A thousand years ago, as Europe was emerging from what historians have called the “Dark Ages,” stories began circulating in Europe about a lush, abundant land far across the Atlantic called “Vinland” – the land of wine. For a long time scholars dismissed these stories as fanciful fables but then, in 1961, an indisputable Viking settlement was unearthed at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. It was true! The Vikings had been to America 500 years before Columbus “discovered” it. But L’Anse Aux Meadows is not a “land of wine”. So where was this idyllic Vinland where Europe first encountered America?
The Vinland stories originated from an expedition of thirty men and possibly some women who set out from southwestern Greenland to explore lands to the west and south led by Leif, son of Erik the Red. Only fifteen years earlier, in 985 or 986, Erik had led a group of Icelandic families to new homes in southwestern Greenland. That same year an Icelandic trader en route from Iceland to visit his father in Greenland was storm-driven to unknown lands in what we now call North America. Leif Eriksson set out to settle them.
This website will take you along Leif’s route to North America and Vinland. Where was this land? Many claim to have found it from northern Labrador all the way down to Virginia. Which is the real Vinland? Leif left only a few tantalizing clues as do medieval Icelandic manuscripts. Solving the mystery of Vinland requires putting these together with archaeological discoveries, a knowledge of what the Vikings were capable of, what their motivations might have been and an understanding of the people and environment of the land they encountered. To understand the context of the Vinland voyages, this website offers a tour through the Viking world, with brief stops in Europe, Iceland, and Greenland. To allow you to get a better grasp of Viking life, we have recreated the L’Anse Aux Meadows settlement and some of the Viking artifacts in a 3-D format. To understand their encounter with America you will also meet the people already in North America when the Norse arrived: the Aboriginal groups of the eastern seaboard.
There are many mysteries to solve here, and “Where was Vinland?” is just the start. What drove the Vikings to far-away countries? Why did they come to North America? Once here, why did they not stay? What impact did they have? And, why does legendary Vinland continue to have such a strong hold on our imagination?