Mission Statement / 1996

The Norse Encampment will provide a unique educational resource within the larger framework of the L Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. It will portray an ethnographical study of the Norse in North America, circa 1000 AD. Specifically, the reenactment will represent aspects of daily life as it would have been carried out at at the Vinland outpost and to provide insights into the larger framework in Norse culture in general. The presentation will be centred within the recreated turf buildings and adjacent compound. A number of reproduction artifacts will be introduced: cooking gear, tools, navigation equipment and household goods like beds and chests. The staff will be made up of costumed interpreters who will portray historic characters. Small scale physical demonstrations of domestic and craft skills will be undertaken throughout the day. The intent of this reenactment is to provide the public an opportunity learn in an interactive atmosphere about an early phase of Canadian History, i.e. the Norse presence in Eastern Canada. The Encampment will also provide an opportunity for research into technologies of this period, employing experimental archaeology, and present these to the general public. Critical evaluation by the Project Coordinator, Chief Guide, Staff Archaeologist and Interpretive Staff of the approaches and content, made on an ongoing basis, will provide guidance for future improvements and expansion.


The objects that make up the camp are all based on artifacts from Norse Northern Europe, dating from 800 - 1000 AD. Written sources utilised in the design of this program included both popular and scholarly publications, period sagas and commentaries, as well as primary archaeological reports. First hand examination of as large a number of original artifacts as possible proved crucial to the reproduction process. Because of the random events that effect what items will survive from so long ago, it was proved necessary to study a number of archeological sites. L Anse aux Meadows itself has yielded a mere handful of artifacts. There has been relatively little material found in Iceland, and even less in Greenland, perhaps because of the marginal nature of these communities. For these reasons, some assumptions had to be made about the types of equipment that would have been available to the Vinland expedition. Further, some individual items have been introduced that may not have actually been physically present at L Anse aux Meadows. This has been done where the inclusion of such items provides insight to the nature of Norse culture in general. Most of the larger pieces are based on the grave goods found in the Oseberg ship from Norway, which dates to the early 800s. Many of the smaller items are based on the profusion of everyday artifacts found at Coppergate in York, England, and Woods Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Both of these are town sites, and date to the late 900s. The selection of tools is primarily derived from those found at Mastermyr, Norway, dated c. 1150 AD.


The artifacts chosen for reproduction will represent an amalgamation of items from those disparate locations listed above. The items chosen are all of common types, widely used throughout the duration and geographical spread of the Viking Age. Some pieces are detailed reproductions of specific historic artifacts. Others are designs based on a combination of period samples. It should be noted that it cannot be proven that this exact selection of goods was in fact used at any specific location at any given time. It is felt, however, that the selection is reasonable, within the general context of Norse culture and custom. A number of factors will be considered during the production of the artifacts. Many of the raw materials utilised are modern substitutions, because of availability, cost, or time constraints. Extensive use of period type tools and technologies, and hand forming techniques in general will be utilised during the production phase. Generally, these items can be considered to be fulfilling the intermediate level of experimental archaeology, where both form and function of the originals has been duplicated. In the forming of the iron objects, modern mild and carbon steels were substituted for the wrought iron used for the originals. All standard commercial stocks have been hammered to dress them. Wherever possible, the wooden objects are made of similar species as the originals. Rough cut planks from a commercial sawmill are surface dressed to produce the required boards (rather than being quarter split from logs). Although time and economic constraints required the use of a number of modern commercial fabrics for the costumes, care was taken in their selection to conform to period types. Other objects specially created with extensive use of hand fabrication techniques include: leather boots, water buckets, various ceramics, jewellery, weapons and armour.


The living history type of historical presentation was chosen for this display for several reasons. Such a recreation offers the ability to communicate information through the widest number of channels, utilising all of the senses. As well it was felt that the interactive nature of live interpreters would prove most accessible to such an audience. It was also decided to use a first person interpretive approach for interaction with the public. To meet this criterion, the staff portray a general example of individuals from the time period, and refer to the past era as current, but are able to drop out of character to provide commentary as required. (This is distinct from role playing, where specific historic characters are reproduced with no references to the modern age.) An overall scenario will be written, to aid in defining the roles of the characters within the greater context of Norse society, and how they relate to each other. In most cases, a fairly generalised picture of the period will be presented; however, the scope of information available to the inquisitive member of the public is quite large. With skillfull interpreters, it will be possible to offer information on a number of levels, ranging from the needs of children to that of the amateur historian.

Main hearth in turf house.

Main hearth in the reconstructed turf house at L' Anse aux Meadows. (1996)

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Text and photography © Darrell Markewitz