I had come across a piece of the Leif Ericsson’s mysterious Vinland puzzle at Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia last year, but this place is the mother lode for those interested in the Viking sagas. Unequivocal proof that a Norse settlement existed in North America in the 11th century, 500 years before Christopher Columbus supposedly discovered America.
While I sit in the truck putting on sunscreen, finding my sunglasses and placing my hat on my head, vehicles pull into spaces all around me in a steady stream. I needlessly hurry, fumbling with my cameras. Turning both of them over judging their virtues, I make my choice and loop it around my neck. Finally ready, I step out into the warm morning air, simultaneously pushing the truck door closed with my hip, only to realize I’ve locked the keys in the ignition. My number one rule while on road trips is always know where the keys are, but the realization that I have a spare key attached to the truck bed allows me to drop my shoulders and exhale in relief. I remind myself I am on vacation and I have all day to enjoy this place.
Up the walkway, just before the entrance to the visitor center, is a wide space with stone pavers. Here visitors stop to get selfies with a commemorative bust of Anne Stine and Helge Ingstad, the Norwegian archaeologists that found the remnants of the Norse settlement, and two distinct plaques that validate the authenticity of this place: The UNESCO World Heritage Council on the left and the Canadian National Historic Site and Monuments Board on the right.
Written on the UNESCO World Heritage plaque (Left);
L’Anse aux Meadows is the only authentic site of Norse settlement in North America. The Norse travelled here around 1000 A.D. The archaeological remains of their sod buildings are the earliest known European structures in North America. Their Bloomery, or Ironworks, is the site of the first known iron-working in the new world. The site itself, the base from where they launched expeditions, resulted in the first contact between Aboriginals and Europeans.
In 1978, L’Anse aux Meadows became the first cultural site to be inscribed upon the world Heritage List of the UNESCO convention. Inscription on this list confirms the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site, which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. L’Anse aux Meadows ranks among the major archaeological properties of the world.–UNESCO World Heritage Convention
Written on the designated Canadian National Historic Site (Right);
Discovered in 1960, this is the first authentic Norse site found in North America and could be Leif Ericsson’s short-lived Vinland camp. Sometime about A.D 1000 Norse seafarers established a base here from which they explored southward. The traces of bog iron found – the first known examples of iron smelting in the new world – in conjunction with evidence of carpentry, suggest that boat repair was an important activity. The distance from their homelands and conflict with native people, may have led the Norse to abandon the site– Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Below is the Stine -Ingstad bust.
In the visitor center I collect a location map and head down the boardwalk towards an eye-catching iron Norse-inspired sculpture -Meeting Of Two Worlds, by Luben Boykov and Richard Brixel.
At the end of the path I pause at a motif identifying an Indigenous encampment, It doesn’t hold my attention long as I keep looking towards the reconstructed zone.
A fence encircles the sod covered buildings. I walk through the first door into a large dimly lit room, instantly transported back in time, I shiver and rub away the goosebumps that have risen up on my forearm. A lady dressed in period costume is humming and she greets me with a smile and says her name is Ingrid and asks if have a travel from another village? I play along, “I have, can I sit for a bit? I am tired.”
She rolls the palm of her hand outward in a gesture to take a seat on one of the many blankets and animal skins splayed on the benches around the room. She tells me this area is a communal room shared by many, She is in charge of keeping the fires lit, the food prepared, and the men in line. I giggle at her words. “For modern times’ sake can I take your photo?” She sits and poses in the golden firelight. After asking questions and watching her work for more than 5 minutes a family arrives at the entrance door and it is time for me to shuffle on. I thank her and get up to leave. In a flirty tone she says “If you are headed to the blacksmith shop wouldn’t you say hello to Ola for me?” I reply, “I most definitely will,” and I walk through the low doorway into the next room where weavers are at work.
Outside, I stop at the doorframe and examine the layers of sod cut and placed together so well they are like mini bricks. with a fancy wooden frame giving it the style of the time period. There is a small building that my brochure says was probably the quarters of the very poor. The next door over is the blacksmith shop but the door is padlocked, and I keep going to another outer building described as a smelting house.
I walk around the front looking for the best place to capture the feeling of this experience.
“Yes” I reply, “I was hoping to see your shop, Ingrid recommended you.” ” Did she now?” he says with a smirk.
He unlocks the door and ducks under the wooden door casing into his dark shop, and I follow him inside. Some items are hanging on the wall, there are lots of nails in wooden pockets on the bench, an anvil and various hammers. He insists I inspect the quality of a nail and I pick one up and roll it through forefinger and thumb.
Pulling him out of character, I ask him some personal questions: he has played the role of Ola for several season and outside of this job, he is a musician in a band, his instrument of choice is a guitar.
I head back out to the front and follow a path towards the actual archeological dig sites. Over a bridge into a field where foundations are easy to spot and plaques give them a name based on the artifacts found at the location. Of those identified, Jasper chips (stone with both decorative and fire-making qualities) have their origins in Iceland and Greenland.
Here is a gallery of photos of the archeological dig sites.
Below is my description of the above photos based on Information from Parks Canada brochure:
A. Large hall – high social status occupant. Containing small private room and communal living area plus working quarters for the rest of the crew. The brochure says it was littered with slag and jasper chips for fire-starter, that identify the crew and objects from Iceland.
B. House for living quarters. Person of lower status. Working debris are for roasting bog-ore before smelting.
C. Hut – lowest-status housing.
D. Of the three halls this was the smallest, for labourers’ quarters. Jasper chips found around the fire, identified from Iceland. There was also a large storeroom. My brochure says it could have been for perishables, furs, maybe seasonal items. Another room contained woodworking debris.
E. Hut—contained stone weights, likely part of a loom. Suggested to be women quarters
F. Named the Leader’s Hall, this building, is described by the Parks Canada brochure as “twice the size of Erik the Red’s home in Greenland, and equivalent in size to a chieftain’s hall in Iceland.” It had a large central chamber, private quarters, storage and a shed.*
G. Workshop and living space for crew.
J. Smelting house. A furnace for producing iron from bog ore was in the middle of the room, and a charcoal kiln. Parks Canada brochure states that based on the amount and type of slag found, “Very little iron was manufactured, only enough for making about 100 to 200 nails.” *
*Parks Canada L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site Maps and Brochures https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/visit/cartes-maps
I take one more wide sweep of the area then head back up the walkway. It takes about ten minutes to follow the trail to the campsite of aboriginal people. There is a great view looking back to the restoration village and I linger here till my belly starts to growl. I spent about three and half hours wandering the entire site. I love it.
Plan to visit between May 31 to October 1, it is open between 9 a.m and 5 p.m daily. My August visit had excellent weather.
Daily Entrance fees;
youth enter for free
I purchased an adult annual Parks Canada Pass for $69.19 Canadian, senior $59.17 and family passes $139.40. All annual passes are useful for entrance to all Parks Canada sites including Gros Morne, National Park, Port Aux Choix, and Red Bay.
Please join me again as I go to Norstead and visit Snorri the reconstructed Norse vessel, Until next time Happy travels from Maritimemac.
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