The Great Viking Discoveries | From Greenland to America!

By Nema
21 Min Read

The Great Viking Discoveries Let us continue our Viking journey after sailing across the turbulent seas of the Norwegian Sea and finding Iceland. Let us travel together in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean until we find Greenland and eventually America, long before Columbus.
Architects, explorers, and navigators Sages, storytellers, and environment enthusiasts We hope that the words that swirl before your eyes during these readings exposing the great Viking finds evoke in you a fresh emotion about this renowned people.

If there is only one chance to create a “nice first impression,” the Vikings sadly did not get this opportunity. Before them, the colonised peoples, typically Christians, were responsible for propagating a savage and cruel picture of the explorers. Thus, we strive to reconstruct the past via our study and the lines that hold it in order to offer the Vikings an illusory possibility: that of a second first time.

Today’s adventure will basically follow the narrative of a Viking family, that of Erik the Red, which will lead us to the discovery of Greenland and eventually the American continent. A narrative about exiled lands and interactions with Amer-Indians set against a background of legendary stories.

1. Greenland, a land of exile

The Great Viking Discoveries, To begin our journey, we must go back to the mid-tenth century. The Vikings, who have already mostly settled in Iceland, are still very much present in the heart of the Scandinavian nations, particularly in Norway. Our trip will begin in this nation.

The exile of Erik the Red

The Great Viking Discoveries, When Eirikr Thorvaldson first views the dawn and subsequently the moon over Norwegian lands, it is approximately 950. However, the latter only resided in his home nation for a few years since his father, Thorvald, was exiled from Norway for murder about 970.

As a result, the latter sets sail with his family to join the Icelandic Viking colony. But the one who is already known as Erik the Red – because of his red hair – follows in his father’s footsteps… And is so expelled from Iceland for murder.

Érik desires to use his exile to sail towards new horizons, unable to return to Norway and, above all, eager to explore new regions. As a result, he departs in stages with his family: his wife, three boys (Leif, Thorvald, and Thorsteinn), and his daughter Freydis. The exile, true to his Viking destiny, resolves to set sail west in pursuit of the famous “Rocks of Gunnbjorn.”

The rocks of Gunnbjorn:

The Great Viking Discoveries, A storm exiled a Viking navigator named Gunnbjorn Ulfsonn to the fringes of Greenland half a century ago when he was sailing from Norway to Iceland. Because these areas were unfamiliar and unwelcoming to him, he was pleased to chronicle his discovery and name the country “the rocks of Gunnbjorn.”

We are then in 983, when Erik the Red first sees the long-awaited rocks and chooses to dwell with his family in the modern settlement of Qaqortoq, situated in the country’s south. As a result, he became the first colonist of a new land, which he named Greenland, a name he did not select at random.

After three years of exploring the country’s eastern shores, Erik the Red’s exile is nearing to an end, and the Viking has only one plan: to return to Iceland and persuade a portion of his people to join him to these new regions… His new territory! With this in mind, he named the nation Greenland, “green land,” believing that the name would pique the interest of other Vikings.

Colonization of Greenland

The Great Viking Discoveries, Erik the Red’s exile in Greenland has now lasted three years. Thus, the Norwegian by birth set sail again in 986, this time eastward to return to Iceland. He does not waste time narrating his experiences and exposing his discoveries of a new place that would be offered to his congeners, despite the fact that he has just recently arrived. The other Vikings, who are always ravenous for excellent yarns, are enthralled by the exile’s exploits.

Many families quickly band together and opt to join Eirikr on these new trips, remaining true to the pagan people’s explorer spirit. No less than 25 vessels set out towards Greenland in this manner. However, the journey to the promised land proves to be more arduous than anticipated, and only roughly fifteen boats reach at their goal...

If the initial exile camp was founded near the southern point of Greenland, the colony settles a little farther west. A camp near the present-day city of Nuuk, of which only abandoned land exists today, with no signs of the Vikings.

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

The Great Viking Discoveries, You will be submerged in the midst of countless fjords, icebergs, and spectacular waterfalls as you pass close to Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. With luck, you’ll even get to see the magnificent show that humpback whales may put on from time to time.

As a result, two different encampments exist: Eystribyggd (in Qaqortoq) and Vestribyggd (in Nuuk), the eastern and western settlements. And, despite having just 400 members at the start, the Vikings continue to land until they have more than 2,500 members. The new company’s structure is straightforward: use the Icelandic system.

The Viking settlers, as is customary, engaged in breeding and hunting, as well as trading to enrich themselves. The latter is shown in the export of a variety of items to Norway, including skin, ivory, walrus oil, and polar bear fur. However, living circumstances in Greenland remain harsh, especially due to the cold, and their resources are insecure.

Viking Sites in Greenland: In the Footsteps of Erik the Red

The Great Viking Discoveries, The Vikings lingered in Greenland for more than 500 years before inexplicably departing from the country. Many theories have been advanced to explain the Vikings’ exodus from Greenland, including the Little Ice Age, confrontations with the Inuit people, and resource depletion.

Regardless, the Vikings shaped the country’s history as well as its landscapes over this half-millennium. Even today, there are several Viking sites on the “Green Earth” that you may visit. You may also go along Erik the Red’s footsteps, from his landing in Greenland until the settlement he started.

The ruins of Hvalsey

The remnants of the Church of Havlsey may be seen at Qaqortoq, where Erik the Red and his family lived when they landed in Greenland. The structure stems from the time of the first Viking settlement. The stones that make up these ruins are approximately 16 metres long and 8 metres broad, and they weigh many tonnes.

This cathedral, noted for hosting a high number of prominent marriages at the time, also conceals darker, more enigmatic legends… Indeed, there are several burials under the remains of Hvalsey. However, the location has never been mentioned as a potential sanctuary or cemetery…

The village of Qassiarsuk

This time, not far from Qaqortoq, you will be able to see a true replica of a Viking settlement. Indeed, Qassiarsuk, today’s Greenlandic community, sprang up on the site of the first pagan settlement. The settlement is located in the centre of Tunulliarfik – Erik’s Fjord – and is home to numerous gems!

First, you may travel to Brattahlid, Erik the Red’s old estate, and see the remains of roughly fifteen homes. The Sainte-Thjodhild church has also been meticulously restored, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the Viking world.

Finally, lift your gaze and take in the breathtaking scenery provided by this magnificent fjord… Allow the strong, almost wild aura that still pervades this area rich of tales from another era to emerge inside you.

Narsak

Once again, we find ourselves in the southwest of the island, not far from Érik le rouge’s encampment. We’ve arrived in Narsaq, a site where the discoveries have been as significant as they have been implausible.

Around 1960, a gardener uncovered the first Viking artefacts while attempting to establish a vegetable garden. Following this, numerous archaeologists rushed to the site, and the finds were substantial: a longhouse, a chapel, and a farm.

The house is also said to be the first Scandinavian structure built on Greenlandic soil, and hence Erik the Red’s first home before settling permanently in Brattahlid.

Narsaq is today a lovely community in South West Greenland, famed for its fjord and its brilliantly coloured buildings.

2. America, a family story

The Great Viking Discoveries In 1492, the Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus found America. Here’s a well-known truth that we all learnt in school… However, it is completely incorrect. While we still don’t know who was the first to explore the New World, it is certain that the Vikings set foot on American territory… Jacques Cartier! Around 500 years before Christopher Columbus!

Erik the Red’s sons, Leif and Thorvald Erikson, even travelled there many times before the locals drove away the northern inhabitants…

Leif Erikson’s Journey

The Great Viking Discoveries, What is odd about the Vikings’ discovery of America is that it starts before it has even started… Indeed, it is Bjarni Herjólfsson who, by chance, discovers the American territories in 986.

Bjarni’s discovery:

The Great Viking Discoveries, While attempting to reach Greenland from Iceland, the Viking and his crew were trapped in a storm, causing them to drift to the Canadian coast. But, as a trader before becoming an explorer, Bjarni rushes to Greenland and informs his congeners of his finding, who chastise him for his lack of inquiry.

Leif Erikson, like his father, is thirsty for big discoveries and excursions, and he can’t wait any longer. In the year 1000, after hearing Bjarni’s tales, he purchases his boat from him, gathers a crew, and sets sail in search of these new places. Érik le rouge, his father, wants to join him on this new adventure, but is wounded in an accident that prohibits him from going to sea.

So, Leif, followed by 35 other Vikings, sets sail in the direction of the West, following Bjarni Herjólfsson’s directions. The navigators arrive on the fringes of present-day Baffin Island after just a few days of travel. An chilly, unwelcoming terrain scattered with stones that will give it the moniker Helluland, or land of flat land. This is still the first time Europeans have set foot on the American continent.

Leif and his company leave, unsatisfied with their finding of these countries, and follow the beaches southward. After a few days of sailing, the Vikings find a new territory that is quite different from the previous. The men of the north arrived on the coasts of what is now the Labrador area, which they dubbed Markland because it was green, forested, and endowed with a superior climate.

Leif, however, chooses to continue going south for a few more days after seeing that the weather is becoming warmer throughout their voyage. The boat navigates through the centre of a strait, leading its navigators directly to a vast lake. The Vikings decide to build their camp here because of the pleasant temperature, pure water rich in fish, and stunning scenery.

Vinland, the land of wine, is “here.” Erik the Red and his comrades gave it this name once again after seeing that the ground on which they were located was densely forested with vines and grapes.

As a result, the first European colony in the Americas was established. The Vikings stay for the winter and construct a few shelters as well as a grandiose mansion for their leader Leif. Later, tourists would refer to the location as “Leifsbudir,” or “Leif’s dwellings.”

Leifsbudir, near Boston?

If we trust certain literature about Vikings, Leif Erikson’s camp may have been on American land. Indeed, between dawn and dusk on the shortest days, nine hours elapsed. If this information is right, nine hours of sunlight in December would disclose a location around Boston.

After spending the winter in the heart of this strange continent, Leif thinks it’s time to set sail once again. To return to Greenland, the Vikings bring a considerable amount of wood, which is in short supply on their home island. They return to Greenland as heroes, with fresh tales that continue the traditions of Viking explorers and make their people proud.

The journey of Thorvald Eriksson

The Great Viking Discoveries, If Leif’s drive for exploration did not end after he returned to Greenland, he would never return to his discoveries’ lands. Indeed, with the death of his father, Érik le rouge, it is now up to him to rule over the Greenlandic region.

But his brother, Thorvald, cannot bear the thought of not returning to explore the New Continent. Thorvald, according to some sources, would be envious of his brother and would desire to create a location carrying his name in order to leave “his trace.” As a result, he organises an expedition to the Americas with roughly thirty men. It is hardly surprising that he joins Leifsbudir and, like his brother, spends the whole winter there.

After the terrible winter had passed, the Vikings set out to explore the eastern and northern shores. This is how the men of the north wind up meeting the Skraelingar, the Amer-Indians. After being assaulted by the Vikings, the latter responded. Thorvald was killed during this combat, after an arrow exchange.

Following that, more expeditions will be conducted in the Americas, particularly by Thorfinn Karlsefni. This one will also be the site of the first commercial contacts between Europeans and Amer-Indians in history. Furthermore, his son, Snorri, will be the first European born on the American continent.

Viking Sites in the Americas: Explore the Past

The Great Viking Discoveries, Even if the Viking voyages on the American continent were short, there are now two archaeological sites demonstrating that the warriors of the North did actually settle there. Two more locations that you may see, and whose historical power is as destabilising as it is subjugating.

The first, Anse aux Meadows, was found in 1960 by Helge Instad, a Norwegian adventurer, and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad. Sarah Parcak refurbished the second, which is situated on the Pointe Rosée peninsula, in 2016. These two locations are in Canada, on the fringes of the beautiful province of Newfoundland.

L’Anse aux Meadows

The Anse aux Meadows is a location that combines history and geography. The location is spectacular, perfectly placed at the point of the peninsula of the island of Newfoundland. We can see why the Vikings moved here right away. Since 1978, the property has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You may, however, immerse yourself in history by visiting these locations. You may also take a guided tour, which provides an interactive introduction to the artefacts and archaeological excavation being conducted there. You’ll be able to see the key Viking items discovered during archaeological excavation thanks to this one.

A spectacular show greets you in the evening. Around the fire, you will be given wonderful Viking myths and tales, which will transport you back in time. You become a Viking among the Vikings, much as they did when they gathered for large feasts and the telling of their most beautiful stories.

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Pointe Dew

Unlike the Anse aux Meadows site, everything here is just speculative. Indeed, no tangible evidence that the Vikings passed through the area has been offered… Everything, however, urges us to believe it.

The location, discovered in 2015 and explored in 2016, found several signs for a putative Viking colony. While digging the earth, many kilogrammes of metal, identical to that utilised by the pagan people and dating back millennia, were discovered.

But, above all, Pointe Rosée is a lovely location that everyone should see while visiting the Canadian island of Newfoundland. A spot lost in time, with sunsets you will never forget.

Sit on the brink of a cliff, facing the sea, and take a deep breath. Inhale deeply and let your thoughts to wander to the beat of these Viking stories.

Consider these individuals, who were so far ahead of their time, sailing courageously through unfamiliar seas. Understand how they felt when they finally arrived after many days at sea in quest of a place that may never exist.

To be the first to set foot on uncharted territory. Discover strange locations, scents, and colours. To have a sense of success that is both personal and universal.

The achievement of carrying on his people’s customs, which will one day become legend. The tale of the Vikings

By Nema
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Neema is a real role model for aspiring travellers and explorers. She enjoys writing and travels often. Neema says "You can never have enough travel, it's like an addiction. With each journey, you develop as a person". Neema is a traveller, a travel blogger, a trekker, and an explorer. More blogs about Neema travel guides are here.