About a thousand years ago a remarkable fleet of twenty-five oceangoing Viking ships set sail and departed from north-west Iceland. They carried a motley cargo of men, women, and children-perhaps five hundred persons in all-as well as cattle, sheep, and horses, in addition to provisions, hay, and weapons and tools commonly used in the Viking Age. Standing mournfully beneath the billowing sails, the voyagers saw their homeland slowly disappear below the horizon; mixed feelings of sadness and hope must have prevailed among one and all-for these were emigrants who were leaving Iceland for good and were heading for a completely new country. The country had already been named Greenland. This expedition set out in the year 986 (or possibly 985), and its leader was Eirik the Red. He had originally come to Iceland from Norway but had been declared an outlaw in his new country, whereupon he had sailed his ship westward across the open ocean in order to seek a land which other sailors had barely glimpsed. He became the actual discoverer of Greenland, and he spent three whole years exploring its south-western coasts. Following his return to Iceland he took the initiative in organizing this large expedition and assumed leadership of the pioneers who were to colonize the new land. He must indeed have been a remarkable man. The voyage was a hazardous one, through the drift-ice and the stormy seas along the coasts of Greenland. Fourteen ships arrived at last in the south-western part of the island; the rest were either shipwrecked or forced to turn back. The newcomers settled along strips of land in the shadow of the great inland glacier and prepared for a new life. They constructed their dwellings from stones and turf; the men fished, and hunted caribou and seals with bows and arrows or with harpoons, while the women tended the cattle and kept busy with spinning and weaving and other household chores. Two separate settlements came into being: the so-called Eastern Settlement (Eystribyggo) on the south-west coast of Greenland, and the Western Settlement (Vestribyggo) somewhat farther north. A community emerged, an independent republic was set up, and the population increased. This Greenlandic society existed for almost five hundred years-then the people completely vanished. Their fate has remained a mystery to this day. (Helge Instad, WESTWARD TO VINLAND: The Discovery of Pre-Columbian Norse House-sites in North America, (translated from Norwegian by Erik J. Friis) Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1969:15)
Around 1540 a German merchant ship, blown into these now inhospitable waters by gales, came cautiously up a Greenland fiord. Islands complicated it; on some, Eskimoes lived, and these the skipper, Jon, decided to ignore. He landed at last on an island heavy with the silence of solitude. Above the shore, however, he saw buildings, half-ruined but familiar, buildings like those he had seen often in Iceland: fish-sheds, drying houses for fish, dwellings for men. Before them, a man lay, the woollen hood on his head covering his features as he curled face-down in the dirt. Sealskin and woollen clothes covered him. A knife lay beside him, curved, the blade worn by years of use and sharpening. At the feet of these astonished sailors he rested there in the long inertia of the dead - they the last European visitors to Greenland's Viking colony, he the last Greenland Viking anyone would ever see. (Peter Brent, THE VIKING SAGA, Tinling, Prescott, 1975: 213)
Did the Greenland Vikings simply fade away, or was there more to their story and more to the Viking Sagas in addition? It would seem that there was far more. In fact sufficient evidence exists to suggest that the last Vikings triumphed over the hardships of the Northwest Passage, and that the legendary lands of the Viking Sagas - Helluland, Markland and Vinland - are located on the West Coast of North America, not the East. Helluland extending from Etolin Island in Alaska south past the Bella Coola region of British Columbia; Haida Gwai (Queen Charlotte Islands) more than meeting the technical requirements for Markland, with British Columbia's Duncan and the Cowichan Valley in the south-east corner of Vancouver Island providing the most logical technical fit for Vinland itself.
THE LOST VIKINGS
Strictly speaking, the term "Viking" belongs to an earlier, more violent time than that associated with the mysterious demise of the Norse settlements in Greenland. Viking is retained here for simplicity and general continuity, but either way there can be little doubt that there is a mystery concerning the sudden departure of the Vikings from the Western Greenland Settlement; indeed Helge Ingstad makes this point clear in a summary of later voyages to Greenland and beyond:
The Annals of the learned Bishop Isle Odds-on for the year 1637, which are based on old sources, say about 1342: ' The inhabitants of Greenland voluntarily left the Christian faith and turned to the American people.' This sentence may refer to a Norse emigration to North America, and this is the opinion of the great Norwegian historian P. A. Munch. The Icelandic Annals for the year 1347 record the fate of the ship from Greenland that had been to Markland (Labrador) and was driven by storms to Iceland. Around the year 1350 the deputy bishop of Greenland, Ivar Bfirdarson, ' journeyed to the Western Settlement in order to drive out the 'Skraelings'. When he arrived he found the entire settlement deserted of people, and only ownerless horses and cattle. There is no mention of any traces of a struggle with the Eskimoes, and it is also obvious that the latter in such a case would have slaughtered the horses and the livestock for the sake of the meat. There seems little doubt that the people who lived in the Western Settlement had emigrated and had only left behind them the animals for which there was no room in the ships. But where did the people of the Western Settlement go? If their destination was Norway or Iceland, it is probable that their first stop would have been the Eastern Settlement. If so, the leader of the Church, Ivar Bfirdarson, and the rest of the people would have known about this exodus, and his own voyage northward to the Western Settlement would never have been undertaken. The most likely explanation is that the people of the Western Settlement emigrated to North America. For the year 1355 there is recorded an expedition which was quite extraordinary in many ways and which was initiated by Magnus Eiriksson, king of Norway and Sweden. He authorized Paul Knutsson of Onarheim to fit out an expedition to Greenland. This was only a few years after the ship mentioned above had come to Bergen from Markland (1347) and it is possible that it had a valuable cargo on board. But that is all the information we have about the Paul Knutsson expedition. We can only conjecture that its objectives may also have included a visit to the shores of North America. In 1516 the Norwegian archbishop Erik Valkendorf planned an expedition to Greenland, and for that purpose he took steps to collect information about conditions in that far-away land. In his notes we are told that there were black bear and marten in that country. A similar and quite independent piece of information appears in a work by Absalon Pedersen Beyers in 1567. He relates that in Greenland there were sable, marten, deer, and huge forests; but none of these are, in fact, found in Greenland, and the black bear is not even to be found in Norway. (Helge Ingstad, WESTWARD TO VINLAND, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, 1969:94-95)Here it becomes necessary to suggest that if uncertainties exist today they are more likely caused by prevailing images of blundering, plundering Vikings and a millennium of anti-Viking propaganda than anything else. In the same vein, in spite of the odd runic discovery (e.g., The Kensington Stone) that imply an infrequent, stumbling and bumbling presence in North America, it is suspected that Viking activities were not only more widespread on this continent, but also far more benevolent. It is further suggested that the Vikings did not come to change, tithe and terrify, but brought with them something more fundamental in terms of an unswerving world view that was increasingly at odds with Christianity. Thus if the Vikings did leave Greenland en masse it was at least in part because little choice remained if they were to maintain their fundamental freedoms and their own religious beliefs, as indeed outlined by Charles W. Moore in The Mystery of the Mandans(1998):
Eric Thorwaldsson, better known as "The Red," founded two separate colonies of expatriate Icelanders on Greenland's southwest coast in 986. The larger and more southerly, "Eastern," settlement eventually numbered some 3,000 souls (c. 1,100), while the "Western" settlement, 300 miles to the northwest in the region of present day Godthaab, never grew to more then 300-350 population. Lief Ericsson's introduction of Christianity to Greenland in 999 resulted in 16 churches eventually being built throughout the two settlements. The cathedral at Gardar was said to have been a fine edifice; its surviving foundation shows that it was 84' long and 60' wide. The bishop's residence, built after a resident bishop was appointed in 1112 ("Bishop of Greenland and Vinland in partibus infidelum"), was even larger than the cathedral. By 1340, nearly all of the Western Settlement's 190 farms had been expropriated by the Church in lieu of payments for indulgences, special masses for the departed, etc. The once free and independent Greenlanders were reduced to the status of serfs and tenant farmers on their own former holdings. In 1342 the Western Settlement apparently decided en masse to clear out for parts unknown An ancient account says:
"The inhabitants of Greenland fell voluntarily away from the true faith and the Christian religion, and after having given up all the good manners and true virtues, turned to the people of America ('ad Americae populos se converteunt' ) Some say that Greenland lies away near the western lands of the world."
At the time, Magnus Eriksson, a devout and zealous Christian, was king of Norway and Sweden. In 1347, King Magnus donated a large sum of money the Greenland Cathedral, and was less than enchanted when, a year later, a ship with 17 Greenlanders arrived in Bergen bearing news of the Western Settlement's disappearance. In 1354 Magnus commissioned Paul Knutson, a judge and member of the Royal Council, to mount an expedition to search for the fugitive Greenlanders and restore them to the true Christian faith. Knutson chose an elite cohort of men, Norse and Swedes, and set sail to the west in a knarr (royal trading vessel). Some speculate that Bishop Gislrikt of Bergen, an Englishman, may have recommended Nicholas of Lynn, an English Franciscan friar famous as an astronomer, to Knutson as a navigator. Surviving members of the Knutson expedition returned to England and Norway in 1363 or 1364 with Ivar Bardson, a priest from Greenland. Nicholas of Lynn presented himself to the kings of England and Norway with a written account of a voyage to the northern seas entitled Inventio Fortunata.At which point it seems relevant to return to the question at hand, i.e., why the Greenland Vikings departed when they did, where they might have gone, and what they may have attempted to accomplish in doing so. But these are undoubtedly complex issues, for in essence there are three parts to the story--the first commencing around 1000 CE with the arrival of the Vikings on the west coast of Greenland and L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The second concerns the intervening three hundred and fifty years or so of settlement, the end of which happens to coincide with the end of the Medieval Warm Period and the onset of the Little Ice Age, and the last from about 1350 CE (the time of disappearance of the Vikings from the Western Settlement) until the end of Norse occupation ca.1500 CE.
Figure 1b. The Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age and Northwest Passage.
(For more on Arctic Warming, its consequences, and 2002 transit of the Tall Ship Sedna IV, see
The ARCTIC MISSION Cyberdocumentary.)
The deteriorating climate is now generally believed to have been the major factor responsible for the demise of the Greenland Vikings, but even so nagging questions remain. This confirmation of the effects of climate is the result of a recent interdisciplinary study that combined the specialities of anthropologists, archaeologists, botanists, chemists, glaciologists, entomologists, historians, paleo-ecologists, pathologists and physicists, some of whom had spent decades working on the problem. Condensed conclusions from the study were released in 1999 as the the second part of the SECRETS OF THE DEAD television documentary series. The segment in question -- Lost Vikings of Greenland -- was introduced as follows:
The writings of Ivar Barteson, an emissary from Norway, may provide some clues. He tells of traveling to the colony only to find its homesteads abandoned and wild farm animals wandering the streets. What had happened to the Vikings who had farmed this harsh land for nearly four hundred years? Excavations of bones from the cemeteries and clothing found preserved in permafrost hint that the settlers may have met a terrible end.. Pathological analysis of their remains shows that many Vikings suffered from middle ear disease, a sign of declining health. An overpopulation of young adult females in cemeteries points to a famine or plague in the community. But there are even more troubling signs of what led to the colony's demise. Butchered hunting dog remains suggest the settlers suffered from desperate hunger; fossilized flies show that many died at home. Now polar ice core samples and tooth enamel analysis have led some scientists to a startling new theory. Did this lost colony of Vikings succumb to a mini-Ice Age?Towards the end of the program the study concluded:
From the stones, ice and meadows of Greenland the tragic story of the lost Vikings has finally come to light. Scientists have pieced together an amazing tale of failure. It seems the trigger for the Vikings' downfall was a deterioration of the climate. Ice core samples that the mini-ice age enveloped them, ultimately causing their crops to fail and their cattle to starve. In the cold the peoples' health began to falter. Malnourished and weakened by ear and upper respiratory infections, young women and children began to die. The bleak history investigators have constructed tells that in desperation Viking elders finally did try to follow the hunting and fishing techniques of the Inuit, but through ignorance or the dictates of an all-powerful Church, they learned too little too late...Amplification on the last aspect was provided by anthropologist Thomas McGovern and historian Judith Jesche who explained further that:
We can easily see scenarios where the Church's interest in limiting contact between these two cultures and regulating strongly could have had a really chilling effect in terms of effective interaction and effective learning between these two different cultures. There certainly was a barrier maintained between them, it wasn't accidental, it had to have been maintained at some considerable trouble and expense on somebodies' part for a long time. (Thomas McGovern, City University of New York).
There is some evidence that the Church in Greenland held a very fierce grip on the people there in the 14th century. As well as collecting tithes from farms, the church also imposed an export tax, which may have lead to a decline in incomes from farming. We also know that many of the hunting rights in Greenland belonged to the Church, so although there was abundant whales, reindeer and polar bear, people could only hunt these creatures with the permission of the bishop. (Judith Jesche, Director of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham)These factors necessarily have a bearing on the crucial question of why the Greenland Vikings failed so completely to adapt to the changing climate, a situation that was perhaps exacerbated by the monopoly over the Greenland trade imposed by the Christian king of Norway after 1294 (i.e., trade confined to Norwegian ships manned by Norwegian crews.) But given that the Norse were supposedly Christianized centuries earlier and the Greenlanders were becoming increasingly more isolated, it is surprising to learn that Viking opposition to the Catholic church remained strong well into the twelfth century. In fact, even when the Greenlanders' own voyages eastward from Greenland underwent a period of decline, those into the Mediterranean were a different matter altogether, i.e., Viking voyages:
both westward by way of Russian rivers and the Black Sea, and eastward by way of the English Channel and the open Atlantic, were so common that, when the Catholic Norwegian King Sigurd, in the twelfth century, sailed with "sixty Viking ships splendidly built after the will of God" on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he encountered another large Viking fleet in the Strait of Gibraltar, which he had to fight to proceed with his own ships on his sacred mission. (Thor Heyerdahl, Epilogue to James Robert Enterline's VIKING AMERICA, Double Day, Garden City, 1972:173 )An opposing fleet that large near Gibraltar could have come from anywhere, and moreover, given the location of the encounter, not necessarily from the Mediterranean or the Black Sea either. Thus there appears to have been continuing conflict between the old and the new, while surprising snippets of information like the above suggest that a few hidden factors may also have contributed to the eventual demise of the Greenland Vikings. All of which is difficult to embrace, let alone track down, again largely because we have only one side of the story from a self-absorbed Church that for centuries would brook neither opposition nor freedom of opinion. As for the Vikings themselves, they seem to have adopted a far more benevolent and adaptable attitude towards others--almost to the point of immersing themselves in whatever cultures they came in contact with. But perhaps this was part of the problem. One of the possibilities concerning the demise of the Greenland Vikings was that they had periodically come under attack from pirates and slavers. Here, as James Robert Enterline has suggested, there lies the darker possibility that such piracy, while not outrightly encouraged, was at least tacitly permitted, although here he differentiates between the populations of the Eastern and Western Greenland Settlements and what became of them. In fact he ends VIKING AMERICA as follows:
I think that at least the Eastern Settlement lost many inhabitants through the agency suggested by Nansen, Stefansson and Ingstad--piracy. As the early Renaissance gave way to more sinister eras and slavery again came to be fashionable, there was just as much demand for blond-haired slaves as black-faced ones. The only important qualifications of a potential slave beyond strength were that he be a non-Christian and have no strong national government to protect him. The many claims that the Greenlanders had drifted away from Christianity into heathendom may have given many a pirate courage to capture and sell them, and the population of the Eastern Settlement could soon have been consumed.As for the eventual demise of the Western Settlement in Greenland, a fourth option to the three offered above may now be added, i.e., that in addition to the Hudson Bay route into the interior of North America, some Greenland Vikings may have proceeded through the Northwest Passage to reach the Pacific Northwest and perhaps places far beyond. Certainly time appears to have been on their side while the imperatives to attempt such a voyage (or series of voyages) also appear to have been both strong and enduring. Nevertheless this remains a tenuous supposition at this stage. But while the Lost Vikings of Greenland study indicated that the climate was indeed a major factor in the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings, it also added that: "there are still some loose ends, some crucial questions the scientists cannot fully explain." In particular, the study called attention to the fact that although those who first investigated the abandonment or exodus from the Western Settlement: "found many skeletons in the graveyards, there were none in the Viking houses."
This process would have had no direct effect, however, on the dispersed people from the Western Settlement or any such from the Eastern. In accounting for the disappearance of these dispersed Norsemen, one must attempt to find out whether or not the simultaneous disappearance of the Thule/Inugsuk culture and the Norsemen is more than coincidental. Central to the question is, of course, the degree of interdependence and the degree of separateness that existed between the two cultures. The acquisition of this knowledge, naturally, will come only after much further field work and excavation. If only as a stimulus for further comment, I can conceive of three theoretically plausible outcomes: 1) that because the Norsemen had to share sea mammal hunting with the Eskimos to supplement an unhealthy all-caribou diet, when changes of whale populations caused difficulties for the Eskimos the Norsemen could no longer be sustained; or 2) that the Norsemen continued westward, eventually passing into the real Asia and ultimately back to Scandinavia; or 3) that the Norsemen became absorbed into the Eskimo race somewhere in the central Arctic and into the Indian race somewhere in the Great Lakes neighborhood.
The latter seems to me the more likely. In any case, the settlements themselves probably had no more European visitors, even pirates, after the 1500s. From that time on, all European interest in the Western Hemisphere was directed farther south, and from then on dispersal into hunting grounds of anyone remaining in the settlements would have been inevitable. And in a dispersed state they could not possibly hope to maintain their Norse identity. They became simply Americans. But the European movement to America which they had started has lived on. They deserve credit for it. (Closing paragraphs to James Robert Enterline's VIKING AMERICA, Double Day, Garden City 1972:1963-64)
Scientists suspect that in the face of fierce adversity the last of the Viking colonists in Greenland opted to take refuge on warmer, more comfortable and friendlier shores. They may have tried to return to Norway, their ancestors' original homeland; they may even have struck out for America. But whatever their intended destination, they first had treacherous seas to cross. Whether the last of the Greenland Vikings drowned at sea, ventured all the way to the American continent or successfully returned to Norway, it is clear that their legacy here is one of failed adaptation. These Vikings depended on a social system that lacked flexibility--one that worked at a certain place at a certain time, but could not change. Instead of adapting and surviving the face of a deteriorating climate and an environment that no longer supported the population, it appears the Greenland Vikings succumbed to their own rigidity and disappeared from History.Whether the final disappearance around 1500 CE was entirely the result of their own rigidity or a combination of factors beyond their control is not entirely clear, as the study takes pains to point out. But in any case, there is also the lengthy interval leading up to the disappearance starting from time of Eirik the Red around 1000 CE when the issue of religious freedom had perhaps already been hardened by the latter's outright rejection of Christianity. Not that there was much choice, given that "Convert of Die" were the only options available in Scandinavia, Iceland and shortly thereafter, Greenland itself. But there was one other option available (albeit a bold and drastic one) for those with the will, the way and the means-- to move to a new place beyond the controls and strictures of the Church itself. But was there something else in addition, for how strong were the Vikings' own convictions and beliefs, and how long had their opposition to Christianity endured? And, crucially, just how much of the information concerning the Vikings and their voyages to Iceland and Greenland have come down to us as the impartial truth, given that from about 1000 CE onwards the Church exerted a strong controlling influence over just about all subsequent written Viking history?
THE SAGAS AND
This consideration unfortunately influences our understanding of the material provided in the Icelandic Sagas, especially Eirik the Red's Saga and the Greenlander's Saga, though even here there are differences between extant versions; see for example, the treatment by Gwyn Jones: Eirik the Red's Saga: The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland and America (the version of choice used here) and the shorter Modern History Sourcebook variant: The Discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson, c. 1000 from The Saga of Eric the Red, 1387. Moreover, given that the Sagas were written centuries after the "fact," even if those who recounted them were impartial Norse scholars, the transition from oral tradition to the written word could still have suffered in translation or have been subjected to later alterations. Then there remains a further possibility-- that those who recounted the Sagas were aware of the Church's hostility to the extent that they incorporated minor deflections and obfuscations of their own as a protective measure, including false trails designed to misdirect the Church for as long as possible. To which must be added the other side of the coin--that the Church itself fed in obfuscations of its own, especially perhaps, to divert attention away from the benevolent side of the matter. Thus distracting references to Christianity on one hand and descriptions of hostilities with the "Skraelings" on the other to imply that the Vikings had little real contact or made any real incursions into North America, even though they undoubtedly had the means, the motives and almost half a millennium to do so. But even here the reader should be forewarned that are further complications that exist concerning the traditional Viking lands (Helluland, Markland and Vinland) and these too need to be factored into the equation (see "The Greenland Duality" in Part III).
On another level and from a different viewpoint it is likely that the Church would have already been antagonistic towards the Vikings because of past transgressions, let alone the unrepentant activities of Vikings it could neither control nor convert after 1000 CE. Then there is the question of the Vikings' themselves taking positive action in addition to simply departing for points unknown, i.e., the possible dissemination of their own opposing philosophy. Although this side of the matter suffers from uncertainties as well as the passage of time, we might still ask what the Greenland Vikings might have taken with them as an antidote and an inoculation against the self-serving dogmatism that was about to be unleashed on the "New" world. This depends to some extent on how the situation was perceived by the Norse themselves. Perhaps benevolent contact involving the exchange of skills--necessary knowledge of specific niches for themselves in exchange for such skills as improved techniques for working with cold copper, and/or additional elements of weaving where the resources were available and period of contact lengthy enough. A sensibly balanced relationship among sensible balanced peoples, with the choice to participate always that of the native peoples themselves. Thus partners, not conquerors, with mutual respect an integral component of the relationship. To which might have been added a strong reliance on verbal communications and symbols that reinforced rather than opposed local native wisdoms, and also their own genes--not that the matter was necessarily genetic per se -- but rather as a strengthening of the gene pool which at the same time might provide assistance for generations to come.
In such circumstances it may well be difficult to follow the trail left by the Vikings, especially in terms of recovered artifacts and Viking settlements since their policy might well have been more a matter of immersion than domination and not necessarily the establishment of any permanent presence at that. But remaining with those cultures that relied mostly on verbal communications some indicators may still exist, such as the awareness of Pacific Northwest Indians that: "SUN, source of life and suspended in the sky because Raven put it there.... is the spirit of the center of the solar system." (Joseph F. Wherry, The Totem Pole Indians, Funk & Wagnalls, New York, 1964:88). Here the widespread distribution of Raven and related stories are such that one might suggest that wherever they occur the Vikings themselves may have passed by. Certainly the mythology is found in both the Canadian Arctic and the Pacific Northwest, and moreover, the spiral form itself is often associated with the Sun, and this too is found in the latter region, though not predominantly.
Figure 2. Rising land; falling sea levels on Ellesmere Island.
An RCMP ship (the St. Roche II captained by Ken Burton) has crossed through the fabled Northwest Passage – an area that has stranded mariners of the past in its icy grip for years at a time – in just three weeks, going for days on end without seeing any ice at all.... The vessel’s oddly calm trip through one of marine history’s most feared routes has raised new questions about whether global warming is to blame for the changing climate in the Arctic.... the ship’s relatively flat bottom allowed it to travel through narrow ice-free areas as shallow as two metres that larger boats could not... ‘Essentially we didn’t see any ice at all, which I found startling and alarming,’ Burton said. ‘I didn’t in my wildest dreams expect to be able to navigate through ice-free waters.’ Burton and his crew expected to encounter more ice than they did, which put them ahead of schedule. With more time on their hands, they journeyed as far north as 75 degrees – about 200 kilometres further north than planned, and within 1,000 nautical miles of the north pole. ‘We were north of Resolute [ on one of Canada’s most northern islands ] and still sitting in an ice-free ocean.’ (Chad Skelton, “Northwest Passage voyage no longer an ice-filled ordeal,” The Vancouver Sun, September 11, 2000).The location of the town of Resolute mentioned above? North of Lancaster Sound and also near the upper (Jones Sound) route shown on Map 2c below, which perhaps also serves to emphasize the significance of Viking activities further north on eastern Ellesmere Island -- the Bache and Knud Peninsula regions especially. Moreover, the continuing warming trends have already had a profound effect on the Northwest Passage, i.e., it was further reported that:
In the summer of 2000, (Ken) Burton gingerly nosed a 20-metre aluminum patrol boat into the heart of the Northwest Passage. Ice floes could crumple the boat like paper. Even the smallest iceberg, a growler, could rip apart its delicate hull. But there were no bergs. No growlers. No thin cakes of pancake ice. To his surprise, Burton found no ice at all. A mere 1,500 kilometres south of the North Pole, where previous explorers had faced sheets of punishing pack ice, desperation and finally death, Burton cruised past emerald lagoons and long sandy beaches. Crew members stripped and went swimming. Burton whipped through the passage, "not hurrying," in a mere 21 days. "We should not, by any measure, have been able to drive an aluminum boat through the Arctic," said Burton, still astonished and just slightly disappointed. "It was surreal."
It was also a glimpse of the future. For several summers now, vast stretches of the Northwest Passage have been free of ice, open to uneventful crossings by the flimsiest of boats. Climate experts now blandly predict what once was unimaginable: In 50 years or less, the passage will be free of ice throughout the summer, a prospect that could transform the region and attract a flotilla of cruise ships, oil supertankers and even U.S. warships. "It's something no one would have dreamed up for our lifetime," said Lawson Brigham, deputy director of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and former captain of the U.S. Coast.
(Usha Lee McFarling, "Navigating ‘ Panama Canal North ’, " The Vancouver Sun, Jan 30, 2003, emphases supplied)
At which point it is requisite to suggest that far from being incapable of handling the rigours of the Northwest Passage, under relatively ice-free conditions Viking ships may in fact have been inordinately well-suited to the task. Under such conditions the combination of extremely low draught, flexible construction, light weight, manouverability, the dual capability to proceed under sail or oars all favour the eventual (if not continual) transit of the Passage. As for the ships themselves, some of the more notable features shown below include not only the remarkably shallow draughts of Viking ships, but also the relatively large crews. The latter, in addition to their oarsmen duties would also be available for other labour-intensive tasks as required, including manouvering the ships over land, sea or ice, and also -- should the need arise -- inverting the hulls to provide temporary or semi-permanent shelters (a concept explored by Farley Mowatt in 1999; for further details see Part V: The Copper Canoe).
"In some years now, you can do the Northwest Passage almost in a rowboat," (said the Canadian Ice Services Lionel Hache.) ....To those who have been watching the passage, it seems only a matter of time before all manner of ships, from supertankers to sailboats, start transiting these once formidable waters. (Usha Lee McFarling, "Navigating ‘ Panama Canal North ’, " The Vancouver Sun, Jan 30, 2003, emphases supplied)
Table 1. Selected Viking Ships
Notes: Skuldelev Ship Data from The Viking Ship Museum; Roskilde Ship Data from Ove Långe's Ship Index.
Emphases suppplied for the largest known Viking Ship (Roskilde 6) and the two large Viking "Burial" ships, the
"Oseberg" and "Gokstaad." See the western location of the two large stone "longhouses" in Map 2c below; for
the dimensions of the latter and additional information see Part 5.
"made slow progress the whole summer through. Next sickness broke out in their company, and Orm died, as did Halldis his wife, and half their ship's company. A big sea got up, and they suffered great hardship and misery of all kinds, yet with it all reached Herjolfsnes in Greenland right at the start of winter. (Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1964; emphases supplied)Not that any of this is simple or straightforward in any case, i.e., there are additional complications arising out of such things as the "Greenland Duality" for example; but returning to the Northwest Passage itself even now there are a surprisingly number of indicators of a Viking presence in both the Canadian High and Low Arctic regions as shown in Map 2c:
Map 2c. The Northwest Passage, Viking Indicators, Stone Cairns, and Western Stone Longhouses
The discovery of the site at L'Anse aux Meadows has not ended the debate for the location of Vinland. Viking artifacts have been found at a dozen or more sites throughout eastern Canada. The norse penny has been found as far south as Maine. The findings fit a pattern if we think of L'Anse aux Meadows as a jumping off place–a base for exploration, trade or hunting parties. They were not temporary landings. They were meant as a winter base where you could go exploring during the summer, and then return late in the fall to spend the winter here where you were safe, and then continue to Greenland the next summer. One reason they needed a base like this was that the sailing season even in the slightly warmer Eleventh Century was quite short when you have to start out from Greenland. So, if they had to go and come back to Greenland in one summer, they wouldn't have time to go much farther than that. (emphases supplied.)Even so, it is difficult to see how anyone could confuse the west coast of Hudson Bay with eastern Canada, nor for that matter, similarly confuse eastern Canada with locations in the High Arctic at or near the half-way point through the Northwest Passage. Needless to say, the last mentioned are precisely the kind of locations that one might reasonably expect from Viking activities in the region with respect to both the Northwest Passage and Greenland, but not necessarily with respect to L'Anse aux Meadows (except under special circumstances; again, see Part V: The Copper Canoe).
Vinland, then, is probably a lot of places–everywhere the Vikings explored. This hasn't stopped thousands of amateur and professional archaelogists from searching for other settlements. ... There are lots of theories placing Leif's lost Vinland in Maine, or New York, or Maryland or the Carolinas; some dissidents think he reached the Amazon. So far L'Anse aux Meadows is the only Viking settlement found.The last point is true enough, of course, but conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the possibilities arising from the "dozen or more sites throughout eastern Canada" referred to above suggest something quite different--specifically, the early half-completion of the major premise under discussion here, namely Viking transits via the High Arctic routes of the Northwest Passage itself.
One Step Forward, Three Steps
In so much as what is suggested here is as odds with most prevailing viewpoints it has proved necessary to examine why this situation should exist, especially in light of the considerable amount of material that seems to point to a lengthy and early Norse presence in the Americas. Included here (among other things) are widely distributed indicators in the Canadian Arctic, the Pacific Northwest, and to a relatable extent as discussed in Part 6, weaving in both the latter region and the American Southwest. To which may also be added further complications that may or may not owe their origins to the same mandate that was likely responsible for so much misdirection, the destruction of Non-Christian records and artefacts in the "New World" and obfuscations such as the "Greenland Duality" discussed in Part III. Closely related to the last subject are its effects on how the Greenland Trade may be perceived, the ways in which the Norse Sagas may be interpreted, and also the question of just how much knowledge was both held and lost during the interval under consideration ( 800 CE to 1500 CE ). This interval is based at the lower limit of the Viking Age ( 800-1100 CE ), the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings at the upper, and the times generally allotted to both the Greenland/Vinland Sagas and the establishment of the Viking settlement at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland--both ca.1000 CE. The related timetable provided below is largely a reduced composite from Edward F.Gray's Leif Eriksson Discoverer of America A.D. 1003 (1929, 1972) and Tryggi J.Oleson's Early Voyages and Northern Approaches 1000-1632 (1963:202). The latter author also cautions that the chronology of the Vinland voyages is itself: "difficult to establish except with a margin of error of, in some cases, five to ten years. The dates assigned are thus often only approximate."
1. Source: Tryggi J.
Between 19I9 and 1927, a heated debate appeared in the pages of the Spokane Chronicle and Spokesman Review newspapers concerning the origin of Columbia Plateau rock art. No fewer than two dozen published articles expounded the views of Professor Oluf Opsjon, who argued vigorously that the carvings and paintings were runes documenting the exploration and colonization of the Plateau by Vikings at about A.D. 1000.But what Keyser did not mention was Prof. Opsjon's 1920s hypotheses also included a voyage to the Pacific Northwest via the Arctic Ocean, thus unequivocally a Viking transit of the Northwest Passage itself (see: Isselstein, Karl H, "Old Norse Grave"; Fate, 62 May, 1955:117-120). More recently, in his 1995 publication Norwegians in the Northwest: Settlement in British Columbia 1858-1918 (Runestad, Victoria 1995:261-276) Eric Faa gave a comparison between Norway and British Columbia and in conclusion also provided a broad comparison between the Vikings and Northwest coast Indians.
Vikings and the Pacific
These complications and problems notwithstanding, in terms of the Pacific Northwest the present investigation of Norse incursions deals more with signs of benevolent contact than diffusion per se, and not on a massive scale at that. Nor in most cases is there any attempt to embrace origins; rather, the intention is to assess whether traces of a Viking presence exists by assembling a tool-kit and searching for evidence of its use, before, through and beyond the Northwest Passage. Here again there is no attempt to explain cultural traits in direct terms of Viking contact, the effect may well have been subtle and also transitory. Nevertheless, it appears that signs and traces do occur in the Pacific Northwest, and where researchers have meticulously recorded matters not readily explained in the expected cultural context, these too appear applicable. The impact of a Viking presence is also considered in terms of myths and legends; again not so much the origins per se, but rather the possible influence and modification of traditions already in place.
(Source: PLANT TECHNOLOGY of the First Peoples of British Columbia, Nancy J.Turner,
Figure 3. " Vinland's " Tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
Map 9. The Western Viking Lands: Helluland, Markland and Vinland
.... It's a success story that has tilled the way for a wine-making boom on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, where there now are 17 licensed wineries and a cidery, five more wineries in development and plans to double the number of hectares in production from about 105 to more than about 202 over the next few years, according to figures provided by the Vancouver Island Vintners Association (VIVA).
The majority of the wineries – 12 of the 23 – are located here, in the Cowichan Valley, while the rest are scattered from Saanich to Nanaimo to Saltspring Island.
(Lindsay Kines, “South island wine industry booms,” The Vancouver Sun, April 19, 2003, p. C1; emphases supplied).
Last summer I clocked 1,600 kilometres in 10 days of exploring British Columbia's other important wine region—Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The surprise is how many wineries have opened since 1992, when Vigneti Zanatta near Duncan was the first winery to open on the island since Jordan & Ste-Michelle moved from Victoria to Surrey in 1978 [ and then closed ].
Today, the islands comprise two separate appellations with a total of 44 wineries plus several under development. That is more than there were in the Okanagan a decade ago. The largest number of wineries is in the Cowichan Valley, around Duncan. There are smaller clusters on the Saanich Peninsula, on Saltspring Island, on Hornby Island and around Courtenay; and individual producers elsewhere, in surprising locations like Port Alberni, Sooke and Quadra Island.
While some island wineries buy Okanagan grapes, many rely just on island vineyards to produce wines expressing the island terroir. The grape varieties best suited to cool growing conditions here, such as Ortega, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Marechal Foch, produce wines distinctively different from those grown in the Okanagan. The whites are crisp and more aromatic while the reds are brighter and leaner.
Some of the winemakers believe they can take on any wine region. The goal of Andy Johnston, the owner of Averill Creek Winery at Duncan, is to make the best Pinot Noir in Canada. Several of his competitors believe they are giving him a run, though.
Sparkling wines, always the specialty at Zanatta, now are emerging as a major island wine category at such producers as Starling Lane, Rocky Creek and Venturi-Schulze. The only surprise is that it took most of the wineries the better part of two decades to recognize their Champagne potential. Church & State, after struggling to make table wine from its Saanich vineyard, has taken on a consultant to make superior sparkling wine.
There is more to the islands than grape wines. Two producers, Tugwell Creek and Middle Mountain, pioneered mead making. Merridale Estate Cidery, which has a destination restaurant, and Sea Cider make authentic apple ciders.
The signature fruit on the islands used by fruit wineries and many others is the blackberry. Cherry Point Estate Wines at Duncan pioneered blackberry port. No island wine tour is complete without tasting this rich, luscious berry wine.
(John Schreiner, “Islands have their own Flavour: Regional soil yields a distinctive product,” The Vancouver Sun, Saturday June 17, 2011). See the Bibliography for John Schreiner's BC Coastal Wine Tour Guide, Whitecap Books, 2011 and additional works on British Columbia's flourishing Wine Industry in this region.
2021 UPDATE. For current information on Vancouver Island's Wineland take a tour of the Cowichan Wineries, and in the same wise visit Duncan itself.
Introduction to The Last Viking [ Current selection ]
Part 1. Viking Press and
Part 2. West by Northwest
Part 3. Three Steps Back
Part 4. Symbols and Markers
Part 5. The Copper Canoe
Part 6. The Warp and the Weave
Part 7. Helluland, Markland and Vinland
Maps: Partial Map Listing forThe Last Viking
Postscript 1: A Fir Tree of the Mind (pdf)
Postscript 2: RongoRongo and the Raven's Tail
OTHER: Easter Island Stone Structures
Copyright © 1999. John N. Harris,
Updated on August 12, 2021.