Thursday, July 21, 2016
July 21, 2016: VikingStudying: Historic Sites
[Earlier this month, I traveled to Iceland for the first time, a nation with recently discovered historical connections to the Americas. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy the culture at the heart of those ties, leading up to a special post on a few takeaways from the trip itself!]
On lessons from the two New World Viking sites discovered to date, and what might be next.
1) L’Anse aux Meadows: The first confirmed Viking/Norse site in the Americas was discovered and excavated in what we might call the old-fashioned way: in 1960, a pair of married Norwegians, explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, were led to a group of mysterious Newfoundland mounds by local resident George Decker; the Ingstads spent the next eight years carrying out excavations of the mounds, eventually amassing enough evidence to prove that the site was definitively of Norse origin. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, L’Anse has continued to offer up cultural and historical revelations in the half-century since its discovery, and remains the center of archaeological exploration and Canadian collective memory of the Viking settlers.
2) Point Rosee: The second, not-yet-confirmed but quite possible Viking/Norse site in the Americas was discovered in what we would have to call a very 21st century way: in 2015, archaeologists Sarah Parcak and Gregory Mumford (also a romantic couple, one interesting link between the 1960 and 2015 discoveries) examined infrared satellite images and high-resolution aerial photographs of a site that appeared to have once featured buildings; magnetometer readings revealed high quantities of iron, and subsequent excavations have encountered evidence of iron smelting at the site (a process likely only used in the region in that period by Norse settlers). Whether Point Rosee is indeed a second Viking site remains in some dispute, but no matter what the final verdict, this evolving conversation indicates how fully both archaeology and our study of historic cultures have changed over the fifty years since L’Anse.
3) What’s next: I’m sure that the next fifty years will feature just as many changes and advances, and that our archaeological and historical knowledge will be extended and enhanced through all of them. But at the same time, I would argue that it might be just as important for our collective memories of these Viking settlers to create historic sites akin to Plimoth Plantation: not located in the site of the original settlement, but recreated in a place that can capture its setting and world; not based on excavations of artifacts or buildings so much as a space in which such artifacts and buildings can be recreated as accurately as possible; not really an archaeological site at all, but rather an educational tourist attraction that can introduce visitors to the histories, stories, and world of this historic community. If we’re going to teach elementary school students about the Viking explorers and settlers, as I noted in Monday’s post we are, I’d say it’s time we had the kind of site where students (and everyone) could themselves explore and engage with what that community might have experienced and been.
Last VikingStudying tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other ways you’d analyze the Vikings or Iceland?