Vikings visited ‘densely populated’ part of Canada 1,000 years ago, new evidence suggests

Vikings visited ‘densely populated’ part of Canada 1,000 years ago, new evidence suggests

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The chemical analysis of 2 Norse artefacts suggests that Viking explorers sailed from their Newfoundland outpost at L’Anse aux Meadow to Notre Dame Bay, known to be well inhabited by aboriginal North Americans.



The discovery raises the possibility that the 143 mile voyage led to the first contact between people of the Old World and New World around 1000 AD.

The evidence has come from 2 jasper artefacts used by the Vikings to light fires.  The jasper pieces were found close to an ancient Norse hall at L’Anse aux Meadows, but their chemical composition suggests that they came from the Notre Dame Bay area – at that time inhabited by indigenous hunter-gatherers who were the ancestors of the Beothuk people.

The Notre Dame Bay coastline of densely forested fjords and inlets, teeming with birds, marine mammals and fish, would have been familiar to natives of Norway and a tempting contrast to their more barren North Atlantic staging posts in Iceland and Greenland.  However, Norse sagas tell that their encounters with indigenous people, who they termed Skraelings, were generally hostile.

Previous finds at L’Anse aux Meadows indicate that the Vikings made other explorations of North America.  The presence of butternut seeds at the site suggest that they travelled to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, possibly beyond.  Additionally, whetstones bearing traces of copper alloys well-known to Viking metalsmiths, and the remains of a typically Norse stone-and-sod building have been discovered on Baffin Island, in the Canadian Arctic.

It has long been known that Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain from Greenland, set sail for the New World around 1000 AD, five centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus.  His exploits are recorded in two Icelandic sagas, the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, which tell how Eriksson stopped long enough to walk the coast on Baffin Island—which they named ‘Helluland’, meaning ‘land of stone-slabs’ in Old Norse—before heading south to settle in ‘Vinland’, meaning ‘land of meadows’.  The Vinland settlement is almost certainly the L’Anse aux Meadows site, which dates to between 989 and 1020 AD and consisted of 3 Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.  It was inhabited by a succession of Viking expeditions, but the colony ultimately failed.

Kevin Smith, of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University, who led the study into the jasper artefacts, said: “This area of Notre Dame Bay was as good a candidate as any for that first contact between the Old World and the New World, and that’s kind of an exciting thing.  For anyone coming from the nearly treeless islands of the North Atlantic, this would have potentially been a very interesting zone.  There are a lot of trees; there’s a lot of opportunities for cutting things down; it’s a bit warmer; it’s an interesting mix of resources.”

Inviting prospect for Viking explorers - the Notre Dame Bay coastline; image by Kevin Smith
Inviting prospect for Viking explorers – the Notre Dame Bay coastline; image by Kevin Smith

Source: Live Science

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