A thousand years ago, as Europe was emerging from what historians have called the “Dark Ages,” stories began circulating in Europe about a lush, abundant land far across the Atlantic called “Vinland” – the land of wine. For a long time scholars dismissed these stories as fanciful fables but then, in 1961, an indisputable Viking settlement was unearthed at L’Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. It was true! The Vikings had been to America 500 years before Columbus “discovered” it. But L’Anse Aux Meadows is not a “land of wine”. So where was this idyllic Vinland where Europe first encountered America?
In 1960 Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine Ingstad were searching for archeological evidence of Vikings in Labrador and Newfoundland. In the small village of L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland they met a fisherman named George Decker who showed them sod foundations that had the shape of Viking longhouses. More than a decade of archeological investigation at this site has proved conclusively that Vikings had built a settlement in North America 500 years before Columbus, just as the sagas say. The evidence at the site also suggests that more southerly voyages might have taken place, and that other settlements might be found. Archeologists believe L’Anse aux Meadows was a base camp which afforded a way-station to further explorations of North America.
Excavations revealed a number of artifacts that are diagnostic of a Viking site. From 1961 until 1968, the Ingstad excavations uncovered Viking artifacts including a ringed pin, a soapstone spindle whorl, a bone pin, a whetstone, iron boat rivets, worked wood and other objects. There was evidence of iron-smelting and forging, and hearth charcoal is dated to A.D. 1000. The style and construction of the three longhouses and outbuildings are identical to 11th century Iceland and Greenland. The artifacts indicated weaving and iron-working, activities which were not practiced by Native Americans until after A.D. 1500. These finds confirm L’Anse aux Meadows as the earliest European settlement yet known in North America.