Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (Breakwater Books Ltd., 2000)

In 1870, Heinrich Schliemann, after a thorough study of The Iliad and The Odyssey, found the site of ancient Troy on the shores of the Black Sea.

In 1961, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, after a thorough study of The Graenlendinga Saga and Eirik's Saga, found an ancient Viking settlement in America, near the present community of L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland.

This book is the story of how the Ingstads did it -- part literary commentary, part detective story, part adventure.

Helge Ingstad first discusses the shipbuilding and navigation technology and techniques available to the Norse explorers. Then he describes the Norse settlements in Greenland, which lasted several hundred years and finally died out under circumstances that have never been definitively explained.

The next chapters, making up more than half of the book, hold the most literary interest; Ingstad describes the various ancient sources, both historical and literary, for information about the Norse settlements in Iceland, Greenland and Vinland. He analyzes in detail the two main sagas dealing with Vinland, The Graenlendinga Saga and Eirik's Saga, showing where they agree and differ. It is through their differences that he is able to sort out original detail from later (sometimes pious) interpolation and try to reconstruct the original documents.

This groundwork laid, Helge Ingstad explains how he and his wife, Anne Stine Ingstad, searched the northeastern coast of North America for the geographical features mentioned in the sagas, finally finding them in L'Anse aux Meadows. Anne Stine Ingstad then takes up the story and describes the excavations carried out from 1961 to 1968.

The book is lavishly illustrated in black and white with photos of various sites and artifacts, ancient and modern maps and drawings. There is a long scholarly bibliography and a thorough index.

This is not a work of scientific vulgarization, but it isn't boringly technical either. It is a good mixture of literary analysis, archeology and adventure.

Did the Ingstads find Vinland? That has not been proved, and perhaps never will be. There are other candidates along the North American coast for Vinland. Be that as it may, they certainly found a Norse settlement of some sort, and the fact that they did it based on scientific analysis of works that are often dismissed as folklore is impressive indeed.

I was a little girl when the Ingstads started their excavations and I've always been fascinated by their work. In 2003, I was finally able to go to L'Anse aux Meadows and see the National Park and interpretive centre built around their discoveries. About a kilometre away is Norstead, another interpretive centre/recreation of what a Viking trade settlement would had been like if the expedition to Newfoundland had been a success, instead of failing to due to conflict with the inhabitants of the land, called Skraelings by the Vikings.

[Faith Cormier]

Both Ingstads are now dead, he in 2001, she in 1997. Biographical information
is scarce about them on the Web, but you can read his obituary.
L'Anse aux Meadows is a UNESCO world heritage site,
and you can learn more about it here and here.