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Archaeologists find legendary Icelandic home
Quad-City Times ^ | 9/15/2002 | Quad-City Times Wire Services

Posted on 09/16/2002 8:27:11 AM PDT by SteveH

Archaeologists find legendary Icelandic home

By Times Wire Services

A UCLA team has found the Iceland home of Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first person of European descent born in the New World.

Icelandic sagas from the 13th century tell the story of how Snorri’s parents led the first Scandinavian group that attempted to settle in Vinland — on the Canadian coast — around A.D. 1000.

The attempt failed, and the family moved to Iceland, but Snorri was born while they were there.

The “Vinland Sagas,” which also tell the story of Leif Ericson, are the earliest recorded history of the Scandinavian people, but there has long been a debate over whether they represent real events or are simply an allegorical tale meant to deliver a moral message.

The 1960 discovery of Viking settlements at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland provided some confirmation of the sagas. The apparent discovery of Snorri’s home provides more.

“These sagas were written in Iceland, and they must have been thinking about this site,” said UCLA archaeologist John Steinberg, who led the expedition. “Could this specific story (in the saga) be true? This site may well hold the answers.”

Archaeologist Kevin P. Smith of Hunter College in New York City added: “This is a fairly large, fairly well-appointed house. It’s in the right place, from the right time. It may well be (Snorri’s home).”

The sagas tell the story of four Viking voyages to the New World. The second saga recounts the story of the pagan Thorfinn Karlsefni, who married the converted Christian woman Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir. With three boats containing 60 to 70 people, livestock, seeds and other supplies, they left for the New World around A.D. 1000 to establish a colony.

According to the sagas: “Karlsefni’s son Snorri was born (in Vinland) the first autumn and was 3 years old when they left.”

“Conflict with the native population made the settlement impossible,” Smith said, and they returned to Iceland, where they established a farm. Thorfinn sailed to Norway and sold a boatload of goods from Vinland, which made him relatively rich.

Gudrid, described in the sagas as “the most attractive of women and one to be reckoned with in all her dealings,” made one or more trips between Iceland and Greenland and eventually traveled to Rome to meet the pope. She became a nun and returned to Iceland, where she established a church. “She was probably one of the most well-traveled women of the period — and all of it in an open boat,” said historian Elisabeth Ward of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History.

Steinberg’s continuing project in Iceland is a survey of 26 farms in five areas of the Skagafjordur fjord valley in northern Iceland. This region, he said, “is one of the few documented chiefdoms” that are known. His ultimate goal is to understand how the chiefdoms, in which private properties’ rights were enforced without a central government, eventually gave way to regional rule. His approach is to determine how settlement patterns changed.

But archaeology is difficult in Iceland, an island about the size of Kentucky. There are virtually no trees, so buildings were constructed from turf. The inhabitants also severely abused their environment. “They put way too many sheep on the land, and all the soil from the highlands eventually blew onto the coastal regions,” Steinberg said. “As a result, the archaeology is invisible, especially in the most important areas.”

The UCLA team has been surveying the region with sophisticated equipment that measures the electrical conductivity and resistance of soil. The turf used in construction has a much lower conductivity, so electrical patterns reveal where walls are located.

They found what they believe to be Snorri’s home about 150 yards east of the Glaumbaer Folk Museum, just outside the seaside village of Saudarkrokur. The museum, which documents 18th-century rural Icelandic life, was once thought to have been built on the site of Snorri’s home.

“We had always assumed that the original house must be under the standing modern turf house, in the very same spot and therefore mostly destroyed,” said Sigridur Sigurardottir, the museum’s director. “But now we have found out that it was in our museum hay field all along, just under the surface.”

The building is “a classic German fortress longhouse like the Great Hall of Beowulf,” Steinberg said. It is 95 feet long — about 50 percent longer than Viking longhouses in Newfoundland and Trelleborg, Denmark, indicating prosperity — and about 30 feet wide, with 5-foot-thick walls.

A thin layer of volcanic ash from the 1104 eruption of Mount Hekla covers the remains, indicating that the structure was abandoned about 1100, when residents moved up the hill to what is now the site of the museum.

Copyright © 2002 The Quad-City Times


TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: archaeology; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; iceland; newfoundland; snorrithorfinnsson; viking; vikings; vinland
This may not quite be news since it happened a long time ago :-).
1 posted on 09/16/2002 8:27:11 AM PDT by SteveH
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To: blam
Archaeology ping.
2 posted on 09/16/2002 8:32:07 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: SteveH
Just click your ruby mukluks together three times and repeat... there's no place like Nome
There's no place like Nome...there's no place like Nome
3 posted on 09/16/2002 8:32:15 AM PDT by joesnuffy
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To: Overtaxed; billbears
Snorri's not dead... he's just pining for the fjords!
4 posted on 09/16/2002 8:39:52 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: SteveH
<Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first person of European descent born in the New World.

Of course the PC left has a new scapegoat, it's all Snorri's fault.

5 posted on 09/16/2002 8:41:50 AM PDT by dfwgator
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To: SteveH
Icelandic heritage BUMPS!
6 posted on 09/16/2002 8:43:39 AM PDT by TruthConquers
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To: TruthConquers
Swedes discovered America ?
7 posted on 09/16/2002 8:49:42 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: SteveH
tough woman BUMP.
thanks for sharing :)
8 posted on 09/16/2002 8:51:30 AM PDT by MudPuppy
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To: SteveH; Constitution Day
Good post/info. Thanks.
9 posted on 09/16/2002 8:54:57 AM PDT by blam
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To: Eric in the Ozarks
Swedes discovered America

Time for reparations?

10 posted on 09/16/2002 8:55:20 AM PDT by aShepard
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To: dfwgator
Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first person of European descent born in the New World.

It has always been my understanding that Iceland if it had to categorized was part of Europe not North America.

11 posted on 09/16/2002 8:56:01 AM PDT by xp38
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To: xp38
Geographically speaking of course.
12 posted on 09/16/2002 8:58:44 AM PDT by xp38
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To: beowolf
The building is a classic German fortress longhouse like the Great Hall of Beowulf,?

Beo, don't look now, but I think you're in trouble. :)

13 posted on 09/16/2002 9:00:32 AM PDT by xJones
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To: aShepard
Ya, sure.
14 posted on 09/16/2002 9:04:14 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: xp38
how Snorri's parents led the first Scandinavian group that attempted to settle in Vinland on the Canadian coast around A.D. 1000.

The attempt failed, and the family moved to Iceland, but Snorri was born while they were there.

It's a poorly written sentence but it says that Snorry was born in Vinland [Canada]

15 posted on 09/16/2002 9:04:21 AM PDT by Shooter 2.5
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To: SteveH
How come this is breaking news in a two bit paper in IOwa, and no where else?
16 posted on 09/16/2002 9:06:39 AM PDT by dts32041
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To: Shooter 2.5
My mistake...jumped the gun so to speak.
17 posted on 09/16/2002 9:07:25 AM PDT by xp38
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To: Constitution Day
"..pining for the fjords"?!?!

What kind of talk is that??
18 posted on 09/16/2002 9:10:44 AM PDT by mgstarr
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To: SteveH
“We had always assumed that the original house must be under the standing modern turf house, in the very same spot and therefore mostly destroyed,” said Sigridur Sigurardottir, the museum’s director. “But now we have found out that it was in our museum hay field all along, just under the surface.”

Obviously these guys have never had a house built. Usually you don't tear down the house you live in before you build the new one....

19 posted on 09/16/2002 9:17:34 AM PDT by RonF
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To: xp38
No problem. I just noticed that I misspelled Snorri's name.
My big complaint with the "experts" is there were numerous voyages with hundreds of people over hundreds of years and they're claiming that a single family just had to have lived in a specific house. Sure.
20 posted on 09/16/2002 9:24:43 AM PDT by Shooter 2.5
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To: SteveH
bump
21 posted on 09/16/2002 9:36:59 AM PDT by lepton
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To: mgstarr
It's a Monty Python reference.
22 posted on 09/16/2002 9:39:30 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: Eric in the Ozarks
Swedes discovered America?

Iceland and Sweden are entirely different countries, each with its own unique culture. As with each of the Scandinavian countries (except maybe the Faroe Islands and Finland) there are similarities, sure, but they are quite different.
23 posted on 09/16/2002 9:43:44 AM PDT by Neckbone
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To: Shooter 2.5
My big complaint with the "experts" is there were numerous voyages with hundreds of people over hundreds of years and they're claiming that a single family just had to have lived in a specific house. Sure.

I think it's just an example of the whole "Washington slept here" syndrome where people are always eager to assign historical signifigance to any given noun.

I've found in my travels in Iceland that, for the architectural reasons cited in the article, you really have to squint to see what's being references at various ancient sites throughout the country. One exception is a really cool dig that's in progress right in downtown Reykjavik where they've discovered a Viking compound (under about 2 meters of earth).
24 posted on 09/16/2002 9:50:05 AM PDT by Neckbone
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To: Constitution Day
Lovely plumage, the Norwegian Blue.
25 posted on 09/16/2002 9:50:53 AM PDT by Neckbone
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To: Neckbone
Remarkable bird, itn'it, squire?
26 posted on 09/16/2002 10:00:53 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: mgstarr
Sorry, I hadn't eaten lunch when I posted my 1st response.
Now I remember that part of the sketch... my bad!

CD

27 posted on 09/16/2002 10:01:46 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: SteveH
Where I live there is the Virginia Dare Winery named for supposedly the first European born in America (1587). I wonder if the Winery will change it's name to Snorri Thorfinnsson Wines.
28 posted on 09/16/2002 10:21:45 AM PDT by Mike Darancette
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To: Mike Darancette
Where I live there is the Virginia Dare Winery named for supposedly the first European born in America (1587). I wonder if the Winery will change it's name to Snorri Thorfinnsson Wines.

Well, if it doesn't, then it sounds like an opportunity knocking (at least if one is in Newfoundland and has or can start a winery :-)

29 posted on 09/16/2002 10:52:51 AM PDT by SteveH
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To: dts32041
Davenport was settled by Norwegians ?
30 posted on 09/16/2002 10:55:10 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: xJones
Beo, don't look now, but I think you're in trouble. :)

Neighbor envy...what are ya gonna do? First they didn't like the indoor plumbimg, said I was being 'uppity'...now this!-)

31 posted on 09/16/2002 11:09:41 AM PDT by beowolf
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To: beowolf
Well, you can forget the property taxes now, you're toast.
32 posted on 09/16/2002 11:22:11 AM PDT by xJones
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