Viking Discovery of America, 985-1008: Greenland Norse and Their Voyages to Newfoundland

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This book provides an account of Leif Eriksson’s discovery of Vinland and other Viking voyages to Newfoundland. The most important contribution of the manuscript is the author’s contention that the Greenland Norse did not ballast their knarrs [freight ships] with loose stones, which might shift in heavy waves and imperil the shallow-draught vessels. Instead, they cut large stone blocks, beveled at one end to roughly conform to the shape of the hull, and laid them between the ribs. When loading the ships with a heavy cargo such as timber, the Norse would dump some or all of their ballast stones over the side. Therefore, it might be possible to detect a Norse site by locating a collection of distinctively shaped ballast stones on or near the shore. This hypothesis has apparently not been explored by anyone else involved in Norse research in Newfoundland.

Vinding had a life-long fascination with the dramatic voyages of the Greenland Norse and the unsolved question of the location of Vinland. His research led him to a careful analysis of two of the Icelandic sagas, the Greenlanders’ Saga and Erik the Red’s Saga. These sagas describe the same events, but there are discrepancies between them. Vinding compared the sources and created a plausible synthesized account of seven voyages of the Norse to Greenland and North America. Based on his readings, he hypothesized that Leif Eriksson’s first landing in North America was in Trinity Bay, and that Vinland was located on the Avalon Peninsula of southern Newfoundland.

Many nineteenth- and twentieth-century researchers published theories about the location of Vinland but without providing conclusive evidence. The theories suggesting locations far down the east coast of the United States have now been abandoned, in part because they demand that we disregard our primary sources, the sagas, which give precise indications of sailing times and distances. All authorities agree that the second of the three lands discovered by Bjarni Herjolfsson, called Markland by the Norse, is Labrador. There is only one area that fits the saga’s distances and directions from Labrador to Vinland, and that is the east coast of southern Newfoundland. No Norse artifacts have been found in that area except the ballast stones. Since ballast stones are likely to be indicators of Norse sites, they are markers of areas that deserve further archaeological exploration, be that a search for Vinland in Trinity Bay or a search for Hóp in St. Paul’s Bay.


“In the long history of speculation about the location and extent of Vinland, theories have placed it as far south as North Carolina or, more conservatively, in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. As the author trenchantly argues in this book, such theories do not correspond to the saga descriptions of sailing distances and directions ... The matter will only be resolved with the discovery of other Norse settlements. The problem is how do we do that, and this is where the author has made a potentially very important contribution ... The hypothesis that ballast stones could identify further areas of Norse activity is both insightful and completely original. To my knowledge, this hypothesis has occurred to no one else who has been professionally involved in Norse research in eastern Canada. It was my privilege to have been of some small assistance to the author in his research ...” – (from the Preface) Stuart Brown, Professor of Archaeology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

“In this book, the author has drawn on source material from the existing saga accounts of the journeys to Vinland that took place about a thousand years ago. He has made a courageous attempt to reconcile the diverging versions of the saga accounts. At the same time, he has carefully documented where he has added his own material to make sense of the story ... This work is compelling, first and foremost, because the author, with a solid basis in original sources, makes connections that form a logical whole that has not previously been seen. The result is a readable, and, in places, very exciting narrative, which provides plausible and credible descriptions of the Vinland journeys ...” – (from the Preface) Jens Monberg, Museum Consultant, Denmark

Table of Contents

Translator’s Foreword
Preface 1 by Jens Monsberg
Preface 2 by Stuart Brown
1. The Discovery
2. The Ballast Stone
3. Before Leif
4. The Ship
5. Navigation
6. Brattalid, Vinland, and Norway
7. Leif the Lucky and Thorstein the Unlucky
8. Thorfinn Karlsefni and Gudrid
9. Strømfjord and Hóp
10. The Skrællings
11. Freydis’ Treachery
12. The Climate in Vinland
13. The World of the Norse
14. The Rise and Fall of the Greenland Norse
Chronology and Summary
Translator’s Afterword

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