L’Anse aux Meadows
L'Anse aux Meadows (French: originally L'Anse aux Méduses, i.e. "jellyfish bay") is the name given to the remains of a settlement which existed for a short period of time on the northern tip of Newfoundland, Canada, and has been dated to roughly 1000 A.D. Pre-dating Christopher Columbus by nearly five hundred years, this first European excursion to the Americas has been attributed to the Vikings under Leif Eriksson, written down in two Norse sagas, and confirmed in the mid-20th century by archaeology.
The area around L'Anse aux Meadows was populated by five to six different nomadic hunter/gatherers since at least 4000 B.C. Of these, the Inuit culture known as Dorset Eskimos lived there to about the 8th century AD at the south end of the bay near the site, but there is no evidence that they lived there when the Vikings arrived two centuries later.
From a European perspective, the settlement - which is the only one yet to be discovered of its kind in North America - is of the utmost importance, proving the long disputed theory that the discovery of America by European seafarers took place 500 years before Columbus. However, the Scandinavian expeditions, in sharp contrast to the trips of Columbus, would historically be largely without consequence.
The settlement was built around 1000, possibly by Leif Eriksson's expedition, and was probably inhabited by just a few years. The primary source materials for these Viking expeditions is The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eric the Red, both detailing the accounts of the Greenland and North American explorations. With Eric the Red we see a young, yet bold Leif Eriksson, commanded by King Olaf of Norway to spread Christianity to the Norse settlers on Greenland; his father Eric - the titular character of the saga - is there, and he is asked by Leif to join him on a westerly expedition to see if rumors of land there are true. Eric would injure himself falling off his horse, leaving Leif to sail without him.
His ship would sail by Baffin Island and Labrador (possibly Markland in the sagas) until ultimately reaching a land filled with wild grapes and salmon. As winter was about to set in, the saga continued:
- They slept now for the night, but in the morning, Leif said to his sailors: "We will now set about two things, in that the one day we gather grapes, and the other day cut vines and fell trees, so from thence will be a loading for my ship," and that was the counsel taken, and it is said their long boat was filled with grapes. Now was a cargo cut down for the ship, and when the spring came they got ready and sailed away, and Leif gave the land a name after its qualities, and called it Vinland, or Wineland.
The time of the Greenland/Vinland settlements was the height of the Medieval Warm Period. After a significant change in the climate in the 12th and 13th centuries, no new wines grew in Newfoundland, leaving later researchers to mistakenly look for Vinland further south.
The settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows - the only proven settlement of Scandinavians in North America - was first excavated in 1961 by the Norwegians Helge and Anne-Stine Ingstad. It consisted of eleven houses as well as a blacksmith's shop, in which it was determined via slag remains that iron was processed. The style of the houses was "turf houses" corresponding to that of contemporary Icelanders and Greenlanders. In the houses were found only a few artifacts, including a bronze needle and a spinning whorl. A bony needle was possibly a kind of knitting needle. A whetstone for sharpening scissors and blades was also discovered.
From 1973 to 1976 Parks Canada continued the excavation. Focus was the peat bog below the settlement terrace. There, around 2,000 wooden artifacts were discovered in three layers. In one of the layers, which could be assigned to the Scandinavians, were found processing waste, presumably of shipbuilding, plus a floor screed. In order not to destroy the archaeological traces and to keep open future research, the site was again covered with sand and peat.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978. Prerequisite was the preservation of the archaeological site and its pieces in situ at the locality itself. Two houses were rebuilt and are now a tourist attraction. A Visitor Information Center provides an introduction to the National Historic Site of Canada.