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L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada

History

Is L’Anse aux Meadows Vinland?

Although the evidence is often difficult to interpret, the following is based on the most recent analyses of the Sagas and archaeological and palaeoecological evidence. L’Anse aux Meadows was a place where ships could be hauled ashore, looked after and made ready and safe for the long voyage home. The ships were vital to the Norsemen, their only link to the homeland. The site itself was a base and winter camp for people exploring regions farther away from Greenland. Some of their voyages must have taken them as far south as the St. Lawrence River and parts of New Brunswick.

We know this because butternuts were found among the Norse objects. Butternuts have never grown in Newfoundland; today their northern limit is in northeastern New Brunswick. New Brunswick is also the northern limit for wild grapes. This means that the Norse people who settled at L’Anse aux Meadows may also have found the wild grapes on one of their excursions and decided on the name Vinland. Although L’Anse aux Meadows is not Vinland as such—Vinland was a country, not a place—this site would have marked the entrance to Vinland, which probably extended to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick.

At the northern entrance to the Strait of Belle Isle, within sight of Labrador and easily reached from all directions, the L’Anse aux Meadows site filled a vital need for a small group of people far away from home and bent on exploring lands even farther away. While most members of the group were free to spend summers farther south—or indeed wherever they liked—enough people must have stayed at L’Anse aux Meadows to collect food and fuel to support them all during the winter. Not having to return to Greenland for supplies meant that they could devote more time to exploring and assembling a valuable cargo for resale in Greenland. As winter approached, everyone returned to L’Anse aux Meadows, crowding together in the sod houses to celebrate Christmas and tell stories of their adventures. How many years this went on, we do not know, but the remains suggest that it could not have been long. In practical terms Europe was as close as Vinland and had more to offer. Ultimately Vinland was all but forgotten, and along with it, the small outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows.