Vikings in North America?: One of the reasons we choose to spend a month in St. Anthony, Newfoundland, was due to its proximity to L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. After being led to the site by a local resident named George Decker, in 1968 archaeologists Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad confirmed the site to be the Viking settlement of Vinland dating back to 1000 A.D. We knew this place was an amazing learning opportunity that we did not want to miss.
Wind: Our first impression upon approaching the reconstructed Viking buildings was the wind, cold and howling. The younger fives struggled to root their feet in the face of relentless breath ensnaring their every step. The blades of grass on the sod-covered outer walls lay almost flat as the wind gust through, and we expected the feeling in our fingers and noses would not return until long after we got back in the car.
The Door: Unlike everything around it, the door stood firm against the raging wind. We pulled the handle, and instead of the familiar metallic click, a wooden latch slid silently and the door yielded to our pull. We scurried inside and closed the door. The outside world became silent, and our eyes adjusted to see two Vikings seated on fur-covered wooden benches encircling a fire. We took a seat as well, grateful to be warm. No howling, no wind, just deep voices and a glimpse into the wisdom of the past.
Iron Currency: Everything we saw and touched in the hut was hand-made from local materials, just as the Vikings would have done over 1000 years ago. Iron was a precious resource; it took much work and ore to make the small metal bars used for trade, let alone an entire weapon or piece of armor. Each sword and helmet we touched reached back to us, dozens of hands and hundreds of hours forged into the metal itself.
Viking Hygiene: Our Viking hosts prided themselves on their cleanliness. Unlike most other Europeans at the time, Vikings would usually bathe weekly, even in winter, in scalding basins or bracing streams. And hygiene did not stop at a bath. Labor and knowledge were diverted from matters of food and shelter, flowing into caribou antler until only the teeth of a comb remained.
Across the Sea and Back Again: Men and women, sheep and cattle, braved the Arctic seas in search of timber and settled where we stood. Skill with iron and boat-building brought them here but were not enough to allow them to stay. The Vikings did not find an empty continent and encounters with Beothuk and Inuit soon turned to clashes. The swords we held and hands we shook could not fight their way through the roots of those already there, thousands of years and people deep. The ships used for exploring an unknown coast soon were loaded once again with people, livestock, and everything of value to those who called L’Anse aux Meadows home for a several summers and winters. The cycle of our day was at an end as well, and we soon turned to let the winds carry us back home, as the Vikings that stood where we stood did centuries before.