A New Lead in the Search for Elusive Norse Settlements
CODROY VALLEY, Canada – A story passed down in my family for generations may be the clue to finding a lost Norse settlement.
The only Norse settlement in the New World thus far confirmed by archaeologists is in L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland, Canada. But the Norse sagas tell of other colonizing expeditions.
Last summer, archaeologists announced they found evidence of a Norse presence–a hearth used for roasting bog iron ore, which is the first step in the production of iron–at Point Rosee in southern Newfoundland. My uncle, Wayne MacIsaac, was so excited he said he didn’t sleep for three days. He felt vindicated in his long-cherished, but long-ignored, theory that he had found an ancient Norse site in the nearby Codroy Valley where he lives.
His previous attempts to attract the interest of archaeologists to the site had met with failure, but that has now changed. An international team of archaeologists are due to investigate in July.
Wayne MacIsaac stands near what he believes may be the remnants of a Norse fortification wall. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
A Strange Boat
My great-grandfather, MacIsaac’s grandfather, used to tell of a strange boat that was found in the Codroy Valley when he was a child. A storm had shifted a sandbar at the mouth of the Little Codroy River, revealing a plank-built boat that did not match any shipbuilding style known to the locals.
Three tall human skeletons were found underneath it, along with a stone arrowhead.
In that day, no one considered preserving it as an archaeological artifact. But when MacIsaac took an interest in the Norse sagas, he began to see astounding parallels between the descriptions of a Norse settlement and the area the boat was found.
Three Norsemen at the settlement were said to have been killed by natives. MacIsaac wondered whether the three skeletons were those settlers. The stone arrowhead could suggest they were killed by native bowmen.
Local natives only made boats of animal hide or birch bark, suggesting the plank-built boat was of European origin. Yet it didn’t resemble anything known by the local French, Irish, Scottish, or English settlers of my great-grandfather’s time.
MacIsaac found that the sagas describe a mountain range extending north from the settlement. The Long Range mountains indeed extend north from the Codroy Valley. The sagas also describe a river that flows into a lake, which then flows into the sea, and a sandbar that could only be crossed at high tide.
All of this, as well as other details in the sagas, describe a part of the Codroy Valley. MacIsaac went to the spot he felt best matched the description and found what he believes could be remnants of the settlement.
The view from part of what Wayne MacIsaac believes to be a Norse settlement, looking out on a sandbar where a boat that may be of Norse origin was found by locals more than a century ago. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
The Little Codroy River, with the Long Range mountains in the background and the potential site of a Norse settlement visible in the middle-ground, to the left. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
MacIsaac has not disclosed the precise location publicly for fear that amateur archaeologists may disturb the site. But he took me there.
He first showed me what he believes may have been a fortifying wall mentioned in the sagas. After 1,000 years, it would be hard for my untrained eye to identify with any certainty a wall possibly built with organic materials.
What I saw was a long, narrow elevation in the ground that extended for dozens of yards, and was some four or more feet high. If it was once a wall, it has been covered with earth and vegetation to the extent that it was difficult to take a photograph of it that conveyed the shape discernible on site.
We moved to another spot, where MacIsaac had found mounds, and particularly a mound that appears unnaturally square in shape.
A square mound believed by Wayne MacIsaac to be evidence of a Norse structure. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
MacIsaac said that, while some of the mounds in the area could be natural, some, including this one, lead him to believe Norse structures existed there. He asked local elderly residents, in their 80s and 90s, whether they knew of any structures built in the area since the Scottish and French had settled there in the early 19th century.
They said the land hadn’t been used, suggesting any remnants of structures on the site are not modern.
Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston, investigated the Point Rosee site last summer and talked to MacIsaac at that time. He was intrigued by MacIsaac’s theory.