See W. Hovgaard, The Voyages of the Norsemen to America (1914, repr. 1971); H. Hermannsson, The Problem of Wineland (1936, repr. 1966); F. J. Pohl, The Lost Discovery (1952); H. R. Holand, Explorations in America before Columbus (2d ed. 1958); H. M. Ingstad, Westward to Vinland (1969); W. E. Washburn, ed., Vinland Map Conference: Proceedings (1971); R. A. Skelton et al., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation (exp. ed. 1996); W. W. Fitzhugh and E. I. Ward, ed., Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga (2000).
Wooded land in North America visited and named by Leif Eriksson the Lucky circa AD 1000. It was probably located along the Atlantic coast of what is now eastern or northeastern Canada. The Vikings' visits to Vinland (named “wine land” for its wild grapes) are recorded in the Norse sagas. Leif Eriksson is said to have led the first expedition, and his brother Thorvald a second one circa 1003. A colonizing expedition of 130 Vikings circa 1004 was abandoned after warfare with the native Indians. The final expedition was led circa 1013 by Erik the Red's daughter Freydis. In 1963 the remains of a Norse settlement were discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows, at the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.
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In 1960 archaeological evidence of the only known Norse settlement in North America (outside of Greenland) was found at L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland, in what is now the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Although this proved conclusively the Vikings' pre-Columbian discovery of North America, whether this exact site is the Vinland of the Norse accounts is still a subject of debate.
There is a consensus among scholars that the Vikings did reach North America, approximately five centuries prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus.
This explanation is essentially repeated in the 13th-century Grœnlendinga saga, which provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland, and its being named from the grapes (vínber) found there.
Vin is a common name on old farms from Norse times in Norway, and present-day use of the word are Bjørgvin, the Norse (and Icelandic) name of Bergen, Norway, and Granvin, where -vin translates into 'pasture' in both. A poetic Norse name of the Danish island of Sjælland (Zealand) was Viney 'pasture island'. The word can also be a name in itself (see Vinje).
A cognate name also existed in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), in the name of the village Woolland in Dorset, England: This was written "Winlande" in the 1086 Domesday Book, and it is interpreted as 'meadow land' or 'pasture land'.
The main source of information about the Viking voyages to Vinland is derived from two Icelandic sagas, The Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. These sagas were written down approximately 250 years after the settlement of Greenland and are open to considerable breadth of interpretation. Combining those two, it seems that there were possibly two separate attempts to establish a Norse settlement in Vinland, neither of which lasted for more than two years. The disbandment of the small Viking colony seems to have had several causes. Disagreements among the men about the few women that followed on the trip, and fighting with an unidentified group of indigenous people (called "skrælingar" in the Sagas) already living in the area, are both indicated in the written sources.
The two Sagas tell that after the settlement of Greenland by the Vikings, a merchant by the name of Bjarni Herjólfsson set sail from Iceland to Greenland to visit his father, a new settler in Greenland. His ship was blown off course by a storm and thus accidentally discovered a new land, presumably the east coast of North America, in 985 or 986. It was late in the summer, and he did not want to overwinter in this new land, which he noted was covered with forests, so he did not land and managed to reach Greenland before winter fell. He then afterwards told the story and sold ships to Leifr Eiríksson. With wood being in very short supply in Greenland, the settlers there were eager to explore the riches of this new land. Some years later Leifr Eiríksson explored this coast, and established a short-lived colony on a part of the coast that he called Vinland.
The first discovery made by Leifr was according to the stories Helluland ("flatstone land"), possibly Baffin Island. Markland ("wood land"), possibly Labrador - was discovered next (there is some evidence that the tree line in northern Labrador has been diminished or eroded since Leifr's time) and lastly Vinland. Vinland is possibly identifiable with the archaeological site of L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The expedition included both families and livestock, and its aim was to found a new settlement. Straumfjörðr ("stream", possibly in reference to the strong currents of near-by Strait of Belle Isle and Belle Isle) was the name of the northern settlement and "Hóp" (lagoon) was the name for the warmer southern settlement. Only two Viking leaders actually overwintered in Vinland, the second being Thorvald Eiríksson, Leifr's brother, who was killed the second summer. However, according to the stories, the idea was soon abandoned due to conflicts with the skrælingar and among the Norsemen themselves. New voyages for woodcutting seem to have been discussed even as late as the 1300s.
Until the 19th century, the idea of Viking settlement in North America was considered by historians to be the product of folk tales. The first scholarly theory for the idea was put forth in 1837 by Danish literary historian and antiquarian Carl Christian Rafn in his book Antiquitates Americanæ. Rafn had made an exhaustive examination of the sagas, as well as potential settlement sites on the North American coast and concluded that Vinland was a real place in North America that had been settled by the Norse. Newfoundland historian William A Munn (1864-1939), after studying literary sources in Europe, suggested that the Vikings had first made land at L'Anse aux Meadows and then sailed round to Pistolet Bay.
Those who believe Newfoundland is the location of Vinland generally think that settlements farther south are unlikely, because maintaining such a distant lifestyle from the Norse homelands would have been far too difficult for the Vikings of the time. Iron and other needed resources would have been too difficult to sustain on any workable level, as the later English settlers in New England would find. Costly fights with Native populations so far from supply lines would have been another deterrent.
An argument for placing Vinland farther south is presented in Adam of Bremen's account. In his Descriptio insularum Aquilonis he wrote that the name Vinland comes from the grapevines growing there. He received this information from King Svend Estridson.
There are a number of theories to explain this discrepancy:
While the theory that Vinland was further south is a legitimate line of inquiry, for some the motivation to search Vinland further south could have been more personal to justify or romanticize the Scandinavian colonization of areas in the present-day United States. There have been several instances where evidence of pre-Columbian Norse explorers in the United States has become a source of controversial debate, for example, the Kensington Runestone. However, the Maine Penny is regarded by many as a legitimate artifact. Alleged Runestones found throughout America are often used to attempt to show proof of pre-Columbian Norse settlement, but this is not thought to represent Vinland.
The Skálholt map shows Promontorium Winlandiae as a narrow cape extending from 53°N to 56°N. But, the map also shows the position for Bristol, England, at around 56°N. So the "grid" of the map is somewhat inaccurate (+5°) as Bristol and L'anse Aux Meadows are actually at 51°N.
Long dismissed as hoax, Vinland map resurfaces; A Minnesotan's work has contributed to fresh interest in a document that some say proves the Vikings beat Columbus to the New World.(NEWS)
Mar 23, 1996; One of the most celebrated and entertainingly waspish academic controversies of recent decades has taken a surprising new turn....