L’Anse aux Meadows (rom the French L’Anse-aux-Méduses or “Jellyfish Cove”) is an archaeological site on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Discovered in 1960, it is the only known site of a Norse or Viking village in Canada, and in North America outside of Greenland.
Dating to around the year 1000, L’Anse aux Meadows remains the only widely accepted instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact and is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Ericson around the same time period or, more broadly, with Norse exploration of the Americas.
The name “L’Anse aux Meadows” made its first appearance as Anse à la Medée on a map of 1862, when it may have derived its name from a ship called Medée. This was then modified by French-speaking fishermen during the 19th and 20th centuries, who named the site L’Anse aux Méduses, meaning “Jellyfish Cove”. The modern name is an English corruption of the French name, from Méduses to Meadows, which may have occurred because the landscape in the area tends to be open, with meadows.
Discovery and significance
In 1960, the remains of a Norse village were discovered in Newfoundland by the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad. Archaeologists determined the site is of Norse origin because of definitive similarities between the characteristics of structures and artifacts found at the site compared to sites in Greenland and Iceland from around CE 1000.
Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad carried out seven archaeological excavations from 1961 to 1968, investigating eight complete house sites as well as the remains of a ninth.
The L’Anse aux Meadows area was originally inhabited by Native peoples as far back as 6000BP. The area was probably sought because of the areas abundance of marine life and its close proximity to Labrador. The most prominent of early Native inhabitants were the Dorset Eskimo however the during the centuries of Norse exploration of the area there were thought to be no known habitants in the immediate area.
L’Anse aux Meadows is the only known Norse site in North America outside of Greenland and represents the farthest known extent of European exploration and settlement of the New World before the voyages of Christopher Columbus almost 500 years later. It was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1978.
Archaeological excavation at the site was conducted in the 1960s by an international team led by archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad (Helge Ingstad’s wife) and under the direction of Parks Canada of the Government of Canada in the 1970s. Following each period of excavation, the site was reburied to protect and conserve the cultural resources.
The settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows has been dated to approximately 1,000 years ago, an assessment that tallies with the relative dating of artifact and structure types. The remains of eight buildings were located. They are believed to have been constructed of sod placed over a wooden frame. Based on associated artifacts, the buildings were variously identified as dwellings or workshops. The largest dwelling measured 28.8 by 15.6 m (94.5 by 51 ft) and consisted of several rooms. Workshops were identified as an iron smithy containing a forge and iron slag, a carpentry workshop, which generated wood debris, and a specialized boat repair area containing worn rivets. Besides those related to iron working, carpentry, and boat repair, other artifacts found at the site consisted of common everyday Norse items, including a stone oil lamp, a whetstone, a bronze fastening pin, a bone knitting needle, and part of a spindle. The presence of the spindle and needle suggests that women were present as well as men. Food remains included butternuts, which are significant because they do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick, and their presence probably indicates the Norse inhabitants travelled farther south to obtain them. Archaeologists concluded that the site was inhabited by the Norse for a relatively short period of time.
In addition to the European settlement, evidence of at least five or six separate native occupations has been identified at L’Anse aux Meadows, the oldest dated at roughly 6,000 years ago; none was contemporaneous with the Norse occupation. The most prominent of these earlier occupations were by the Dorset people, who predated the Norse by about 200 years.
Connection with Vinland sagas
Norse sagas are written versions of older oral traditions. Two Icelandic sagas, commonly called the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, describe the experiences of Norse Greenlanders who discovered and attempted to settle land to the west of Greenland, identified by them as Vinland. The sagas suggest that the Vinland settlement failed because of conflicts within the Norse community, as well as between the Norse and the native people they encountered, whom they called Skrælingar.
Recent archaeological studies suggest that the L’Anse aux Meadows site is not Vinland itself but was within a land called Vinland that spread farther south from L’Anse aux Meadows, extending to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick. The village at L’Anse aux Meadows served as an exploration base and winter camp for expeditions heading southward into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The settlements of Vinland mentioned in the Eric saga and the Greenlanders saga, Leifsbudir (Leif Ericson) and Hóp (Norse Greenlanders), have both been identified as the L’Anse aux Meadows site.