There's a spot in Newfoundland where you can find a reminder of ancient Vikings! It’s called L'Anse aux Meadows and it's the home of what may be the first European settlement in North America. Told about in Viking legends, the site wasn't unearthed until the 1960s. Because of its historical significance, L'Anse aux Meadows was named a World Heritage Site.
It’s at the very top of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, which puts it at the northernmost part of the island. The French name for the nearby village was thought to originally be L'Anse aux Méduses, which means Jellyfish Cove, but over the years it seems like people started calling it after all the meadows surrounding the water instead of the jellyfish.
For centuries there were legends of Vikings having visited North America. While there are ruins of Viking buildings in Greenland, no one was sure if they’d really made it further west. But stories talked about Vikings visiting a place they called Vinland.
In 1960, archaeologists studying the old legends visited L'Anse aux Meadows. By this time the settlement was completely covered over with earth and grass, looking like small hills. But when they excavated, artifacts were discovered that had come from Iceland and there were tools that Vikings had been known to use. The legends were true!
At the L'Anse aux Meadows site, the remains of eight buildings were found, dating back to the year 1000 AD — that's over 1,000 years ago! The buildings were made of sod and timber, and included houses where people lived as well as workshops and a forge for iron tools. The excavations also found nuts and types of wood that grow further south, which shows that the Vikings were exploring the area, maybe even going as far as what is now New Brunswick or the United States.
A man in a Viking costume stands at the Meeting Of Two Worlds sculpture, which symbolizes the meeting of human migration from the east through Asia and from the west through Europe to North America. (Photo credit: rcbrazier - Brazier Creative on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND)
No one is sure why the Vikings stopped travelling to North America. It may have been changes in the weather, politics back home or conflict with the local Indigenous people. In any case, the settlement in Newfoundland was abandoned and became only a story.
The Vikings weren’t the only ones to spend some time at L’Anse aux Meadows. Archaeologists have found evidence of five different Indigenous groups having been in the area before the Vikings, and at least one group after the Vikings were gone. In the 1700s, French fisherman had an outpost there, and finally, in 1835, a permanent village was formed.
Since the World Heritage site was established, L’Anse aux Meadows has become a place to visit to learn more about history. You can go there now to see recreations of the Viking homes and find out about how they lived and travelled.