A Viking Village

I don’t know much about Vikings.  Based on what I’ve seen or heard, they are blond, wear helmets with horns on them, travel in really big canoes with multiple paddles, have last names with a “k” or two in them, and they come from a place roughly around what we now call Norway.  Oh, and they like to pillage.  Part of the reason I wanted to go to L’Anse aux Meadows in the northwestern most tip of Newfoundland, was to see if my biases are correct.  Guess what?  I was only partly right, they do like to pillage!!

Here is what I learned: 

Basically, it all started with a guy named Erik the Red, in around 850 AD.  Erik was a leader of the Norse people living in what is now Iceland.  Years before, some Norse explorers had made their way to Iceland from Norway and created a community of close to 40,000 people.  Erik was a good leader, but he had a rather distasteful hobby. He liked to kill people who got on his nerves.  This didn’t sit well with his fellow citizens, so after a brief trial, Erik was convicted of murder and kicked out of Iceland.  He had nowhere to go.  He knew he wouldn’t be welcomed back in Norway, so all he could do was go west and hope for the best.  He gathered a sizeable tribe (clearly, some were willing to overlook his past indiscretions) and set sail to the west, eventually landing in what is now Greenland.  There they began a new life. By the way, Erik called it Greenland because he thought a name such as that would entice more folks to come from Norway and Iceland. 

Fast forward a few years.

One day a Norse trader coming from Iceland to Greenland to join his father, got blown off course, and bumped into what is now Newfoundland.  The trader’s name was Bjarni Herrjolfson.  He eventually got his boat turned around, made it to Greenland and announced that there was a land just a few days sail from Greenland that was rich with trees.  No one seemed to pay much attention to Bjarni, perhaps figuring that he was making it up to compensate for being directionally challenged.  But Bjarni wouldn’t let it go.  It took eight years, but eventually he convinced Erik’s son Leif to see if he could find it. And so Leif, and a boat load of like-minded explorers, set sail due south.  Sure enough, Bjarni was right, and Leif Erikkson would go down in history as the first non-indigenous human being to set foot in North America (poor Bjarni) establishing a small colony in the northern part of Newfoundland.  He called the new land, “Vinland” for reasons that remain a mystery.  They didn’t stay long, but long enough to leave stuff behind that would give modern day archeologists proof that they were there.    

Two other interesting facts about the Vikings:

  1.  The big boats with all the paddles that we often associate with Vikings, are war boats.  The boats they travelled on to North American were wider vessels, with room for storage.
  • We have romanticized Vikings, but in reality they were pretty bad dudes.  Viking is the Norse words for “pirate”.  While most of the ancient Norse people were farmers and traders, a group of them figured out they could get further ahead by taking what was not there’s.  If you saw Vikings headed toward your village, you knew it wasn’t going to end well.  They pillaged.  A lot!!

I will close with this:

Isn’t it awesome, that the earliest European settlers in North America, were all Leif fans.  😊