A “rolly” night crossing the Strait of Belle Isle is behind me. Our expedition leader says it’s a balmy 9 degrees outside, with a sea temperature of 30o C. The wind is 35k.
The day starts with my cabin mate departing for Toronto, via Goose Bay and Halifax. The ceiling is high enough to allow for her flights so I spread out my collection of camera equipment and multiple layers on her bunk. What a luxury! I also find time before preparing for our landing, to find my errant images that are hold up in a file called “stories”. My computer mice are clearly at work again. Who even created this file?
The ship is hovering in Noddy Bay, rather than being at anchor. A little before nine the first zodiacs leave the ship destined for a “wet landing”(…..read …. rubber boots are required. )The hills surrounding the bay are home to a small community that is only minutes by road from L’Anse Aux Meadows. A short bus ride acts as a time machine and before you know it I am in Viking Country.
For centuries, the rolling landscape that surrounds the bay held secrets–secrets that were unearthed by Helge and Anne Stine in 1960. Helge was an explorer and his wife Anne an archeologist. A local farmer, named George Decker, lead Helge to what was known locally as the old Indian camp. Excavation of the undulating mounds, between 1960 and 1968, resulted in the uncovering of a Norse presence in Newfoundland dating from the eleventh century. This is the oldest known European settlement in the New World. For some, L’Anse Aux Meadows is the site of the fabled Vineland, for others it is part of a larger configuration of land that was called Vineland, a country and not a place.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site includes dwellings and workshops for smithies, carpenters and those who repaired ships. Tools found in the bog–nails and rivets– led to these conclusions. As is required by places seeking inclusion as a World Heritage Site, areas of the shore that were of archeological interest were covered with sand and a layer of fresh turf in order to protect possible artifacts.
During the eight years the Stine’s were studying the site, an international team excavated eight Norse buildings. They had walls and roofs of sod that were supported on wooden frames similar to the construction methods used in Iceland and Greenland. In the buildings thought to be used as residences, a long narrow fireplace used for cooking as well as heat and light was situated in the middle of the floor.
Significant to the dating of the site was the discovery of a bronze cloak clasp. Other artifacts included a stone oil lamp, a spindle and a bone needle similar to those used in knitting. In addition, slag from smelting iron boat nails lead to the belief that this was indeed a Norse site inhabited by both men and woman.
Work from 1973-1976 focused on the peat bog below the building terrace.
As I walked the wooden path from the interpretive centre towards the reconstructed Norse buildings, I passed current excavation sites, carefully covered to prevent environmental damage. Groups lead by interpreters huddled together to hear the story of this ancient place. I walk alone and just try to imagine.
I have been here before and it is a privilege to revisit this site and think about the time when Norse children played on the hills and along the shore. My mind floods with memories of that first trip to Newfoundland in 1993. I see in my minds eye, Doug and I holding hands as we walked the dirt path towards the sea. The boardwalk was incomplete. It was sunny and warm that day. A happy time.
Today, I follow the fence line towards the shore. The wind is strong but I am bundled appropriately. I’m thinking that Gortex wins out over hand woven vestments held by ancient clasps. And I remember, that today the wind that blows my hair into a frenzy is an October breeze, and not a arctic blast from the Labrador Sea in mid-January!