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Norse Discoveries

In the latter part of the tenth-century, the Icelanders made their way westwards by sea in search of land. There, Eiríkur “rauði” (Erik the Red) found a country which he named Greenland, “and said that men would wish to go there if the land had a good name.” (from Ari the Wise, Íslendingabók) According to Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), he explored Greenland for three years but then returned to Iceland. The following summer he settled in Greenland. Although 25 ships left with him on the voyage from Iceland to Greenland, only 14 made it to the end of the journey. The others perished at sea or turned back. The settlers established themselves on Greenland’s west coast, and the settlement was a continuation of the one in Iceland. Sailing to Greenland fell away at the beginning of the fifteenth century and when explorers arrived two centuries later they found only ruins. What the fate of the Greenland settlers was remains a mystery.
    Shortly after the settlement of Greenland, Bjarni Herjólfsson was on his way there when he was driven off course and sighted land on the east coast of North America. Leifur Eiríksson, later named Leifur “heppni” (the Lucky), undertook an expedition to these lands and named them Markland, Helluland, and Vínland (that is, Forest Land, Table Land, and Wine Land). The Vínland expeditions did not prove to be the basis of a settlement on the mainland of America, but the explorers did construct cabins for themselves and were settled there while they explored the country.
    It is thought to be certain that Helluland is Baffinsland and that Markland is Labrador, but scholars are divided about what area Vínland refers to. However, support grew for the view that Vínland is Newfoundland after ruins were found at L’Anse-aux-Meadows at the northern point of Newfoundland, Nordic remains which seem to point to a Norse settlement there.
    The travels of the Norse people to Greenland and Vínland is described in Grænlendinga saga (Saga of the Greenlanders) and Eiríks saga rauða (Saga of Erik the Red).