DELIVERY DATE: For Immediate Delivery

(Original release date : June 1996)
the Vikings Return to Newfoundland!

Dateline: L' Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland and Wareham, Ontario

From August 23 to September 2 the L' Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park will see the return of the Vikings after 1000 years! This is the date for the Norse Encampment, a historic re-creation based on the Norse explorations of North America. Costumed interpreters will occupy the turf houses on the actual site of this Viking outpost. Come see what life was like on the shores of Newfoundland over 500 years before Jean Cabot landed there. Meet "Ragnar" and his wife "Bera", along with crew members that include "Kettil" and "Broggi". They will be on hand daily to answer all your questions, along with the types of equipment they would have brought with them to the country they called Vinland. Don't miss this opportunity to personally experience a re-creation of an event in Canada's history that is not widely known and often poorly understood.

The real beginnings of the European experience in North America begin with the Norse, not Columbus. In the last days of the first millennium, an active colony was established by Eirik the Red on Greenland. He gave his new settlement that name "Because people would be more likely to go there if it had a pleasing name." - perhaps one of the first documented real estate scams! The hardy people who followed him were generations removed from the Viking raiders of legend, mainly farmers and sailors. Life in the Greenland settlement was harsh, resources limited. Only a few days sail to the west was vast unexplored territory, rich in needed raw materials. The lands that Lief Eirikson named Helluland, Markland and Vinland, we now know as Canada. Based on the Sagas and other period documents, the construction of the outpost at Vinland was undertaken almost exactly 1000 years ago (sometime between 995 and 998).

The Sagas describe the initial exploration voyages to Vinland, the disastrous first contact with the native peoples, and the establishing of a temporary camp. These stories represent an ancient oral tradition, not even written down until hundreds of years after the events they describe. For this reason, many scholars have doubted the accuracy of the information they contain. In the 1960's the Scandinavian researcher Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine spent several summers surveying the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland guided by the Saga descriptions. At L' Anse aux Meadows, on the extreme tip of Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula, they discover the ruins of a series of turf houses. Excavations over seven summers were to unearth artifacts that were of undisputable Norse origin - a cast bronze pin, soapstone spindle whorl and slag remaining from processing local bog iron. Carbon 14 dates for the remains indicate a habitation date of approximately 1000 AD.

More recent excavations on the site have lead to a slightly different interpretation of Norse activity there. The compound of two main longhouses and several smaller buildings is now thought to have served as a 'gatepost' station - a main collection point for raw materials such as timber that would have been harvested further south. It is likely that habitation here would have been on a seasonal basis only, with no serious attempt to establish a permanent colony. The remains of beechnuts show that the Norse voyaged at least as far south as New Brunswick (the northern limit for this species) on their exploration and timber gathering trips. The first contact with the native peoples is likely to have occurred further south as well. Unfortunately the Norse first took advantage of the natives in trade, then started open conflict, resulting in a missed opportunity that could have changed the course of Canadian history.

Today the L' Anse aux Meadows National Historical Site marks the ground that the Norse walked. Along with a modern interpretive centre, there is a compound on the banks of Epaves Bay containing reproductions of the original turf structures. Here too the visitor will find the low mounds that are all that remains of the Norse longhouses. The park has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the first Canadian cultural site to have this distinction.

This summer, L' Anse aux Meadows is to see the return of the Norse - in the form of a living history display called 'the Norse Encampment'. The Encampment will present the daily life typical of the original inhabitants, and Norse culture in general. The presentation centres around interpreters dressed in period clothes speaking as voices from the past. A collection of over 200 reproduction artifacts is used to complete this picture of the Viking Age. Major pieces include a bed, tent, blacksmithing and carpenter's tools, navigation and other ship's gear, cooking equipment and other domestic items. Artifact prototypes were taken from the Oseberg and Gokstad ship burials, as well as the excavations at York and Dublin. Originally developed for the Orangeville Medieval Festival in 1993, the presentation is the result of hundreds of hours of research.

The Norse Encampment is designed and produced by Darrell Markewitz of the Wareham Forge, who has worked in close consultation with site curator Bruce Bradbury and staff archaeologist Birgitta Wallace. Assisting him to portray the Norse are Vandy Simpson, Neil Peterson and Tarvar Szejkowski. Support for this year's presentation is being provided by the Viking Trail Tourism Association. A new feature of this year's operations will be the training of four local people to work along side the professional interpreters. Plans are being made to include the use of Paul Compton's reproduction longship, the Viking Saga, which is based just down the coast in St. Lunaire. This year's presentation of the Norse Encampment is a warm up for 1997's Viking Days Festival, a two week cultural event planned to mark the 1000 year anniversary of the arrival of the Norse in Newfoundland.

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Text and photography © , Darrell Markewitz