IH07 – C.E.1000 Vinland

Eirik the Red

Eirik the Red fled Norway because of some killings. He then settled in Iceland taking up farming, but feuding with a neighbor whom he slew as well as another man, Eirik was banished once more. He moved to islands off the Iceland coast and once more got into lethal trouble.

Once again exiled, Eirik headed west and pioneered a settlement on Greenland. The colony grew to several thousand Norse and became a viable trading partner with Europe, dealing in furs and tusks. The ancient sagas don’t agree on who first discovered the shore of North America. In one Leif, one of the sons of Eirik, sailing for Greenland came upon an unexpected land. In the other, a mariner named Bjarni Herjolfsson had found the land and sailed along it five days, declining to allow his men to land. Later Leif bought Fjanri’s ship and took thirty-five men to explore the strange land. One of the men with Leif wandered off and came back with information about grapes growing not too far away. For this reason the new land was called Vinland.

In A Voyage Long and Strange, Tony Horwitz describes his visit to L’Anse aux Meadows, the site of the first Norse settlement in North America. There is a small village mostly occupied by old folks whose families have lived there for generation. Some of them are men who lost their jobs when the cod fisheries closed down. Some of these were employed when the government excavated the historical site and opened an interpretive center in anticipation of the millennial anniversary of the Viking settlement. When the toursim surge did not happen, many unemployed fishermen also became unemployed Viking re-enactors.

After a week studying the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, Horwitz felt he could conjure the image of the Viking settlers. He still as haunted by the thought of the natives, whom the Viking called, “Skraelings.” Who were these people whom the Vikings had slaughtered on the beach? On the south shore of Newfoundland is an Indian community. It turned out to be Pow Wow time, and excellent time to pick up some first-hand information about the native people.

Here, Horwitz gives some of the local history and describes his experience in a ceremonial sweat lodge. The people of this settlement are Micmac people. The Micmac were visited by French priests in the 1600s.

Barry Fell, in America, B.C. goes into great detail about the Micmac Indians. The missionary observed the people taking notes on birch bark. The script they used turned out to be hieroglyphics very similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was before Napoleon brought the Rosetta Stone back to Paris and one of his people deciphered the ancient writing. The point is, the use of a method of writing must have been brought to America at a much earlier time, implying visitors even earlier than the Vikings.

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