Viking 'land of wine' pinpointed in Canada

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The location of the long-lost "Land of Wine", discovered in North America by the Vikings 1,000 years ago, may at last have been found.

The location of the long-lost "Land of Wine", discovered in North America by the Vikings 1,000 years ago, may at last have been found.

Research by a Swedish archaeologist suggests that the site of Vinland - the far-off place mentioned in the Viking Sagas - was in fact in southern Nova Scotia, at a latitude just 150 miles north of that of modern New York. If he is right, it would almost certainly have been the first European colony in mainland North America.

Up till now most historians have believed that Vinland was located 500 miles further north at the bleak northern tip of Newfoundland - or around the estuary of the Saint Lawrence.

Survey work by archaeologist Dr Mats Larsson of Lund University, Sweden, has, for the first time, pinpointed an area which correlates precisely with the detailed description of Vinland in the Sagas. The region still produces wild grapes.

After combing hundreds of miles of coastline, the Swedish academic believes that the only convincing candidate for the ancient Viking settlement is a small river estuary and bay called Chegoggin ("Great Camp" in the local Indian language) just north of Yarmouth near the southern tip of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

The information in the Sagas indicates that the Vinland settlement was on or near an inlet with an unusually large tidal range and a river, navigable only at high tide, which led to an inland lake. The name Vinland also suggests that it had to be in an area warm enough to produce wild grapes. The Chegoggin estuary location matches Vinland on all these criteria and is the only site which does so along the 1,500 miles of Canadian coastline, so far examined by Dr Larssen.

It may also be significant that the Chegoggin estuary is immediately opposite - indeed just 80 miles from - the site on the coast of Maine where a late 11th-century Viking coin and a group of stone implements were found in 1957. The stone tools were not of local origin - and had somehow been brought from more than 1,000 miles further north - from Eskimo northern Labrador and Baffin Island. It is possible that both the coin and the Eskimo-originating artefact materials were traded by Vikings with local Maine Indians, perhaps in exchange for supplies. It is known that Vikings were active in the Baffin Island region and it is thought that they also visited Labrador, which Dr Larsson believes they called Helluland - "Stoneland".

Although Vinland was settled temporarily in the early 11th century, it may have been re-visited by Viking explorers on several occasions, the last known voyage being by a Viking bishop who went there in 1121 hoping to convert the natives. He was never heard of again.

Vinland was discovered in the year 1000 - probably in late summer - by Viking explorer Leif Ericsson, the son of the founder of the Viking colony in Greenland. A little later a settlement was established in Vinland - probably in around 1003 - by some 160 Icelandic and Greenland colonists led by an Icelander called Thorfinn Karlsevni. Thorfinn went to Vinland via Greenland where he had married the widow of Leif Ericsson's brother.

Once in Vinland they built a settlement and traded with the native Indians, obtaining skins in exchange for red cloth and dairy products. But disagreements with the natives made the settlement vulnerable to Indian attacks - and after a few years the colonists returned to their original homes in Greenland and Iceland. Now the search for the Vinland settlement is gathering speed.

Archaeological investigations by Dr Larsson in the Chegoggin estuary area have already begun. Using chemical tests he hopes to detect phosphate concentrations produced by ancient human and animal refuse and waste. Aerial photographs will also be used to pinpoint potential sites.

"After years of survey work, I believe that Chegoggin is the only location which fits the saga description of the Vinland settlement site," said Dr Larsson. "Now we have to find archaeological material to confirm the historical and geographical evidence."