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Is Vinland Wineland?

Vikings in North America

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New Brunswick Shoreline

New Brunswick Shoreline

Daniel Hsia

Wallace argues that Vinland meant "Wineland", because if you include bits of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the regional name, there are in fact abundant grapes in the area. In addition, she cites the generations of philologists who have rejected the "pastureland" translation. If it had been "Pastureland" the word should have been either Vinjaland or Vinjarland, not Vinland. Further, the philologists argue, why name a new place "Pastureland"? The Norse had plenty of pastures in other places, but few seriously wonderful sources of grapes. Wine, and not pastures, had an enormous importance in the old country, where Leif fully intended to develop trade networks.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence is some 700 nautical miles from L'Anse aux Meadows, or about half the distance back to Greenland; Wallace believes that the Fjord of Currents was the northern entrance to what Leif called Vinland, and that Vinland included Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, neary 1,000 kilometers south of L'Anse aux Meadows. New Brunswick has and had abundant quantities of the riverbank grape (Vitis riparia), the frost grape (Vitis labrusca) and the fox grape (Vitis valpina). Evidence that Leif's crew reached these locations includes the presence of butternut shells and a butternut burl among the assemblage at L'Anse aux Meadows—butternut is another plant species that does not grow in Newfoundland but is also found in New Brunswick.

So, if Vinland was such a great place for grapes, why did Leif leave? The sagas suggest that hostile residents of the region, called Skraelingar in the sagas, were a strong deterrent to the colonists. That, and the fact that Vinland was so very far from the people who would have been interested in the grapes and the wine they might have produced, spelled an end to the Norse explorations in Newfoundland.

Sources and Further Information

Arnold, Martin. 2006. Atlantic Explorations and Settlements, pp. 192-214 in The Vikings, Culture and Conquest. Hambledon Continuum, London.

Wawn, Andrew and Þórunn Sigurðardóttir, editors. 2001. Approaches to Vinland. Proceedings of a conference on the written and archaeological sources for the Norse settlements in the North-Atlantic region and exploration of America, held at The Nordic House, Reykjavik 9-11 August 1999. Reykjavik: Sigurdur Nordal Institute. ISBN 9979-9111-4-F.

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.

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