Many people believe that when Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492, his discovery of the Americas marked the first time someone from Europe had set foot on the continent. But this was actually not the case. The Norse managed to beat Chris here by approximately 400 years and they left behind evidence of their life here that was not discovered until 1960.
The settlement is known as L’Anse Aux Meadows and it was discovered in 1960. The ruins were discovered by Helge Ingstad, an explorer from Norway who was involved in a project to map Norse settlements. He and his wife discovered the site and were able to prove that the Vikings had settled here well before Columbus began his voyage. Although the precise age of the site is not known there are a lot of similarities between this site and others found in Greenland and Iceland which have been dated to around 1000 AD.
The settlement was discovered in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Due to its status as one of only two known North American Viking settlements the area was declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although the remains of the settlement were not discovered until 1960, the name had been appearing on maps of the area ever since 1862. The area where the settlement is located is extremely open and has many meadows. This is one thing that may have made it appealing to early Viking settlers.
There are a few theories as to why L’Anse Aux Meadows may have existed. One theory is that this was where Vikings who fled Greenland may have settled. It is close enough to Greenland that they would have been able to reach the area somewhat easily.
Another theory is that the settlement was part of a land known as Vinland. The Norse may have settled L’Anse Aux Meadows in order to get a foothold in Vinland, a land that was described as being to the west of Greenland. It is unknown why the Norse did not choose to settle in the area permanently. Evidence exists that shows the Vikings likely only lived in the area for a short time and then left to travel to other destinations.
There have been several periods of excavation at L’Anse Aux Meadows. The first was in the 1960’s and was conducted by the Ingstads. The second was in the 1970’s. During these two excavations a total of eight buildings were uncovered. The walls of the buildings were made of turf or sod that was placed over a framework of wood. Surprisingly, some of the largest dwellings have more than one room. A wide selection of tools was also discovered and remains of some of the foods that may have been eaten at the settlement.
This site is valuable because of the large number of artifacts that have been discovered as well as giving us an idea of what kinds of tools and equipment were used by the settlers in this area. Archaeologists have also managed to unearth a smithy that still contained a forge and some slag, an area where carpentry was performed and an area where boats could be repaired. This was important to the Vikings as travel by water was central to their way of life.