After a half century of searching for additional Viking outposts in North America, it appears researchers appear to have finally hit pay dirt.
Evidence recently uncovered on Canada’s Baffin Island, north of the Arctic Circle, strongly points to the discovery of another Viking colony, it was announced earlier this month.
A team led by Memorial University professor Patricia Sutherland was digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island when they came across blade-sharpening tools called whetstones.
Wear grooves in the whetstones bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze – materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic’s native inhabitants, according to National Geographic.
The find bolsters the case that Norse seafarers from Greenland — hundreds of years after their ancestors abandoned the famous L’Anse aux Meadows settlement in Newfoundland around 1,000 A.D. — were trading goods and even inhabiting sites on Baffin Island, according to Canada.com.
Norwegian researchers Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in the 1960s, marking the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas.
L’Anse aux Meadows, which has been dated to between 989 and 1020, featured three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking and ship repair, according to National Geographic.
“Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World around A.D. 1000,” the magazine added. “A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast – named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning ‘stone-slab land’ – before heading south to a place he called Vinland.”
Sutherland’s interest in potential additional Viking encampments was piqued more than a decade ago when she spied two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.
Sutherland, an adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, noted that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage.
“The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century,” according to National Geographic.
Sutherland began to scour other museum collections for Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites, and she found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones.
The artifacts came from four sites, ranging from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador, a distance of 1,000 miles. Indigenous Arctic hunters known as the Dorset people had camped at each of the sites, raising the possibility that they had made friendly contact with the Vikings, the magazine reported.
“Intrigued, Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island,” according to National Geographic. “In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as ‘very difficult to interpret.’ Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.”
For more than a decade, Sutherland’s team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers:
- Pelt fragments from Old World rats;
- A whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod;
- Large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry;
- More Viking yarn and whetstones; and
- Stone ruins that bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.
Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland’s new findings further reinforces the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island.
“While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now,” said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology at Memorial University.
(HT: A Blog About History)