As school children we were taught about Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492, but no one told us that the Norse from Scandinavia had been coming to North America for at least five hundred years before then. Today we traveled to L'Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to learn more about it. For hundreds of years Norwegians have been passing down stories of exploration and pillaging that felt more like myths and legends than historical accounts. Archeologists tried to separate out the exaggerations, boasts, and religious gobbledegook and follow up on what seemed to be facts and identify where their ancestors had explored and landed. Their quest started on the shore of Rhode Island and as they worked their way up the North American coast, they look for any signs that would indicate landing sites. When they finally got up here in the 1960's, the locals put them on to an area which they called the fishing camp. Lo and behold, there were many foundations of buildings, wood bits from wood grown in Europe over 1,000 years ago from ships being repaired, pieces of iron, and tool remnants that the indigenous people did not know how to make. A Norse expedition from Greenland had worked its way west, hugging the land whenever possible and put up an encampment here for about ten years. The shells of butternuts which do not grow here, suggest that the Norse made it all the way to New Brunswick. Under Lief Ericsson's leadership, the group of 60-90 people set up turf walled buildings that helped them to survive the winters as they explored the area. Women came along to tend to animals, spin wool, weave woolen sails and forage for food. The film in the visitor center gave a dramatic spin to the story, describing how mankind originated in Africa and migrated east and west over the millennia finally making the full circle when the Norse encountered the aboriginal. (No one knows that this really happened, but it's a great story.)
Today on the site re-enactors walk the walk and talk the talk, dressed in appropriate clothing, singing Norse songs around the fire and spinning wool. Across the road a commercial site called Nørsted dovetails on the UNESCO site with a building housing a full scale replica of a Viking ship, a black smith's forge, a wooden chapel and a spinning and weaving building. People use the terms Viking and Norse interchangeably, but the Norse were only Vikings when they were in pirate mode. The ships used here were built to transport goods. Both sites felt very authentic and well done and we would have enjoyed them immensely if it weren't pouring rain and 52º the entire time we were there.
In the evening we went to another sod hut for a Viking dinner show. We got to eat all of our new favorites things: cods' tongues, capelin, jiggs dinner, moose stew, cod casserole, etc. After the feast a viking emcee ran a sort of trial by jury. We were all the jury and some in our group became defendants. We indicated guilt or innocence by pounding on the table.