Nfld. & Labrador

Viking settlement discovery celebrated

Parks Canada is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the only proven Viking settlement in North America, at one of the most northerly places in Newfoundland
L'Anse aux Meadows features recreations of communal Viking structures built about 1,000 years ago at the tip of Newfoundland.

Parks Canada on Wednesday celebrated the 50th anniversary of the only proven Viking settlement in North America, at one of the most northerly places in Newfoundland.

The grounds at L'Anse aux Meadows are now a national historic site, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But in 1960, people in the small fishing village atop Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula did not know that the overgrown mounds near their houses would be of worldwide importance.

Parks Canada, which owns and protects the land, organized a full day of celebrations Wednesday to mark the discovery of what has proven to be one of North America's most important archeological sites.

Before coming to L'Anse aux Meadows, Norwegian scholar Helge Ingstad had travelled from one Newfoundland outport to the next, looking for signs that Vinland and the other places described in Norse sagas were genuine, and not just the stuff of legend.

On July 21, 1960, local resident George Decker guided Ingstad to a grassy field, telling Ingstad he thought it had been an Indian burial ground.

Ingstad, who would go on to excavate the area for years with his archeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad, knew immediately from the shape of the mounds that Viking buildings had once been erected there.

Over time, the Ingstads and their colleagues collected overwhelming evidence that the site had been settled by Leif Ericsson, who led a Viking expansion around AD 1,000. Scientists believe that the settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows did not last relatively long, and likely only for several years.

Nonetheless, the Vikings left important artifacts behind, including such common items as a knitting needle, workshop tools and a stone oil lamp.

The Ingstads explored the area for eight years with other archeologists continuing the efforts later.

Despite initial skepticism from other scholars, the Ingstads' finds were too important to ignore. In 1978, the United Nations declared L'Anse aux Meadows — which now features recreations of communal Viking structures — a world heritage site.