Why Did They Leave?

Why did the Vikings not stay in Vinland once they became aware of its potential? Surely their visits could not have been so few and so short as outlined in the Vinland sagas. Surely they must have gone on, explored further, driven by endless curiosity, lust for adventure, and almost superhuman strength and courage. There must be other sites waiting to be discovered. Why would anyone choose to stay in Greenland and Iceland when the whole North American continent beckoned? Perhaps they intermarried with Aboriginal people, changing their identity so that we no longer can recognize them?

The Vinland sagas are rather definite that all expeditions returned to Greenland, the total years of their presence amounting to less than a decade. The L’Anse aux Meadows site was abandoned after a similar period. This can be seen from the sparseness of the cultural deposits in the buildings, the small garbage heaps, and the lack of cemeteries. Its occupants left willingly. They took all their tools, weapons, and belongings with them. The only things left were broken and discarded items.

The only time we hear about anyone setting out for Vinland again is the short line about Bishop Erik going to Vinland in 1121 in the Icelandic Annals. If there really had been a Vinland colony at that time, most likely there would be more about this in the records collected for the Saga of the Greenlanders and Erik the Red’s Saga a century later, considering the detail they tell of the earlier voyages.

To solve the mystery of why the Vikings left you have to put yourself in their place. What does it take to start a new colony? Would a successful colony have to work with the local aboriginal people? How long would it take to get established, to increase the few heads of cattle, sheep, and goats you could bring, so that your herd became large enough to support a new colony? Would the colonists need supplies from Europe and if so, what were the obstacles to establishing a regular trade with Europe? These are things to ponder when you consider why they left.

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