The Mapping Of Vinland


We need not refer here to the supposed Norse remains discovered in North America—the Dighton Rock, the Kensington Stone, the Newport Tower—nor to the hypotheses founded on them regarding the extent of the Norsemen’s travels. It is within possibility that archaeological investigation may uncover betterauthenticated relics of Norse exploration or settlement and so help to define the regions of discovery more confidently and precisely than is at present permissible.

In 1960, in fact, the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad identified as Norse a habitation site on the north coast of Newfoundland, in about 51° 36′ N and 55° 32′ W, some five miles west-southwest of Cape Bauld. The site, near the hamlet of L’Anse-aux-Meadows, is on an old beach terrace, one hundred yards from the sea in Épaves Bay, on the east side of Sacred Bay, and the excavations carried out by Dr. Ingstad in 1961, 1962, and 1963 have uncovered the foundations of seven turf buildings, with indications of smith’s workings. The largest structure measures 60 x 45 feet (thus much bigger than any Eskimo building), and one of its five rooms is a large hall with an open stone hearth. Carbon 14 tests of charcoal samples are reported to yield dates from the seventh to the eleventh centuries, with a cluster about A.D. 900, and there are signs that the site was subsequently visited and stripped by Eskimos. It is understood that, at the time of my writing, Dr. Ingstad is preparing his report for publication. Canadian archaeologists seem to accept that the settlement cannot be Eskimo but “to reserve judgment on whether it is indeed Vinland,” as claimed by Dr. Ingstad.

Such caution is certainly justified. On the one hand, it appears possible that Norse sites have hitherto gone unrecognized or unrecorded, whether along the American mainland to the south and west, or on the coasts of Labrador, Ungava Bay, and Baffin Land to the north. On the other hand, the saga accounts mention several wintering-places of the Norsemen, and it is hardly to be expected that, even if the Viking origin of the settlement at L’Anse-aux-Meadows can be established, it will yield any evidence to determine which expedition established itself there, and when. The location of the site, on the west side of Cape Bauld and at the entrance of Belle Isle Strait, together with the configuration of the adjacent coasts, does indeed call to mind the north-pointing cape, lying as a wedge between the ocean on the east and a sound on the west, where Leif built his winter quarters in Vinland. It recalls, no less, the Kjalarnes of Thorvald and of Karlsefni, and may suggest that the settlement at L’Anse-aux-Meadows was the work of the Karlsefni expedition (thus supporting Hovgaard’s conjectural geography for this voyage).