Records from L'Anse aux Meadows in “North Atlantic Climate c. A.D. 1000: Millennial Reflections on the Viking Discoveries of Iceland, Greenland, and North America”

The name Vinland, literally, Wineland', has caused considerable discussion and speculation. In the sagas, much is made of the discovery of wild grapes. For this reason alone and because wild grapes do, in fact, grow in certain parts of north-eastern North America, it seems likely that the meaning really does refer to wine and not to 'pasture land' as was suggested, for example, by Ingstad […] Referring to 'pasture land', the name would be 'Vinland', a short 'i' with no accent. Wallace (p. 141-142, in the present volume) has also pointed out that fresh pastures would not have been needed at that time (excellent pastures were available then in Greenland and Iceland) and would not have been likely to cause excitement. The prospect of producing wine, however, was another matter. In both the Scandinavian homelands, and the North Atlantic settlements, this was a costly and highly-prized item that any chief might covet. Furthermore, it was a vital ingredient in the Eucharist, an important element of the Christian religion, now making rapid strides in these areas. Other names given by the Norse to the places they visited on the North American continent included 'Helluland' (presumed to be Baffin Island) and 'Markland' (presumed to be Labrador). […]The Vinland sagas also refer to rolling grasslands, rich hunting and fishing, and a climate so mild that winter frosts were hardly known. Also mentioned is 'self-sown wheat'. This is most likely to be wild rye, Elymus virginicus, which does look like old-type wheat.

It may be noted, however, that grapes do not grow in the region of the L'Anse aux Meadows site. This region was almost certainly not 'Vinland', but rather the 'gateway to Vinland', and the archaeological and written evidence points to its use as base camp for exploration. The date of the Norse occupation of L'Anse aux Meadows lies close to the decade before or after AD. 1000. This dating accords well with the written evidence for the Vinland explorations. However, it is likely that the Norse occupation of the site lasted no more than a few years.

Many suggestions have been made regarding the exact whereabouts of Vinland. Thus, for example, Páll Bergţórsson (1997) has recently suggested that it may have been in the region of New York. Wallace has made the point that the region of New Brunswick is a likely candidate; it has the wild grapes and 'self-sown wheat' mentioned in the sagas (Wallace 141, in the present volume).

The documentary evidence for the exploration of Vinland by the Norse underscores the impact made on them by a place where the livestock did not need to be given winter fodder. […] This was very different from the situation in Greenland and Iceland where lack of sufficient fodder for the livestock could have perilous consequences with deaths of livestock and subsequent loss of human life. In later times, northern Newfoundland has by no means been snow-free in the winters. However, in the winter of 1998, Wallace noted that there was no snow, and the livestock could indeed have fed outside (Wallace, personal communication 1999). For the L'Anse aux Meadows site, pollen analyses (McAndrews and Davis 1978; Davis et al. 1988), chemical analyses of peat (Robertson 1978), and wood and radiocarbon analyses (Wallace, personal communication 1999) suggest that the climate at L'Anse aux Meadows was slightly warmer at the time of the Vinland voyages in comparison with subsequent relatively cold periods. Wallace (1991) also notes that the ice-free navigation season between L'Anse aux Meadows and Greenland would have been limited to two months of the year. It is possible to speculate that once the areas termed 'Markland', 'Helluland' and "Vinland' by the Norse were well known to them, probably many voyages were made in search of precious commodities such as timber. In years of heavy sea ice, however, travel from Greenland or Iceland could clearly have been perilous, and it is of course also possible to speculate that sea ice did at times hinder navigation. […]

Source: A.E.J Ogilvie, L.K. Barlow, and A.E. Jennings, "[Records from L'Anse aux Meadows] in “North Atlantic Climate c. A.D. 1000: Millennial Reflections on the Viking Discoveries of Iceland, Greenland, and North America" in Approaches to Vínland: A conference on the written and archaeological sources for the Norse settlements in the North-Atlantic region and exploration of America, Andrew Wawn and Ţórunn Sigurđardóttir (Reykjavík: Sigurđur Nordal Institute, 2001), 182-185.

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