Nothing can bring the past to life like costumed historic interpreters surrounded with the personal goods and tools of an earlier age. Artefacts that seem puzzling when seen in a museum exhibit or book suddenly become clear when seen in actual use, or in placed directly in your hand. Your questions are answered when you can speak directly with someone acting as a 'voice from the past'.
Some 1000 years ago, the first Europeans to explore North America would travel from Greenland to what they called Vinland (modern day Newfoundland). These Norse of the Viking Age were not the raiders of legend, but instead farmers, fishermen and bold sailors. At today's L'Anse aux Meadows, at the tip of the Northern Peninsula, they built sturdy turf walled houses to over winter, and most certainly explored further into the Gulf of St Lawrence region.
The Dark Ages Recreation Company (DARC) is inviting those interested in history to come visit us as we illustrate daily life during the Viking Age. This special presentation is hosted by Parks Canada, as an extension of its regular living history programing at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the site of 'Leif's Houses' by Helge and Anna Stine Ingstad. A featured event over DARC's 10 day presentation will be reconstruction and firing of the original iron smelting furnace (Saturday August 21).
Who are DARC?
The Dark Ages Re-creation Company was formed in 2000. Members of DARC are drawn from throughout Central Ontario, and are serious amateur living history enthusiasts, most with decades of experience. DARC has provided skilled and well equipped interpreters for special programs for all of the major events and exhibitions that marked the 'Viking Millennium' in Canada. No other group of Canadian re-enactors has as much accumulated museum experience. As a group and as individuals, members have worked both throughout Canada and the USA. Personal research has taken members to museums and archaeological sites across Iceland, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. DARC has once again been invited by Parks Canada to come and demonstrate at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC in Newfoundland.
DARC focuses on daily life in the Viking Age. The presentation will centre on a 'camp', with costumed interpreters surrounded by a collection of replica objects consisting of domestic goods, tools, and storage. Individuals will be outfitted with the tools of their various trades and arts, all representing our real interests and skills. (We really are weavers and cooks, blacksmiths and carvers.) All of the objects seen, from clothing to tents, are based on specific artifact prototypes.
To the public, the members of DARC present themselves as actual voices from the past, with shared experiences and direct interactions as a group. Individual members of DARC have prepared detailed characterizations based on their personal research into the Viking Age, developing considerable expertise in specialized areas. These characters are the 'common man': artisans, merchants or farmers typical of the Norse of the North Atlantic circa 1000 AD. Any conversation is likely to begin at this 'role playing' level of historic interpretation. The interpretive level used is then shifted to suit the needs of individual visitors. Some people delight in talking to a character from 1000 years ago, others are more comfortable with more of a modern commentary. The experienced interpreters of DARC are able to handle a wide range of topics and level of detail.
The Althing in Iceland of 1000 was an important one. As always, many disputes were heard and settled, to the gain of some and loss of others. One of the significant decisions made at the Althing was to encourage all Icelanders to accept Christianity. This did not sit well with all. As always, many things were discussed and deals made away from the Speaker's Rock. Some came just to be seen, traders and artisans came to display their wares, seeking customers and commissions at the gathering.
The days of the Landham were long gone, so good (even acceptable) farm land had pretty much all been settled. Knowing this, minor chieftains were becoming less and less likely to even oath to new bondi, and not very generous if they would. The famine years were now just a distant memory to only the oldest Icelanders, but still the land was not as bountiful as it once was. One exciting piece of news at the Althing was that of Eric the Red's new Green Land, and even mention of his son Lief's Vinland, both to the west.
There was a man named Ragnarr Thorbergsson, once from Kaupang in Norway. He had come to Iceland, hoping to improve his status and increase his trading. Now Ragnarr was well known for this weather luck, but not so envied for his luck in travel. His voyages never were outright disasters, but certainly things just never turned out as he boasted they would.
Ragnarr's schemes at the Althing did not worked as he had planned. He was certainly not alone in this. There were recent immigrants to Iceland, and even young families and second sons, all of whom found that there was no chance of good farm land in their future. There were some who felt the conversion to the new religion was just not to their taste. As always, there were those who felt a fresh start in a new land would solve what ever problems that always seemed to plague them.
So Ragnarr, nothing if not shrewd, quickly hired a ship to sail to Greenland. He gathered up a load of the hopeful and disgruntled who would pay him passage against the chance to settle on new farms of their own. As it happened, things didn't go perfectly on the voyage, with the ship blown off course. Like Bjarni before them, they found themselves near Vinland. Knowing the tales freshly told, they found their way to Leif's bu<eth>ir and found some Greenlanders already there. Most were not pleased to find that they would need to lay over the winter before continuing to Greenland in the spring.
This mixed group of farmers and craftsmen, of varied ages and original homelands, now finds themselves stuck together in close quarters in Vinland. They are settling in to the outpost best they can, and trying to help get ready for the winter soon to come. The ship and most of the crew has gone off down the coast to harvest valuable timber, hoping to improve their lot when they finally make it to Greenland.
Planned Daily Activities:
Tent A - Introduction, Trade, Gaming
- Ragnar Thorbergsson / Neil Peterson
Ragnar, who styles himself a man of influence, will welcome you to the Encampment. In his fine tent, he displays a selection of the trade goods he has brought from Iceland and beyond. He also may invite you into a game of hnefatafal (Kings Table).
Tent B - Spring Pole Lathe, Green Woodworking, Music
- Rig Erlisson / Richard Schwetizer
- Grimbold Thorbjornson / David Cox
Rig, a man of considerable energy, has set up a simple spring pole lathe. On hearing wood will be in short supply in Greenland, he is doing his best to take advantage of the timber available in Vinland while here. Using axes and other simple tools, he is splitting out planks and bench tops, and working some pieces up into simple bowls. Son of an Icelandic skald, he also continues his father's tradition in music and Saga telling.
Grimbold is a man with good all round skills in camp. He is likely to be found almost any place an extra set of hands is required.
Main Hall 3 (Men's Workroom) - Wood carving, Leatherworking, Antler & Bone Carving, Music
- Thorgeirr Mikjállson / Marcus Burnahm
- Thorgrimir Gunnarsson / Steve Strang
Thorgir, like many Norse farmers, has many basic skills. Originally from near Jorvik (York) in England, he has brought a better than average set of woodworking tools along to help him establish his new farmstead in Greenland. He also has a well earned reputation as a shoe maker, and repairs keep him busy.
Thorgrimir, one of the older members of the group, is quite well known for his skills as a fine carver in antler and bone. He also is a fine musician, if not quite the teller of tales that Rig is.
Main Hall 4 (Women's Workroom) - Weaving, Spinning, Naelbinding, Tablet Weaving
- Ka∂lín Jónsdottir / Karen Davidson
- Jorunn Roidatter / Josephine Duke
- Audr Grimsdottir / Diane Harper
- Hrobjartr Skegglaus / Robert Schweitzer
Ka∂lin, wife to Ragnar, is an accomplished weaver, and not very happy about the disruption the diversion to Vinland has caused. Even still, she is attempting to organize the women into a team to transform what sheep's fleece is available into useable cloth. She is still trying to get to used to her new warp weighted loom, made from local birch.
Jorunn, accompanied by her youngest daughter Katla, is a typical Norse farm wife. She is often found helping with weaving and spinning, along with all the other varied tasks required around hearth and home.
Audr, as a widow in the somewhat chaotic Erlisson household, contributes many fine textile skills. She prefers to leave the heavier labour of weaving to the younger women, and so is often found spinning, naelbinding (single needle knitting) or sewing. Farm life in Iceland has resulted in her skills in net work as well, which she may be found engaged in over at the Bondi tent.
Hrobjartr, with his fine skills in complex tablet weaving, is often the subject of jokes from the other men. His nickname Skegglau, 'the beardless' being one sign of this. Still, there is no doubting by any that his work producing ornate straps or bands of trim are not of the very highest quality.
Dwelling House - Food Preparation
- Bera Surtrsdøttir / Vandy Simpson
Bera, also called Quick Finger for her skill at weaving, has taken on the task of cooking for the group. She is widely praised for her knowledge and skills in food preparation, but perhaps does wish someone else had that reputation! Despite Vinland being such a remote outpost, there is actually a quite different range of foods available here than there was back in Iceland.
Interior Yard - Domestic Work, Dyeing
- Kadja / Kary Bates
Kadja is the sole female slave in the group, bound to Ketil and Bera. This really does not effect her life all that much sharing as a minor member of the household, save for being last to eat and poorest clothed. Her daily round consists of the heavier domestic tasks such as hauling water and wood, washing clothes and the like. She is also tasked with keeping a low fire under the dye pot.
Bondi Tent - Basketry, Net work
- Aesa / Sarah Scroggie
With her two year old son Emundr to manage, Aesa seems more than normally distracted. Expect to find her often involved with simple children's games. Even still, she is attempting to work some of the local Vinland materials into much needed storage baskets. Living the life of a poorer 'Bondi' (bound man), her accommendations are in sharp contrast to those seen around Ragnar!
Furnace Hut - Iron Smelting
- Ketil Einarsson / Darrell Markewitz
- Grettr Blackhands / Ken Cook
Ketil brings experience as a blacksmith to Vinland, working with Grettr as his assistant. Over the week they will be preparing all the materials, then building an iron smelting furnace. Intended as a test of the local bog ore, firing this furnace to produce a bloom of iron will take an entire day (Saturday 21st).
To expand your understanding of the world of the Norse, a series of specially scheduled demonstrations is planned. These include many activities not part of the cycle of life in Vinland, but still common to the Viking Age. Held mid afternoons, at and around the Visitor's Centre.
Glass Bead Making
It turns out the exact methods used by Norse craftsmen to take pieces of imported glass and make colourfull glass beads are still unknown. Learn with us as we build an operate a charcoal fired furnace and manipulate hot glass.
The Norse were renouned as skilled metal workers. Techniques for casting bronze will be illustrated, and pewter will be cast into soapstone molds in this demonstration.
One of the big changes during the Viking Age was the increased use of silver coins for purchasing, replacing the older barter system in the new trade towns. See how silver pennies were made and discuss just how money was spent 1000 years ago.
Bog Iron Ore
Just what *is* this stuff? Where do you find it? Did you know that the purity of bog iron ore can be estimated by *eating* it? Join us as we hunt along Black Duck Brook, just as the Norse did, looking for some of this valuable resource.
Iron Smelt Evaluation
Many of the details of the production of iron at Vinland by the Norse are unknown. The demonstration smelt by DARC is actually part of an ongoing scientific process. Just what is Experimental Archaeology, and how does it work. On Sunday, August 22, join the DARC smelt team as they record and evaluate the iron smelt of the day before.