Vinland the Good- or the lost

Where was Vinland?

The traces leading to Vinland are difficult to find. Farmers in search of new land would naturally be on the look-out for areas with an agricultural potential that resembled what they had been used to at home or was better than that, and in the case in question it would need to have had easy access to the sea. There are many such areas along the eastern coasts of Canada and North America.

Most scholars today agree that Leif Eriksson's Helluland is Baffin Island in Northern Canada and that Markland is Labrador. When the discussion reaches Vinland, however, there is no longer unanimity as to where the country was situated. There are many who consider that the information in the sagas is so imprecise that it is impossible to deduce anything about the exact position of the country. There are others, as mentioned, who are convinced that Vinland has never really existed but is merely a mythical land out in the west.

There are also those who interpret the texts of the sagas quite literally and endeavour by this means to find an exact geographical localisation of Vinland. The Norwegian Almar NŠss, for example, has used some information about the rising and setting of the sun in the Saga of the Greenlanders to calculate the position of Vinland to Chesapeake Bay on latitude 38░ North. Another Norwegian, Helge Ingstad, has exploited the same piece of information but in a different way so that, in combination with the description of Bjarni Herjˇlfsson's voyage, it is evident for him that Vinland must have been situated in the northern part of Newfoundland, at latitude 52░ North. The mere fact that one and the same passage in a saga can lead to locations at a distance of approximately 1,500 km from each other, each identification supported by excellent arguments, illustrates the difficulties involved in exploiting the texts as sources of exact information.

The American Erik Wahlgren lands, so to speak, midway between the two Norwegians, in that he finds that since Vinland on the one hand must be south of the vine frontier and on the other hand north of the salmon frontier, the country must have been situated in the lee of Grand Manan Island, close to the frontier between the U.S.A. and Canada, at a latitude of 45░ North; particularly in consideration of the fact that the climate was warmer around the year 1000.

Helge Ingstad received support for his theory when he and his wife, the archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, in 1960 discovered and began to excavate a group of Viking houses at L'Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Labrador. The excavations, which were later continued by Bengt Sch÷nback and Birgitte Wallace, yielded over 130 artifacts of Scandinavian origin. These were mostly iron nails and wooden objects but there were also a bronze pin, a loom weight and a small soapstone lamp.

Whether or not these finds really mark the site of Leifs booths in Vinland, as Ingstad himself thinks, cannot be said with certainty. What is certain, however, is that there has not hitherto been any other archaeological find in eastern America or Canada that has pointed to Viking activities. This is really rather surprising, considering the fact that it is these very activities that take up so much space in the Icelandic sagas. Vinland would seem to have been lost for us all. Not only did the Vikings lose Vinland. We modern Scandinavians have not been able to re-discover it.[ů]

Source: Max Vinner, "Vinland the Good- or the Lost" in Viking Voyages to North America, Birthe L. Clausen (Denmark: Kannike Tryk A/S, 1993), 73-74.

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