The discovery of America by the Vikings

Would you have known it? According to a considerable number of historians, not Christopher Columbus discovered the ‘new world’ (from a European perspective!), but it was the Icelandic explorer Leif Erikson (in Icelandic: Leifur Eiríksson), who was also called ‘The Lucky’. He was the son of Erik the Red, the discoverer of Greenland. It is likely that he was born in Iceland, but raised in a Greenlandic settlement from an early age. His date of birth should be around 970 or 980.

The stories that tell of his discovery are called the Sagas of Icelanders, also known as family sagas, which are among the most famous specimens of Icelandic literature. More specifically, there are two Vinland sagas among them, which contain the stories of the sea voyages in question. However, their author is still unidentified and remains unknown. What is worth knowing is that the sagas were written down in the 13th century, thus, around 300 years later than the time of action.

Traveling from Norway to Greenland, he was blown off course and finally, his ship drifted towards North America. He made landfall there and founded the first European settlement in this hitherto undiscovered part of the world, having seen wheat fields and grapevines somewhere along the coastline. The area was called Vinland, the origin of that name still being unknown.

EnGe_Leif Erikson_intext1

Today we can see a Viking settlement on the now Canadian coast, which bears the name L’Anse aux Meadows (a hybrid name of both English and French elements, quite common in that region of Canada). In ancient times, that settlement was only inhabited for some years (around the year 1000), before it was abandoned again by the Vikings.  In 1961, L’Anse aux Meadows was excavated by the Norwegian explorer couple Helge and Anne-Stine Ingstad. It consists of eleven houses plus a smithy and is the only unmistakably proven colony of the Vikings in North America. It became UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.

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