[Jasper Analysis in] “Who Lived at L’Anse aux Meadows?”

Where did the people who lived at L'Anse aux Meadows come from? Where else did they explore and what routes did they take to reach those places? What relationship does this site have to the voyages described in the Icelandic sagas? Raw materials used to make the tools found at L'Anse aux Meadows may help to answer these questions.

Ten jasper fire-starters from the site were recently analyzed using a technique called Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA). Jasper is a flintlike stone that Vikings struck with steel to make sparks and start their fires. The places where these tools were made can be identified by comparing trace elements found in the artifacts and in raw material collected from regions where jasper occurs naturally. INAA measures these trace elements to develop geochemical fingerprints of the artifacts and geological samples.

The jasper tools from L'Anse aux Meadows were compared with geological samples from nearly sixty different source areas in Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New England, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lakes region. These analyses indicate that four objects came to the site from western Greenland. Five fragments were made from western Icelandic jasper. Although no jasper occurs naturally near L'Anse aux Meadows, one fragment from the site appears to have come from north-central Newfoundland, approximately 155 miles (250 kilometers) to the southeast.

These analyses suggest that the Vikings who settled at L'Anse aux Meadows came from Iceland and Greenland. Halls A and D—where only Icelandic jasper was found—may have housed two crews of Icelanders. Hall F may have been home to explorers from both Iceland and Greenland. The Newfoundland jasper fire-starter fragment found near Hall D suggests that these crews explored southeastward from the site.

The Icelandic sagas describe four voyages to the New World. One of these expeditions is said to have been undertaken by three crews: two from Iceland and one with both Greenlanders and Icelanders. Under the leadership of the Icelander Thorfinn Karlsefni, these men and women settled at a place they called Straumfjord and from there explored the coasts southeast, southwest, and north of their base. The presence of jasper tools from Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows suggests that Straumfjord may well be the place where Europeans first arrived in North America, where the first European child in the Americas was born, and where Old World and New World cultures first met, traded, and clashed.

Source: Kevin P. Smith, "[Jasper Analysis in] Who Lived at L'Anse aux Meadows " in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, William W. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth I. Ward (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000), 217.

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