Ancient Norse sagas tell of how Leif Ericsson discovered Vinland (an undefined place along the East coast of North America) during one of his voyages.
Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne, a professional archeologist, carried out archeological excavations around L’Anse aux Meadows in the 1960s and discovered several Norse houses and artifacts. The site became a Word Heritage Site in 1978 and it is widely recognized as “the only authenticated Norse site in the New World.”
The remains of eight sod houses can be found there and one long house has been reconstructed. Based upon scientific and archeological evidence, the site tells the life stories of the Nordic pioneers and of their possible contact with the ‘Skraelings’ (name given by the Norse to various indigenous people of the New World).
Just two kilometres from L’Anse aux Meadows, one finds Norstead a recreated Viking port of trade.
“You can challenge yourself in a traditional Norse game. Learn to throw an axe, spin yarn, or take a pottery lesson,” according to the official website of L’Anse aux Meadows Historic Site, at Norstead.
“Take a close look at the Viking Knarr Snorri replica, a boat that was sailed here from Greenland and named for the first European child born in North America. Have your fortune told, Viking style, and learn the traditional knitting stitch.”
Both L’Anse aux Meadows and Norstead’s reconstructions and re-enactments claim to be based upon historical and archeological evidence. Everything has been thought and designed to resemble as close as possible the artifacts found in loco as well as the Viking style of life and culture.
Re-enactors are an important part of Norstead as they enable the place to literally come to life and help visitors immerse themselves into the past: Asgualt, the midwife, will tell you of her experience in the village and of her magical powers, whereas Harald, the village drunk, will ask you for something to drink and will tell you about his tyrannous wife.
But the Vikings you will find at L’Anse aux Meadows and at Norstead are quite peculiar. Most of them will address you with the world renowned Newfoundland accent, despite the fact that they wear Viking clothes, use Viking tools, and make every effort to result genuine.
It is quite an amusing contrast but one that should make us thing about the value of authenticity in such places.
Nordstead in particular is a good example of what Umberto Eco has termed “hyperreality.” Hyperreality is reality by proxy, a fake reality in which imitations and their symbolic meanings don’t merely reproduce reality, but try improve on it – like Venice in Las Vegas, or Disney World.
Those hyperreal worlds are constructions designed to represent a certain reality, past, present or future allowing a person to exist temporarily in a world outside of what is real.
Thus, a Viking with a Newfoundland accent and an Irish surname does not undermine the authenticity of the reconstruction.
After all, I am sure you can distinguish what is real and what is not; or can’t you?
Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality 1995.
Consuelo Griggio is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
YORK’S annual Viking invasion has created a combination between Norse history and a traditional fairy story.
A key event in this year’s Jorvik Viking festival saw youth and experience come together when Phillip Sherman, of Booster Cushion Theatre, and several young helpers performed Eric the Red Riding Hood at the Early Music Centre, in Walmgate, York.
The play involves the heroine of the story encountering a myriad of characters in a humorous retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.
The Flamborough Fire Festival, on New Year’s Eve, will see the ship – which has been built specially for the event this summer – burned as a new attraction for the event.
The festival will also include a torchlight procession and a move to the New Festival Arena, on the Village Green to accommodate more spectators than ever.
The Flamborough Fireballs – local Vikings who swing balls of fire around their heads – will also be in action, with families encouraged to join the celebrations, which are now in their fourth year.