Archaeological Evidence: The L’Anse aux Meadows Settlement

[…] In most aspects, L'Anse aux Meadows resembles other early eleventh-century Norse sites in Iceland or Greenland; but its location and layout differ from all other such sites. Its situation on the most exposed bay in the area contrasts with the sheltered areas favoured for West Norse livestock farming. The usual large West Norse barns and byres are missing. Specific archaeological testing showed no sign of enclosures or shelters for livestock of any kind, or of disturbances in the flora caused by grazing and cultivation. Nor were remains of domestic animals found: all the identifiable bones being seal and whale. (A small scapula originally identified as domestic pig has now been identified as seal.

The layout of L'Anse aux Meadows is also unusual. Its eight buildings cluster into four complexes. Three are dwelling compounds, each with a large hall and a small hut. One also includes a small house. The dwellings are all lined up, evenly spaced, on a narrow, curving terrace, bordered on the east side by a raised sphagnum bog and on its western seaward side by a funnel-shaped sedge peat bog. A small brook winds its way through the bog to the sea from a small lake about one kilometer inland, breaking through the terrace just south of the dwellings. The fourth complex, for iron production, is away from the other buildings, on the far side of the brook, on the arm of the terrace closest to the sea. It consists of a hut sheltering a small furnace of stone and clay, in which iron was manufactured, and a kiln for making charcoal, as fuel for the furnace. The buildings were all occupied at the same time. With the exception of the iron production complex, all appear to have been dwellings, although various forms of specialized crafts took place within them. At least two of the halls also included large storage rooms. The latter resemble those found in Iceland and Greenland in that they contain no features indicating that people or animals had lived in them. However, in Iceland and Greenland such rooms usually have characteristic imprints of large storage vessels in the floor, and these are missing at L'Anse aux Meadows. Whatever was stored at L'Anse aux Meadows left no such trace.

A settlement consisting almost exclusively of dwellings is unknown in any other Norse area. It might be argued that during an incursion into virgin territory, usual settlement patterns might have been modified, for a few years at least. In the initial settlement of Iceland, for example, farmers may sometimes have settled together in pairs, building their halls next to each other — at least there is evidence of this at Hˇfsta­ir in northern Iceland. At L'Anse aux Meadows, however, there was no attempt to establish a self-supporting colony, capable of producing its own sustenance. Instead, both the architectural layout and artifact distribution suggest that this was a highly specialized, non-farming settlement. […]

Source: Birgitta Wallace, "The Norse in Newfoundland: L’Anse aux Meadows and Vinland," Newfoundland Studies 19 (2005): 11.

Return to parent page