L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada

History

Discovery of the Site and Initial Excavations (1960–1968)

It was nearly nine centuries later, in 1960 that a Norwegian explorer and writer, Helge Ingstad, came upon the site at L’Anse aux Meadows. He was making an intensive search for Norse landing places along the coast from New England northward. At L’Anse aux Meadows, a local inhabitant, George Decker, led him to a group of overgrown bumps and ridges that looked as if they might be building remains. They later proved to be all that was left of that old colony. For the next eight years, Helge and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, led an international team of archaeologists from Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and the United States in the excavation of the site.

Ringed pin of bronze
© Parks Canada

The Ingstads found that the overgrown ridges were the lower courses of the walls of eight Norse buildings from the 11th century. The walls and roofs had been of sod, laid over a supporting frame. The buildings were of the same kind as those used in Iceland and Greenland just before and after the year 1000. Long narrow fireplaces in the middle of the floor served for heating, lighting and cooking.

Among the ruins of the buildings, excavators unearthed the kind of artifacts found on similar sites in Iceland and Greenland. Inside the cooking pit of one of the large dwellings lay a bronze, ring-headed pin of the kind Norsemen used to fasten their cloaks. Inside another building was a stone oil lamp and a small spindle whorl, once used as the flywheel of a handheld spindle. In the fire pit of a third dwelling was the fragment of a bone needle believed to have been used for a form of knitting. There was also a small-decorated brass fragment that once had been gilded.

From these finds we know not all the Norse settlers had been men. Spindle whorls and knitting needles were tools used by women. A small whetstone, used to sharpen needles and small scissors, was found near the spindle whorl. It would have also been part of a woman’s kit. A great deal of slag from smelting and working of iron was also found on the site together with a large number of iron boat nails or rivets. This, more than any other find, led archaeologists to identify the site as Norse.