Westward to Vinland: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America

Westward to Vinland: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America by Helge Ingstad (translated by Erik J. Friis) was published in 1969. It was about the author’s six trips to Labrador and Newfoundland in the 1960’s in search of the first Norse settlements in North America. Ingstad used two sagas, those of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red, as the basis for his travels. What was written down hundreds and hundreds of years ago he found to be remarkably accurate in terms of the land formations and bodies of water. The Vikings documented their journey from Greenland west to Baffin Island, then south to Labrador, across the Strait of Belle Isle to the northern peninsula of Newfoundland where they established a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows.

Ingstad and Friis wrote a thoroughly engaging diary of voyage and discovery as the author sailed up and down the Labrador coast in search of possible Norse sites. He was a modern-day Viking as he considered what might be of importance to the crew a millennium ago. Flat grasslands were necessary for livestock and grazing, and the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula was ideal.

Over the course of his journeys he worked with different teams as they explored and excavated. His wife Anne Stine and their daughter Benedicte accompanied him on all the trips and made substantial discoveries of their own.

I could not put this book down and the pages that were full of text were a breeze to read. Of particular interest was his analysis of the term “Vinland” where he believes its origin was in the old Norse for “grassland” versus “land of grapes” (which would have rendered its spelling instead as Vínland). Ingstad thus refuted the claims by those who believed Vinland as a grape-growing region could not possibly have been as far north as L’Anse aux Meadows. Ingstad presented both arguments for and against the authenticity of the infamous Vinland Map. In 1969 he was leaning towards accepting it as genuine but only through scientific testing during this century has the document been proven to be a forgery.

The author provided many photos and maps documenting the Vikings’ as well as his own journeys and discoveries. Now I must read Ingstad’s story about his mission in the November 1964 issue of National Geographic (I found this while reading the book’s bibliography). This book was written over fifty years ago so Ingstad’s perception of women must be taken in light of that time, but no scientist today would write of the attractive features of the indigenous women of Labrador as he did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *