Conor's Webpage on the Vikings in North America

Many of you have probably already learned about the history of the Vikings in North America. If you have not and would like to learn please view the websites listed below. For my assignment I plan to focus on interesting information concerning the Vikings in North America that you may have not learned in your textbooks.

Artifacts

The previous two images are artifacts that have been discovered near the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows and placed in the UNESCO World Heritage Viking Museum. The top artifact is an oil lamp and the bottom artifact is a Viking cloak pin.

There has also been at least one potential artifact found by a local person from L'Anse aux Meadows but not exhibited in the Viking Museum. My great grandmother, Mamie Taylor, grew up in L'Anse aux Meadows. She played on the area where the present day Viking site is located. Most of the people in the village at that time called the mounds (see image below) "Indian Camps" because they were not aware that these were Viking in origin, until archeologists, Helga and Anna-Stine Ingstad's declared this site to be "Vinland". One day when Mamie was a child, her and her friend (Wilfred) decided to go to the Indian camps and dig for buried treasure because the night before the village storyteller told them a tale about Pirates and their treasure which was buried at that exact location. Much to their surprise they found a beautiful Amber necklace. Wilfred agreed that Mamie could keep the necklace. Mamie cherished it for many years to follow but unfortunately in the summer of 1960 Mamie's house burned and along with it the Amber necklace. It is likely that this necklace was Viking in origin and could have been another artifact that proved the Vikings were in fact in L'Anse aux Meadows. The Viking women were know to wear amber jewellery and in one of Viking sagas it states "Freydis appeared in her amber necklace"!

There were also ghost stories told to my great grandmother by the village storyteller that may have also been evidence the Vikings were in L'Anse aux Meadows. One story that my great grandmother told me was of a mysterious occurrence that would take place every year on the same night. The fishermen were said to be afraid to enter the fishing stages at the wharf on the nights of July 1st, because they would hear ghostly sounds that were similar to descriptions of the Vikings. Sound such as voices speaking in foreign languages, the rattling of pots and pans, the rowing of oars and the patter of feet on the shore. This story was told in the village throughout the generations and it is not certain if it was a story passed to the Europeans who settled in the 1600's from the Natives who encountered the Viking or it was actually ghosts who Spirits were not at rest at Valhalla.

Why did the Vikings leave Greenland and Vinland?

L'Anse aux Meadows and Greenland was settled by the Vikings around the year 1000. At that time there was a warm trend in the climate system hence it produced favourable conditions for Norse Farmers to settle in Greenland and practice animal husbandry (Animal Farming). The Greenland Vikings were able to travel by ship to North America because of less ice in the bays and drift ice (icebergs) during this warm period. Ice posed a threat to the Viking sailors because they did not have the technology, which would help them avoid it. Unfortunately, the climate became colder during "The Little Ice Age" which occurred after 1350. The Vikings were no longer able to survive in Greenland because they did not adapt to the climate change by changing their way of life from a agricultural society to hunter / gatherers (like the Thule Eskimo). Many of the Viking settlers died of diseases such as the plague and others may have gone back to Iceland. More ice and no food would have made it very difficult for the explorers to venture to new lands therefore explorations to North America ceased. The "King’s Mirror", written c. 1250, reports that "there is such a great superfluity of ice on the sea that nothing like it is known anywhere else in the whole world, and it lies so far out from the land that there is no less than four or more days journey there unto on the ice…" The graph above illustrates climate trends during the Viking era. This data is collected through the Greenland Ice Cores.

Did the Vikings go further West than L'Anse aux Meadows?

Yes, The Viking traveled further than L'Anse aux Meadows into areas, which we presently call the Maritime Provinces. Evidence of this was revealed when the Helga and Anne Stine Instad's discovered a butternut at the L'Anse aux Meadows site. Butternuts would have grown in the Maritimes but not in L'Anse aux Meadows. It is possible that there were other Viking settlements throughout the Maritime Provinces and other parts of Newfoundland but they were not discovered or are not likely to be discovered because the sea has eroded the evidence. 200,000 years ago a large ice sheet covered Canada, then 12,000 years ago the glacier began to move back all over the land. The crust of the earth rose and then settled in most of Canada but in some parts of Northern Canada, such as Northern tip Newfoundland the crust has not settled yet and the land is still rising at a rate of 2.5-4mm per year. The Viking mounds at L'Anse aux Meadows are actually 5 meters further from the sea than they were 1000 years ago; consequently the sea has not eroded the Viking settlement. The lands in central, southern Newfoundland and the Maritimes are not rising because these crustal areas have settled. The sea levels in these areas are actually rising and the sea now covers many of the coastlines that existed 1000 years ago, therefore, if there were Viking settlements it is possible that the sea would have eroded them.

Thor's Hammer/Christian Cross

Around the year 1000, King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, forced the Icelanders and Greenlanders who were once Pagans to become Christian. The process of changing religious faiths happened slowly, and for several centuries the old and the new faith coexisted. The King declared that he would not do trade with them unless they converted fully to Christianity. A pendant such as the one in the following image represents both Thor's hammer and the Christian Cross. Some of the King's followers wore these pendants to hide the fact that they still practiced the old faith. The priests and bishops thought that these pendants were exclusively Christian Crosses, so they believed that the people had converted fully and informed the King that his follower's were dedicated to Christian religion. The King agreed to continue trading with the Greenlanders and Icelanders. It is likely Vikings did not realize that adopting Christianity would transform their world, and in the beginning saw Christ as just another god to follow.

Click image above for information on Thor's Hammer

Nowadays, people are not just telling stories of Viking ghosts but also enjoy recreating being Vikings. Click here to see realistic, Viking tools, swords, helmets, etc.

Interesting Links to website about the Vikings in North America

A Viking game - "Myar"

Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Site

Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History- Vikings:The North Atlantic Saga

Nova- The Vikings

School Resources- Vikings

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