of sailing in a southerly direction brought the expedition to Markland, Land of Woods, and another two days to VĚnland, Land of Wine. Vinland was described as a land rich in resources, salmon, game of all kinds, excellent lumber, and, to the astonishment and delight of everyone, wild grapes. Winters were mild, and during the winter, there were more hours of daylight than in Iceland or Greenland. The Norse also observed great tidal differences and landlocked lagoons where halibut could be caught in puddles on the shore as the tide retreated. Unfortunately for the Norse, this wonderful land was already inhabited. Skirmishes ensued in which the Norse were outnumbered. Feeling threatened, they retreated home, and Vinland was abandoned.

According to the sagas, the first expedition to Vinland was headed by Leif Eriksson. His voyage was followed by that of his brother Thorvald, who died in a clash with the Aboriginal inhabitants. Another brother, Thorstein, attempted a journey but was foiled by inclement weather. An Icelandic shipowner, Thorfinn Karlsefni, who had married Leif Eriksson's widowed sister-in-law, later made an extended journey to Vinland as did Leif's sister Freydis and two Icelandic merchants. The starting date for these voyages was about the year 1000, the rest taking place over the following decade. After that they seem to have ceased.

The Vinland adventures were never forgotten. In 1520, Christian II tried to reestablish his influence in the New World with an expedition to Greenland, an expedition that did not come to pass. Peter Kalm described the Norse voyages to an intrigued Benjamin Franklin (Lyle 1968:176). When in 1837 Latin translations of the sagas were published in Europe and North America, the rest of the world could read about them, too. They sparked an enormous interest throughout the scholarly world, especially in North America and Scandinavia, and speculations on the location of Vinland (searches for Vinland) began almost immediately. Since then, the pursuit of Vinland has never ceased, and claims for its finding have been numerous, in locations along the Atlantic coast of North America ranging from Virginia on latitude 38° in the south to Newfoundland 2,500 km farther north, on latitude 51°. In general, all these claims have proved spurious. It is therefore not strange that when in 1960, the Norwegian explorer and writer Helge Ingstad announced to the press that he had discovered a Norse site in the small fishing village of L'Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland, he was met with skepticism. After extensive excavations in 1961 to 1968 under the direction of his wife, archaeologist Dr. Anne Stine Ingstad, his claims could be substantiated. At last, there was physical proof of Norse visits to North America in the 11th century.

Although Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad were the first to uncover physical remains of a Norse colony, they were not the first to suggest that L'Anse aux Meadows had been the scene of Norse landings. Already in 1914 the Newfoundland businessman William Munn had suggested in a small book that L'Anse aux Meadows was the spot where Leif Eriksson had stepped ashore. Later, in the 1940s, Väinö Tanner (1941), came to the same conclusion, and following Munn's and Tanner's leads, the Danish archaeologist Jřrgen Meldgaard undertook exploratory excavations in 1956 on Pistolet Bay 20 km southwest of L'Anse aux Meadows as the crow flies, but with a negative result.

The importance of Helge Ingstad's work at L'Anse aux Meadows was recognized by the Canadian government, and the site was declared to be of National Historic Significance in 1968. Later UNESCO placed it on its list of World Heritage Sites. The excavations were continued 1973 to 1976, this time under the direction of Parks Canada, the Canadian federal authority that administers national historic sites. The Parks Canada excavations were aimed at answering specific questions with regard to the precise date of the Norse occupation, its length and purpose and changes that had taken place in the environment. When the excavations finished, about 90% of the core of the site had been excavated and about 10% of a 3600-m2 area around it.

The island of Newfoundland is about the size of Iceland. Its western shore extends northward to form a long narrow peninsula, the Great Northern Peninsula, about 240 km long and 75 km wide. This makes the overall configuration of Newfoundland look like a clenched fist with the index finger extended. With eastern Quebec and southern Labrador, it forms the shores of the Strait of Belle Isle, the constricted northern inlet to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Located on the eastern shore of a shallow bay, on the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, the L'Anse aux Meadows site faces west and the Strait of Belle Isle. A long flat point separates this bay from another bay where the present village of L'Anse aux Meadows was founded about 150 years ago. A 50-m high sandstone ridge forms the southern boundary of the site.

The overall setting of the site is an expansive meadow with no trees today, but in the 11th century the treeline would have been close to the site. Land communications inland are difficult because of extensive marshland and scraggly impenetrable scrub softwood forests. Summers are cool. The warmest month is August with day temperatures ranging between 9.0 and 16.8° C. The site is snow-covered January through mid-May, and the bay is topped with drift ice throughout most of June. The area is unusually rich in harp seal, Pagophilus, which gather on the ice during pupping time in May. This resource has attracted Aboriginal populations, both Indian and Eskimo, for thousands of years. Traces of five Aboriginal populations have been encountered on the site, the oldest one predating the Norse by more than five thousand years, the youngest dating to the 14th century A.D. From the 16th century until 1904, French fishermen had a shore station near the site. In the 11th century, however, the Norse were the only occupants, as Aboriginal people stopped coming there between the 9th and 13th century, perhaps because of changes in the seal migrations during the warmer climate in this period.

The Norse site, which was located about 100 m from the shore, comprised three complexes, each consisting of a large hall flanked by a hut. One complex also had a small house next to the hall. There was also a small open-ended hut where iron had been manufactured, and a charcoal kiln for making the fuel for the furnace.

All the buildings were located on a narrow beach terrace encircling a sedge peat bog and bordered on the back side by a wet sphagnum bog. A brook, the outlet of a small lake about 1.5 km. behind the site, winds its way to the sea, cutting through the terrace and the bogs. The only trees that grow on the site today are dwarfed balsam firs, larches, birches and poplars. Until a century ago there was no dearth of larger trees of the same species close to the site, but pollen analyses have shown that there was never any forest on the site itself. Otherwise much of Newfoundland is forested. As in northern Finland, there is also vast marshland, interspersed with lakes and streams.

The Norse buildings were Icelandic in style, the same type of buildings Erik the Red and his compatriots had erected for themselves in Greenland. All the buildings were made of many layers of sod covering a timber frame. The halls were grand structures, large enough to house from 20 to 30 people. (The largest had a total floor space of about 160 m2, the smallest about 88 m2.) Roofs were steeply peaked, providing much of the interior height. There were no windows, only smoke holes through which the smoke from the open fires on the floor eventually drifted out. The great height inside was necessary to create a smoke-free area down by the floor.

The number of rooms in the halls varied between three and six. One hall also had a lean-to workshed for boat repair. Each hall had a large communal sleeping/eating room where also much of the socializing took place. These rooms had a large open longfire in the middle of the floor, and wooden platforms along the sides of the room where people sat during the day and slept at night. The two largest halls also had a small private eating/sleeping room with a central hearth. The fires were primarily for heat and light, but food was also roasted or fried over them. Other forms of cooking were done in cooking pits where food was packed with hot stones. The two biggest halls also had a large room with a sunken fireplace. In Iceland and Greenland such rooms were primarily for day use, with benches along the walls, but they could be used for sleeping as well.

The biggest and the smallest halls had ample place for storage, two large rooms in the big hall, and one large storage room in the smallest hall. In addition there was a carpentry shop in the small hall and a smithy in the second-largest hall.

Each hall was flanked by a small hut. Two were square with entrances in the corners, and one was rounded. The purpose of the square huts is not entirely clear. In Iceland and Greenland such small huts were usually workshops, e.g. for weaving, but there is no sign of weaving at L'Anse aux Meadows, and little trace of any kind of work in these huts. They do have good fireplaces so their most likely function was living quarters for some members of the settlement. The round hut probably served the same purpose.

One complex also had a small house. It had been used as combined living quarters and workshop where bog iron ore had been roasted and prepared for iron production. The manufacture took place a short distance away from the living complexes, on the other side of the brook. The smelting furnace was in a small hut, open towards the brook.

The manufacture of iron in the hut on the other side of the brook embodies the appearance of a new technology in North America: the smelting of a metal. Many Aboriginal cultures in the Americas used metals, but by cold-hammering. The Norse at L'Anse aux Meadows introduced the old European technique of making iron by smelting bog ore, a form of iron collected from bogs. (Such ore occurs in formerly glaciated areas where water containing iron and manganese percolates through acidic bogs. The acids, in combination with bacteria, precipitate the iron into large grains or small lumps.) The ore, which usually occurs near the surface, was collected by digging. It was then roasted in an open fire, which reduced its water content and made it easy to crush. The actual smelting took place in a small furnace consisting of a shallow pit topped by a small shaft of stone slabs lined with clay to make it airtight. The ore was layered with charcoal and lit. The temperature was kept around 1200° C with the help of a pair of bellows which pumped oxygen into the furnace. At that temperature many of the impurities in the ore became liquid and ran off as slag while the iron consolidated into a cake-shaped "sponge." This "sponge" was then reheated and hammered into a bloom which further reduced the amount of impurities in the iron. After that the bloom was ready for the fine-smith who forged it into tools and objects. The total iron production had been minimal, only one or two smelts resulting in about 3 kg of iron. The charcoal used as fuel for the iron smelting and fine-smithing was made in a small pit-shaped kiln.

Each of the three hall complexes served a specific function in the settlement. Hall D had a carpentry shop facing the sedge peat bog. Wood shavings and chips had been chucked out from the shop into the bog. The tannic acid in the peat and the wetness of the bog preserved the wood so that, one thousand years later, it remained as fresh as when discarded. A few broken items of wood had also been thrown into the bog, presumably after being replaced with new ones made in the carpentry shop. Among these were several treenails and a small plank which may be a patch for a cracked boat strake. Similar patches have been found in Viking Dublin. There were also the bow for an auger and several pieces of rope made from fine spruce roots. The wood in some of the broken pieces have been identified as Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris. This is an old-world species, so the discarded patch would have been made in Europe.

The fine-smithy (forge) was in hall A. Analysis of slag was found here showed that, unlike the slag in the furnace hut, this was from forging.

The lean-to workshop in hall F had been the scene of boat repair. This was evident from the many boat nails found there. X-ray photos show that the roves and shanks of the nails had been cut with a chisel blow. The nails had been removed, discarded and, presumably, replaced with new ones. Iron nails were sparingly used among the West Norse, all building nails being treenails. In the ships they were important, however, for holding together the boat strakes. Sea water and salt air have a corroding effect on the iron so that, eventually, the nails rust and must be replaced. Together with wood shavings and chips, discarded nails are among the most common finds on boat repair sites.

The replacing of boatnails at L'Anse aux Meadows probably explains why the occupants of the site took the trouble to make iron. The small amount of iron produced would have been sufficient for about 150 nails, the average weight of a boatnail being 20 g. About 3500 nails were used in large ships like the Oseberg ship, 400 to 500 in the type of skiffs used for landing and off-loading as well as for shorter inshore trips.

Aside from the waste from the iron manufacture, smithing, carpentry, and boat repair, few artifacts were encountered on the site. The only other items found were personal trinkets which had been lost by their owners. Among these articles were a bronze pin, a glass bead, a spindle whorl, a small needle hone, a broken needle of bone for single-needle knitting (nĺlbindning), and the tiny fragment of a gilded brass ring. All were found inside or immediately outside the halls.

The Norse were at L'Anse aux Meadows around the year 1000. This date is based on the details of the architecture, such as the number of rooms, the placement of doors and fireplaces and types of interior walls, artifacts, and radiocarbon dates.

The radiocarbon dates merit special mention. There are 141 such dates from L'Anse aux Meadows. About 50 of them are on the Norse occupation. They range from the 5th to the early 11th century AD. At first glance this could be interpreted as the Norse occupation having lasted for hundreds of years. The nature of the deposits indicates beyond doubt, however, that the occupation was short, merely a few years. Archaeologists are now becoming increasingly aware that radiocarbon dates cannot be taken at face value. The sample submitted to the radiocarbon lab is not always contemporary with the event to be dated. Of the L'Anse aux Meadows dates 16 are on wood, 24 on charcoal, 6 on peat, and two on whalebone. Dates on whalebone are frequently unreliable because sea mammals assimilate more carbon14 than terrestrial organisms. This can be corrected for, and this has been done for one of the whalebone dates. The other one should probably be regarded as uncertain. The peat dates are questionable because the peat contains many levels of grass from a long stretch of time which are so compacted that it is almost impossible to separate out a particular level. Radiocarbon dates on wood and charcoal can also be untrustworthy. This is because what is measured in radiocarbon dating is the decrease of radiocarbon that has taken place since an organism ceased to live. In the case of wood, each annual ring dies as a new one is formed. This means that the heartwood of a tree dies long before its last ring was formed. In the case of spruces, which can live to be six hundred to a thousand years, the heartwood is correspondingly older than the outside of the tree. Thus it matters what part of a tree a sample comes from. Nowhere is this clearer than at L'Anse aux Meadows. The oldest date is on a board of spruce, cut from the very centre of the tree, with the radiocarbon sample cut from the centre of the board. The date on the board ranged from A.D. 440 to 780, with its midpoint at A.D. 640. This was obviously the date when the heartwood of the tree ceased to live, not the date when the board was used. That this is the case is further confirmed by the fact that the board was found next to a stake of larch dated to A.D. 810 to 1040 with a midpoint at A.D. 980.

The only purposeful radiocarbon dates are those on branches and twigs of wood that are no older than ten or so years. Fortunately we have five such dates from L'Anse aux Meadows. These dates have a range from A.D. 880 to 1060, with an average midpoint of A.D. 1004. Only they give a reliable date of the site.

The Norse occupation did not last long, a few years at the most. This is shown by the small size of their garbage heaps (the Norse always dumped their garbage just outside the door), in sharp contrast to the huge garbage middens found in Iceland and Greenland where the Norse lived for a long time. Another indication that the occupation was short is the thin cultural deposits, few artifacts, and the fact that the buildings never needed repair. Sod buildings of this kind normally need complete rebuilding after fifty years, even faster in exposed areas like L'Anse aux Meadows. Nor is there any sign of burial fields or cemeteries which would be required had the site been occupied for a long period of time. The even spacing of the three building complexes on the terrace and the architectural details show that all three complexes existed at the same time.

The number of sleeping places available within the complexes gives us an idea of the approximate number of people who lived on the site, anywhere between c. 60 and 90. The activities on the site, iron manufacture, smithing, carpentry, and boat repair are all male projects in a Norse context, so it is probably safe to conclude that most of the occupants were men. Although many Norse men could knit, spinning and sewing was almost always done by women, so the spindle whorl indicates the presence of at least some women. The little needle hone is also of a variety used in womens' sewing kits. The bronze pin is of a kind used by both men and women, although in the late 10th century and early 11th century it was more commonly used by men.

A peculiarity for the site is that each complex is associated with a particular activity: carpentry in the smallest, boat repair in the largest, and fine-smithing and bog ore roasting in the third, plus iron smelting in a spot by itself. What is truly remarkable about the activities associated with the three complexes is that they form the individual facets of one single operation: 1) the smelting of iron for nails in the furnace hut, 2) various form of iron working in one complex, 3) the exchange of old rusted nails for new ones in a second complex; and 4) the replacing of damaged wooden components of the ship or ships with new ones in the third complex. These activities would have had to be fully integrated with each other. To do so, would have required a strong leader to plan and coordinate the overall operation. The integration of activities is another indication that all 3 complexes were occupied at the same time.

The layout of the buildings also shows that people on the site did not enjoy equal status. Halls A and F are grand halls are of the size and shape normally inhabited only by chieftains and big land owners, the social and economic elite. Small, separate sleeping/living chambers in each of these halls form the kind of separate quarters usually occupied by the lord of the manor and his family or closest retainers. Thus the two largest halls each housed a person of importance. The most prominent of the two would have resided in hall F which is also the most complex one.

Hall D was of the kind used by relatively well-to-do farmers but not chieftains. It has fewer rooms than the other two, and only one communal sleeping/eating room indicating a certain equality among its inhabitants. This communal room is larger than those in the larger halls.

The small one-roomed house next to one of the halls was of the kind people low on the social scale lived in back in Iceland and Greenland, and the square huts would have been for servants. The small rounded hut was most likely slave quarters.

Among the artifacts the glass bead and gilded brass ring were also status symbols and were probably worn only by the socially prominent in a wilderness area such as L'Anse aux Meadows.

By way of summary, we conclude that there was one leader on the site who resided in hall F. He was assisted by a second-in command who lived in hall A and probably controlled the iron manufacture. Their closest subordinates lived in the communal hall of hall D. As can be gleaned from the type of activities on the site, these subordinates formed a work force rather than a normal household. People of lower status, who were also part of the work force, lived in the small house and the square huts. Serfs must have been present as well because in the 11th century, sod cutting and digging for bog ore were heavy chores usually done by serfs. As stated, the round hut was probably their quarters.

One interesting consideration of the L'Anse aux Meadows site is that the site was not a normal Norse community, or the type of settlement established as a result of emigration. First, its location on the outer exposed coast differs from that of the Greenland settlements, which were all in the protected inner parts of the fjords. Second, there are no barns or byres for livestock, the normal focus of Norse sustenance. Instead there are three large halls almost next to each other. In a normal West Norse community they would have been spaced one to five kilometres apart. There is only minor evidence of common household activities and none of the normal dairy food pantries, present on all Greenland and Iceland farms. By the same token, the proportions of floor space for storage are abnormally high. This is an indication that the site was a place where goods were collected and stored. As will be seen below, resources were brought to L'Anse aux Meadows from distant areas, and the site was a base for further explorations.

How does L'Anse aux Meadows fit into the stories of the Vinland Sagas? For 150 years now researchers have used the Vinland Sagas as travel guides to Vinland, slavishly piecing together detail after detail, always ending with contradictions. This is not the way they should be used because this is the past seen through the eyes of the present. We must view the sagas from within the frame of their own time and culture and look at them as anthropological documents.

The American anthropologist Paul Duerrenberger has pointed out that the function of the Icelandic sagas was primarily cultural. He has suggested that the sagas are neither art nor history but an attempt to maintain a semblance of order through the turmoil that was Iceland of the 13th and 14th centuries. It is symptomatic that they were written in this period but that their subjects belong to the 10th and 11th centuries. The 10th and 11th centuries were a time of expansion, of wealth, of innovation. By contrast, the 13th and 14th centuries were periods of economic decline and political reorganization, a time of social turmoil and stress. Unlike the other Scandinavian countries, Iceland had never become a state with strong central government. Iceland remained a chiefdom, a complex, rigidly stratified society without the beneficial order of a state, making social and political adjustments doubly difficult. The sagas furnished a system whereby people could define their place in a changing society. For this reason, time in the sagas is fixed and events repetitive. The purpose of the genealogical descriptions is classification rather than history. People are depicted in terms of characteristics which in turn determines how they fit into this classification system, and their categorization determines their actions. There is no development of character, and a person stays the same from childhood to death. For that reason,too, there are no causal effects whereby one incident leads to another. The only function of individual episodes is to define the order of things.

Within such a society, the role of the sagas was, in Duerrenberger's words, to "maintain a semblance of an unchanging system, an ideology of a changeless society. At the point when the changes are significant and undeniable, the need to articulate this ideology is the strongest."

As for the Vinland sagas, individual episodes are probably based on oral traditions, but they have been collated and collapsed to fit a symmetric framework. The names of places and persons are confused, and the emphasis of one over another made to fit individual purposes. Events have been streamlined, and names and places substituted to fit into a streamlined formula.

As a guide to the location of Vinland, the Vinland sagas are somewhat untrustworthy, but they do reflect the society that created them. It is fully feasible, on basis of the sagas, to construct a model of what type of settlement the Vinland venture would have been.

Explorations for resources and their subsequent exploitation were clearly the driving factors. Lumber was one such resource. It is obvious that the exploration was systematic. The notion that the Norse were free spirits in whose blood it was to explore for the sake of exploration is 19th-century fiction. All exploration ever undertaken has had a specific goal. At the time of the Vinland voyages, the Greenland Norse were exploring their new surroundings, searching for a way to optimize the benefits of their untouched environment. The Vinland voyages were but the extension of this prospecting. In the sagas the first Vinland voyage was a lengthy expedition combining all elements of exploration, settlement and exploitation. In reality, it is more likely that voyages of reconnaissance preceded systematic exploration, settlement and exploitation. A base, Leifsbir, "Leif's Camp," was established. From there search parties systematically prospected for resources in the immediate vicinity of the camp. Boats, even a ship, were also dispatched on more long-term investigations leaving the camp in the summer and returning in the fall. During these latter ventures there were professional scouts who made short inland searches wherever they landed. Land forms, locations and climate were noted and resources registered: lumber, eider, eggs, halibut, salmon, fur. The fur was obtained in impromptu trading sessions with Aboriginal people carrying bundles of marten skins. At one point grapes growing in the wild were discovered, a find which caused considerable excitement.

Other evidence that exploration was the purpose of the Vinland voyages can be found in the composition of the Vinland groups. They consist chiefly of men, not families. People were selected for their special skills such as Thorhall the Hunter who possessed valuable experience in the exploration of uninhabited regions. There were slaves to do heavy work such as the German Tyrker. The few women present are either part of the leadership or domestics.

The size of the Vinland groups was substantial in relationship to the ships that carried them, 25-30 or more per ship. This contradicts settlement. No Viking ship could hold that many people bent on settlement when livestock and possessions had to be accommodated as well.

The settlement began as a temporary camp with the construction of bdir, booths, the type of structure used at _ings and port camps. They were a combination of tent and house with proper walls but roofed over with tent cloth or sails. However, when the decision was made to spend the winter, the booths were replaced with large winterized houses. Even so, the settlement retained the original name, Leifsbdir, "Leif's Camp," the term camp indicating its initial nature. This is not the type of name given to a normal settlement.

L'Anse aux Meadows has many aspects in common with Leif's Camp. The site dates from the time of the Vinland voyages. The site was a base for further exploration, not the homestead of emigrants. As a base it was more than a mere camp and built so that winter could be spent there. The group occupying the site consisted of a workforce rather than emigrating families. Men predominated, although women were present. The social organization was also that of the Vinland expeditions, with a couple of leaders and a work force of people of different status, including slaves. And finally, like Leif's Camp, the site was abandoned after just a few years.

Clearly L'Anse aux Meadows does not possess all the resources listed for Vinland. The most important asset, grapes, do not grow there and never have. Some researchers have suggested that VĚnland does not mean Land of Wine but should be Land of Pastures, (Vinland with a short "i"--(Söderberg 1910; Tanner 1947; Ingstad 1966). This is impossible for philological reasons, and it is wine, not pastures, which dominate the description of Vinland, the same way that Markland was named for its forests and Helluland for its rocks.

One find at L'Anse aux Meadows is a clear indication that the wild grapes of Vinland were not a segment of Norse imagination. Among the Norse artifacts preserved in the bog were three butternuts, and one burl of butternut wood. Butternuts, Juglans cinerea, are a New-World relative of walnuts. Walnuts were considered delicacies and imported from Europe all the way to Greenland as shown by a walnut found at Erik the Red's farm Brattahlid. Butternuts have never grown in L'Anse aux Meadows or even close to the site. Their presence with the Norse artifacts shows that the Norse had paid visits to more southerly areas where such nuts grow. What is particularly intriguing is that their northern limit coincides with that of wild grapes. The northern limit for wild grapes lies in the St. Lawrence Valley and what is now northeastern New Brunswick, a bit inland from the coast along the big rivers issuing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Before the 18th century and the large-scale clearings by Europeans after 1600, grapes grew in large hardwood forests, the grapevines winding up the trunks of the trees. The nuts and the grapes ripen at the same time, in August. This means that the person, or persons, who picked the butternuts are likely to have encountered wild grapes as well. The name Vinland must indeed reflect a firsthand experience on the part of the Norse.

Butternuts and wild grapes grow yet farther south, in what is now Maine and New England in the United States. These areas are less likely to have been reached by the L'Anse aux Meadows Norse. This is because from northern Newfoundland the distance there is more than double that to northeastern New Brunswick, more than 2000 km as opposed to 900 km to the southern shores of the Gulf. The situation of L'Anse aux Meadows also points to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The site faces the Strait of Belle Isle and the Gulf, not eastern Newfoundland and the Atlantic. The Gulf forms a large inland sea which one can circumnavigate, beginning and ending at L'Anse aux Meadows, without ever being without the sight of land. This was also the route taken by the French explorer Jacques Cartier into North America in 1534. Before the onslaught of Europeans in the 17th century, the southern coasts of the Gulf and its islands, the Magdalene Island, and Prince Edward Island contained large aromatic hardwood forests. The southern part of the Gulf is an ecologically different zone from Labrador and Newfoundland, infinitely warmer and richer. It contains desirable hardwood such as oak, maple, and walnut, which were sought by the Norse. Jacques Cartier found such an abundance of wild grapes on what is now le d'Orleans in the St. Lawrence River that he first named it le de Bacchus, and early settlers named an area near the mouth of the Miramichi River in northeastern New Brunswick Baie de vin, Wine Bay. Unlike the cultivated grapes of Europe, which grow in fields propped up by trellises, the grapes grew wild in the forests, its vines winding themselves around tall tree trunks so that they appear to grow high in the trees. These are the wild grapes and grape-wood of Leif Eriksson.

The tall primeval hardwood forests furnished much better lumber than the stunted softwood forests of Newfoundland. Burlwood, Old Norse másr, was of special interest for the carving of scoops, bowls and artwork. Besides the butternuts, the Norse at L'Anse aux Meadows brought back a burl of butternut wood from these southern areas and began to carve it with a sharp knife. For reasons unknown, the burl did not meet the expectations and was discarded in the bog. The logical consequence of these findings is that the entire shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence constitutes Vinland, a land with diffuse inland borders. L'Anse aux Meadows is situated at the very entrance to this zone. L'Anse aux Meadows is the basecamp from which Vinland was explored. The peculiar setup at L'Anse aux Meadows now makes sense. L'Anse aux Meadows was a basecamp for further explorations, explorations that extended into the southern coastlands of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In this location we find many of the features described in the Vinland sagas: lagoons where halibut could be trapped, Aboriginal people with skin canoes, and valuable lumber.

Why is L'Anse aux Meadows where it is and not in the more hospitable southern part of Vinland?

There is its geographical prominence. Arriving from the North, sailing along the Labrador coast, the Norse suddenly found themselves with land on two sides. If one crosses the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland at this point, one arrives in the area of L'Anse aux Meadows.

There were no native people at L'Anse aux Meadows when the Norse arrived. The southern, richer areas were heavily populated.

Distance is another factor. L'Anse aux Meadows is 900 km closer to Greenland than the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, another 4 days or so of sailing.

The Norse spent the winter at L'Anse aux Meadows as indicated by the house construction. The navigation season between Greenland and Newfoundland is, and was even in the warmer 11th century, no more than two months. Ships could not leave Greenland until about midsummer and must return before the end of September. With a minimum of two to three weeks required for travel to L'Anse aux Meadows, let alone more distant spots, there was little time to get anything accomplished. With a base camp at L'Anse aux Meadows, one could leave a few hands there to lay up supplies of fuel and food for the winter, and the return distance was much shorter than going of all the way to Greenland. This way the season in the south was extended by several crucial weeks, as much as two months. The exploration could continue the next summer, and the return to Greenland postponed until the exploration and exploitation of the Vinland resources was deemed sufficient. This is precisely how the Vinland voyages were organized.

In more technical terms one can see L'Anse aux Meadows as a gateway to the resources of Vinland A gateway is a settlement at the edge of a faraway hinterland. Resources from the hinterland are brought in to the gateway and shipped to the home area. The gateway was established by a chieftain wishing to reinforce his position. In a society such as that of Norse Greenland, the power of chieftains depended in large measure on wealth and ostentatious display of status goods, unusual things brought in from abroad. Thus control of the trade and imports was essential for a chief. Gateways were therefore always controlled by a chief, who always kept a trusted deputy on location to ensure the safe shipping of the exotic goods to the chief. As long as Eric the Red ruled Greenland, Leif was his deputy. After Eric's death and Leif's succession, Leif used relatives and in-laws as his emissaries.

The location of L'Anse aux Meadows now makes sense. The position, abnormal for a regular colony, is in fact critical for watch and control of traffic in and out of the Strait of Belle Isle, the route to Vinland. Whoever controlled L'Anse aux Meadows, controlled the route to Vinland. With this control came, according to Norse ownership rules, the rights to the rich resources of VĚnland. Leif never gave up control of Leifsbdir or VĚnland. When the sagas say that Leif named this area "Vinland", or the other areas Helluland and Markland, this is in fact symbolic of him laying formal claim to these territories. The establishment of a settlement confirmed his ownership. Leif maintained this ownership to the end. When his brother and sister or other family members ask him to give them Leifsbdir, his response is, "No I will not give it to you, but you can use the camp when you are there." With ownership of Leifsbdir came control of Vinland and its resources, which, as paramount chief of Greenland, Leif wished to keep for himself.

Many writers have proposed that Vinland is much farther south, in New England, even as far south as the Carolinas. It has been assumed that anyone who can cross the ocean in a Viking ship, can likewise journey any distance in a north-southerly direction. It is almost as far to L'Anse aux Meadows from Greenland as it is from Norway to Greenland. On the high latitudes of the Scandinavian countries the east-west distance is only about 1700 nautical miles from Norway to Greenland. On the other hand, the route to L'Anse aux Meadows is drastically lengthened by the coastline of Labrador which does not run north-south but extends to the east, making the Norse sailing route from Greenland to L'Anse aux Meadows as much as 1350 nautical miles long.

L'Anse aux Meadows has the same social structure and the same function as Leifsbir, and it dates from the same time. An operation the size and complexity of L'Anse aux Meadows could only have been sponsored by a political authority. At the time, the political authority in Greenland was Eric the Red, and, after him, Leif. It must have been Leif Ericson who founded, owned and operated L'Anse aux Meadows. L'Anse aux Meadows and Leifsbir are one and the same.

Were there other North American Norse settlements in addition to L'Anse aux Meadows? There certainly were temporary camps such as Hóp but probably no other large settlements. The reason is simple: It took close to 90 people, all adults in their best age, to operate L'Anse aux Meadows and the Vínland exploitation. At the time Greenland had no more than 600 inhabitants, including women, senior citizens and children. Such a small colony could not sustain more than one satellite the size of L'Anse aux Meadows, and even this one was too distant to be viable.

The saga of L'Anse aux Meadows and Vínland was short. An experimental venture of the initial Greenland settlement, the L'Anse aux Meadows gateway and VĚnland were too far away, the passage too difficult and the area too dangerous for further exploration to be practical, and L'Anse aux Meadows ceased to exist. Its appeal would have been limited as everything that could be obtained in Vinland could be had in Europe. In retrospect, the only impact of the Norse voyages was the legends preserved in their homelands.

Birgitta Wallace, Canadian Heritage