Be Your Own Ragnar or Floki: Viking Tourism in N. America
(Newfoundland, Canada) – Forget Columbus (he's Euro-trash anyway, according to Jerry Seinfeld). It was the Vikings who first discovered the Americas, some five hundred years before Columbus. (Photos courtesy L'Anse Aux Meadows/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism).
Plus, there's the TV show “Vikings,” which so sadly just ended its second season this week. Now that this is over, and rabidly devoted fans have to spend the next nine months yearning for Ragnar, Floki, Lagertha and Siggy, perhaps it's time to get out and do something about it.
It turns out, several sights in North America may have some Viking visitation remnants – although the sad news is only one is confirmed to be so. A second site looks pretty likely to be a former Viking settlement, while a handful of nebulous but nonetheless interesting spots have theories surrounding them that have provided at least a few monuments by which to pay tribute.
The two serious contenders for Viking occupation are both in Canada. The very remote Bafflin Island in the province of Nunavut has considerable evidence it was the first place where explorer Leif Eriksson and his crew set foot on this continent about 1000 A.D. It hasn't been proven by scholars but the facts seem to be adding up.
Bafflin Island sits in the Arctic Circle and isn't exactly a tourist mecca, and there probably isn't much to see in the way of Viking digs in the first place. But you could get lucky and be around when they make further discoveries.
The biggie is L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, close to the towns of Deer Lake and St. Anthony. It is the one confirmed Viking settlement on this continent, discovered back in the 60's. Located along the Trans-Canada Highway and what are called the Viking trails, the site is so far the only proven settlement by Vikings in what they apparently called Vinland.
Here, you can explore reconstructions of three Norse buildings, look at the artifacts scientists have found and wander the nearby lakes and bays.
History seems to indicate they did not live here long and may have been run off by local tribes. Arrowheads have been discovered, evidence of substantial attacks on the parts of natives. This also comes as no surprise as the Norse seemed to immediately look down upon the occupants of this land and called them “wretched people.” They were likely not good roommates to those already living here.
From here, the history of the Vikings in the Americas gets murkier and murkier. Scholars largely seem to agree they continued exploring westward and even south into the United States. But exactly where they wound up is a big mystery. Everything else is either hotly debated or verging on kitschy roadside attractions while being almost completely disproved.
There is evidence of the Norse having melded into the Mandan tribes of the Great Lakes and in tribes around Rhode Island or Minnesota. Some Norse coins and artifacts have been found around Rhode Island and other places on the East Coast of the U.S., but many aren't proven yet.
It doesn't help that at least one out-there TV show on the same network as Vikings (which will remain nameless) tries to connect the Knights Templar and the Vikings to every odd artifact this side of Lewis & Clark. But these spots provide some fun places to at least pay homage to the people that inspired creator Michael Hirst.
Camden, Maine has an attraction called Norumbega Castle along US Route 1, named after a legendary Viking settlement that may or not have existed in Maine. Bangor has a few spots by that name as well.
Boston, Massachusetts has not one but three statues honoring Leif Eriksson, built under the later disproven notion that there was a settlement in the area.
There is Thorvald's Rock in Hampton, New Hampshire, which for a while some believed might've been another settlement. That's been mostly disproven. But the rock commemorates where Norse explorer Thorvald was previously believed to have been killed. Other spots around town bear the man's name as well.
The Viking Tower in Newport, Rhode Island also had some dubious Norselander connections for a while, mostly because of a mysterious set of runes found there in the dim and distant past. This castle-like structure is impressive and awesome in other ways, but it is not a Viking site of any kind.
All that being said, it's exciting to think about the discoveries still to be made in the future. The Vikings in Canada seem to have mysteriously disappeared. It's possible they simply sailed away, and just as possible that some melded into local tribe populations or created other settlements not yet found.
More about Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada http://www.nunavuttourism.com/
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. St. Lunaire-Griquet NL. Canada. 709-458-2417. http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/index.aspx