Episode 4 Supplement: Norsemen in the New World

Since Eiriks saga is central to the question of when and where Scandinavian explorers visited North America, we thought we’d offer a few resources for those interested in pursuing the topic in more detail than we were able to cover in our latest podcast.

I. History

Attempts at interpreting the geographical information provided in the Vínland sagas have ranged across centuries, resulting in a series of speculative maps (including the 16th c. Skálholt Map, item 1) and at least one spectacular example that is almost certainly a clever forgery (The Vínland Map, item 2).

1. Skálholt Map (c.1690 reproduction of lost 1570s original)                        

File:Vinland Map HiRes.jpg

2. The Vínland Map

Attempts to chart the various voyages of the Vínland saga explorers are also common, and generally produce something more or less like this:


3. A Wikimedia Commons map showing Leif’s voyage (as differently described in Eirik the Red’s saga and in The Saga of the Greenlanders) as well as those of the manly Karlsefni, the violent Eirik himself, and Bjarni Herjolfsson; the mapmaker wisely chose not to include Thorstein Eiriksson’s farcical “lost summer” wandering around the North Atlantic…

There are many other attempts to definitively establish the pattern of Scandinavian exploration and settlement: look herehere, and here for various efforts in this direction.

II. A Little Light Reading

Probably the most exhaustive work on the subject of the Vínland landing sites was done by the husband and wife team of Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad. The couple followed clues from the Vínland sagas, some made some nifty guesses based on the topography of various places along the Atlantic coast, and deduced from linguistic evidence that everyone else who’d looked for the landing site was too far south–and in 1960 they found a Norse settlement that sure looks like the right place…The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland by the Ingstads explains the process by which they found the site; if you’re a sucker for archeological procedurals, it makes for some quality reading.

One of the few serious arguments against the Ingstads’ claim was put forward by Erik Wahlgren, whose book The Vikings and America concedes the archeological value of L’Anse aux Meadows but argues for a Vínland landing site further south.

If, on the other hand, you’d just like a light overview of the history of the Vínland explorations and a brief discussion of L’Anse aux Meadows, you might try the “Vinland” chapter of the highly readable Tony Horwitz’s A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America. Horwitz’s details are sometimes a little fuzzy, but he covers the major issues fairly well, and does it in about a tenth the page count of the other books listed here.

III. Documentaries

In case you’re really, really interested in the whole Vínland sagas story and don’t have anything else to do for an hour or so, here are a couple of publicly-available documentaries on the subject:

If you make it through all that and still have questions, let us know and we’ll do our best!

Episode 4 – Eirik the Red’s Saga

It’s time to strike out for the west in the latest installment of Saga Thing. Join us as we sail through stormy and unpredictable seas in the Saga of Eirik the Red!

The Vinland Sagas (Penguin Classics)

The first of the two so-called Vínland sagas to be reviewed, Eirik’s saga offers up a story that’s part travelogue, part bloodbath, and part confusing as heck. In this episode, we’ll learn all about Eirik the Red’s bad habit of killing almost everyone he meets, his son Leif’s discovery of Vínland through the magic of pure navigational incompetence, the volatile natives of this dangerous new land, and another round of hauntings (much to Andy’s delight).

Will Eirik ever find a nice neighborhood and settle down (without killing anyone who lives there)? Why does a Greenland seeress need such fancy seat-cushions? Is that a Uniped hopping through the Vínland woods? And just where are Helluland and Markland, anyway?

Download this episode (right click and save)

If you want to listen to both Vinland Sagas at once, jump ahead to

The Greenlanders’ Saga (Summary and Judgment)

Interview with Loretta Decker about the Vikings in North America