The Vikings Invade Vinland


Five hundred years before Columbus sailed west, the Vikings had already made the trip to North America.

The Viking age lasted almost 300 years from about 800 to 1100 C.E. It’s acknowledged now that a crew of Norse sailors rowed across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada’s northeastern coast sometime after 1000 C.E. This was the first Viking invasion of America. The Columbus fans argue that his discovery counted the most because it led to the permanent colonization, but the Vikings are finally getting their own credit.

Green Grass in the Winter

The Norse were amazed at the sight of green grass when they landed on the coast. They made camp with over 100 men and about 15 women and began their explorations in the new territory. Timber, shellfish, wheat, a plentiful source of furn, butternuts, streams choking with salmon and the most wonderful thing for a bunch of folks used to eating only fish–grapes. Vinland was a perfect name for the settlement. But Viking power was fading away and the memory of “Vinland” eventually dimmed with it.

Rumors About a New Land Across the Sea

However the stories remained and the rumors of the discovery spread throughout Europe. The German historian, Adam of Bremen, heard about a place west of Greenland where grapes and wheat were plentiful. A Danish king told him the story and more stories from Scandinavia, embellished with the wonders of the place, soon spread widely throughout Europe.

Icelandic Sagas

The legends relate their history in a collection of intricately rhymed poems and sagas about the Norse gods, warriors and kings. Most of these were written down in the 13th and 14th centuries by monks after being recited orally for hundreds of years. Today scholars consider them to be elaborated accounts of real events. “Erik the Red’s Saga” and the “The Greenlanders’ Saga” are now regarded by researchers to be the most accurate portrait of Vinland.

The Greenlanders’ Saga

This story chronicles five separate expeditions by Norsemen and credits Leif Eriksson with the discovery of the new land. “Erik the Red’s Saga” is the condensed version of all five voyages into one which was made by an Icelandic trader, Thorfinn Karlsefni. According to the saga, the first Norse citizen born on Vinland was a boy named Snorri. The tale also relates a number of hostile encounters with the natives, whom the Norse called “skraelings.”

Icelandic History of Greenland

In 1937, the Icelandic story finally became popular when a Danish professor published English translations to a stunned American audience. They loved it and wanted to explore the archaeology of the Viking territory. Historians think that Vinland was probably farther south than Labrador. Archaeologists set up an intense search in the area over the 19th and 20th centuries and couldn’t find any signs of Norse occupancy. That was until 1960 when the Norwegian historian, Helge Ingstad found the foundations of eight Norse longhouses in Newfoundland. More excavations revealed evidence of iron-working and a forge. They also found a soapstone spindle used in weaving which indicated that there were women working there.