Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Evidence of a Canadian Viking Outpost

Map of possible Norse exploration routes
 Historians and archaeologists have long since believed Nose explorers visited the east coast of North America around 1000 AD. Certainly this blog has focused on several pieces of New England history in which this has been one of the working theories. However, for fifty years the only evidence of the presence of the Northmen has been the discovery of the temporary camp called L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland.
Recreated norse longhouse at L'Anse aux Meadows
Still, as I discovered when researching the theory behind Ericson’s supposed camp on Follins Pond, the Norse had described at least three lands during heir journeys west of Greenland. First Ericson described Helluland, or the land of stones. Second, he described Markland, so named because it was covered in forestland. The last land he described, he named Vinland, which could mean either "Wineland" or "Meadowland."

Although following the course of Ericson’s exploration on modern maps has not been really useful, many people have posed the theory that Helluland could actually be Baffin Island, which is immediately west of Greenland. Yet, until this year no proof had been discovered to support this hypothesis.

Earlier this fall, a professor of archaeology associated with Newfoundland’s Memorial University named Patricia Sutherland made significant new discoveries while excavating a centuries old building on Baffin Islands. According to National Geographic, Sutherland’s team uncovered several whetstones. What made these stones significant is that they contained traces of metal alloys like bronze, brass, and smelted iron. Each of these metals were unknown to the natives of Baffin Island, but were well known the Scandinavians of Greenland.
Patricia Sutherland (orange jacket) excavating Baffin Island
from National Geographic
Although she knew of the Viking Sagas relating Ericson’s discovery of Vinland, Sutherland first became interested in further examining Baffin Island when she encountered two pieces of odd looking cord at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. What made the cord unusual was that it appeared to be less like the animal sinew native tribes would have used, and more like the yarn Scandinavians would have created.

After uncovering additional unexplained artifacts from Baffin Island being stored in the museum, Sutherland decided to begin a reinvestigation on 2001. She began on the southeast coast, at an area called Tanfield Valley, near a site where a stone and sod house had been excavated in the 1960’s.

In addition to the whetstones, Sutherland’s team has discovered pelt fragments from Old World rats, a whalebone shovel similar to some used by Greenlanders, stones which appear to have been cut using European techniques, and stone ruins similar to those found in Greenland. Although some archaeologists have argued that radiocarbon dating has shown that the Tanfield Valley area was populated well before the supposed Norse visit, Sutherland believes the area shows evidence of several occupations well into the Viking Age.

As Baffin Island is far north of Newfoundland, it appears the original theory connecting Baffin Island to Helluland may be correct. In addition, most researchers believe that Newfoundland may have been the area described by Ericson as Vinland. Still, others believe the Scandinavian explorers of 1000 AD came as far south as New England. These theorists point to stone structures like Mystery Hill in Salem New Hampshire, and to mysterious characters found inscribed in large stones all across New England.

Of course, these discoveries in Baffin Island do not help to prove a medieval Norse presence in my area. Those unexplained New England curiosities today remain unexplained. Still, after hundreds of years of theory and speculation, we have finally begun to retrace a route of New World exploration first followed by Europeans over a thousand years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Can I ask where you got your map? I'm working on something having to do with the Westford Knight, and your map is perfect... I'd just have to attribute it for my purposes. Thanks!