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K. Kris Hirst


By November 22, 2009

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Vinland is the name of the legendary place described in the Viking sagas that was said to have been founded by Leif Ericson on the North American continent. But its connection with the Viking archaeological site in Newfoundland called L'Anse aux Meadows is fraught with controversy. Canadian archaeologist Birgitta Linderoth Wallace has studied L'Anse aux Meadows for the past forty years, and has developed some interesting notions about that precise issue. Wallace's work, published primarily but not exclusively in the 2006 book Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse aux Meadows, isn't often cited, but in my considered opinion, should be.

Gunnhild Gormsdóttir inciting her sons in Erik Bloodaxe's Saga
This woodcut showing Erik Bloodaxe's widow Gunnhild Gormsdóttir inciting her sons to take possession of Norway is from Erik Bloodaxe's Saga, as it was published in Snorre Sturlassons's Heimskringla in 1235. Although Erik Bloodaxe's Saga isn't part of the Vinland sagas, it's one of numerous other Viking sagas. Image uploaded by
Christian Krogh

During the first studies at L'Anse aux Meadows in the 1960s, the original excavators rather overdid their reliance on information provided in the Vinland sagas. The Vinland sagas are four manuscripts written in the 11th-13th centuries AD, which describe the adventurous ramblings of the Norse in Iceland, Greenland, and the North American continent. Relying on any historical record for archaeological evidence is dicey, even if the records are confirmed to be authentic manuscripts. The Vinland Sagas are not factual records. They're legends, written down decades or centuries after the described events, and as such they can't be trusted to contain "just the facts". That certainly wasn't the writers' intent: they intended to tell a good story, to glorify an ancestor, to keep the ancient legends alive, or some other intention now lost to the ages.

The early over-reliance on the Viking sagas as fact led later scholars to ditch the sagas as completely untrustworthy; some dismissed the discoverer Leif Ericson as a literary myth. But Wallace bravely cracked open the sagas again, and combining archaeological evidence and historical records has discovered some fairly interesting things, particularly about what Vinland might have meant and whether L'Anse aux Meadows can be tied to a specific place named in the Vinland Sagas.

Read More about Vinland

Wallace, Birgitta Linderoth. 2006. Westward Vikings: The Saga of L'Anse aux Meadows. St John's, Newfoundland: Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador in association with Parks Canada.

Wallace, Birgitta Linderoth. 2003. L'Anse aux Meadows and Vinland: An Abandoned Experiment. Pp. 207-238 in Contact, Continuity, and Collapse: The Norse Colonization of the North Atlantic, edited by James H. Barrett. Brepols Publishers: Trunhout, Belgium.


November 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm
(1) Mark Hilverda says:

Interest in the Vikings really came to life for me when visiting L’Anse aux Meadows several years ago. There’s something about seeing such a site, and its re-creation, in person that just makes one want to learn more. Thanks for the references on Wallace, which I have never really checked out. The below book on the excavations by the Ingstad’s does reference the sagas heavily, but the photos and discussion of the actual excavation work makes for some fascinating reading and exploring.

Ingstad, Helge & Anne S. Ingstad. 2000 The Viking Discovery of America – The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland Breakwater Books Ltd.

November 23, 2009 at 1:52 pm
(2) Tim Rast says:

The descriptions of the the lands between Greenland and Vinland were accurate enough that they led the Ingstads directly to Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula and eventually to the Norse ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows.

The sagas are full of hyperbole and out and out fabrication, but if there wasn’t a nugget of truth in them, then L’Anse aux Meadows would not have been found in the way that it was.

2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ingstad’s discovery of the Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows.


Its definitely worth a visit!

November 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm
(3) Liz East says:

Eric Bloodaxe/family were busy folk as is this the same ‘Eric Bloodaxe’ who lived @ York, UK???

November 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm
(4) Kris Hirst says:

Yep–but Erik Bloodaxe didn’t have anything to do with Vinland; it was just a great image from the Sagas that I had to use it, even if it wasn’t exactly right…


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