Vinland
Environment Video

Part of the evidence for the location of Vinland comes from studies of natural history and environmental evidence found in archeological sites. Combining these data with evidence from the sagas enables scientists to reconstruct the climate and environment and determine where one might expect to find sites, if the saga descriptions are accurate. The sagas contain a number of believable observations of environmental indicators, such as types of trees, species of fish, length of day, temperature in winter, etc. That the Norse were intent on exploring these resources is shown in the saga statement that "they took specimens of all of them." Environmental scientists and others familiar with climatic zones have been able to piece together the probable location of Vinland from these saga descriptions. However, there are complications in that the Old Norse words in the sagas can be translated a number of different ways, making this method for locating Vinland problematic at best. Also, statements describing "fields of self-sown wheat," "there was no snow at all that winter," and "the livestock needed no fodder during the winter" may have pertained to some but not all locations in Vinland. Descriptions of the animals encountered point towards more northern regions, while plant desciptions fit better with southern locations.

Of Salmon and Dır
Peter's River
Peter's River
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The sagas tell of Vinland being a rich land where salmon ran in the streams, flatfish could be caught in the ocean, and game animals including dır were numerous. Both may provide some information about geographic locations visited by the Vikings one thousand years ago. Environmental scientists know that today salmon spawn in rivers from Maine to Ungava Bay, but very few salmon bones have been found south of New Brunswik. Because salmon like cold water, it is unlikely they were south of Nova Scotia in the warmer conditions of the 11th century. Such evidence suggests that Leifsbudir and Straumfjord, areas where salmon were said to be abundant, were located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or further north, whereas Hóp, which lacked salmon but had many flatfish, must have been further south.

Arctic Resources
Arctic Resources
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Additionally, descriptions of places where a headland was thick with dır and where "the point looked like a large dunghill, as the dır gathered there at night to sleep" aptly describes the dense summer migrations of caribou on the central and northern Labrador coast. Woodland caribou, and deer or moose (alternative translations for the Old Norse word dır) do not congregate in large numbers. This would indicate that most of Vinland was located in northern areas, in the Canadian maritime provinces.

Of Grass and Grapes
In Greenlanders' Saga Leif Eriksson is said to have named 'Vinland' for the rich southern land because of grapes he found growing there. This makes it unlikely that L'Anse aux Meadows could have been the Vinland of the sagas, because grapes have never grown in Newfoundland. Their current northern range is northern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and southern Quebec. Even in the warmer climate of one thousand years ago they never grew in Newfoundland or eastern Quebec. However, grapes do grow in the same sort of climate as butternut trees, and one of the most surprising discoveries at L'Anse aux Meadows were butternuts and pieces of carved butternut wood. Ocean currents could not have carried butternuts or driftwood from these areas to northern Newfoundland, and the nuts are too large to have been carried by birds. They must have been brought back to L'Anse aux Meadows by Vikings explorers, and those same explorers would have also encountered wild grapes.


Vinland
Environment

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The presence of butternuts also helps explain the saga references to grapes, which were supposed to have been found near all of the saga settlements but have never grown in Newfoundland. L'Anse aux Meadows should probably be seen as being in the "northern" Vinland and probably functioned as a "gateway" - a site not too far from Greenland, but also within reach of more productive southern regions where such useful products as nuts, grapes, and other fruits could be obtained.

Some scholars, however, have argued that Vinland meant "grass-land" to signify its suitability for farming and cattle-raising. This hypothesis rests on the fact that the word 'vin' has two possible meanings. Vin (long I) means grapes or wine in Old Norse, whereas 'vin' (short i) means grass or pasture lands in Old German, the European language most closely associated with the Vikings' Old Norse language. The theory that Vinland meant grassy fields found support when L'Anse aux Meadows was discovered in a grassy location far north of lands where grapes could grow. Modern scholars are included to read 'Vinland' as grape land not only because grapes are found in southern portions of this regions but because some saga reference, like Flateyarbók, spell Vinland with a double i (Viinland), whereas pasture land in the Greenlanders' Old Norse would have been vinjaland or vinjarland. In fact, either 'wine land or pasture land' would have conveyed Vinland's bounty. Just as Erik the Red was able to recruit Icelanders to follow him to the 'green' land, Leif's naming of Markland and Vinland "for what they had to offer" would have encouraged others to explore and settle these new lands.

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