The Greenland Norse: The Hunt for Wood in Labrador A Cross Cultural Perspective
For decades common themes surrounding the Greenland Norse have focused on subsistence and extinction in Greenland. This paper offers a glimpse into Norse society in a unique way by suggesting that this Maritime society who hunted walrus and seals in Greenland, needed boats to conduct their activities, which meant survival in this North Atlantic environment. Wood however, was not available in Greenland or Iceland to build ocean-going ships, and therefore the possibility of going to Labrador located southwest of the Eastern and Western Settlements for resources such as wood should be considered. The northern limit of the tree line in Canada flows through northern Labrador, and forests here have been stable for approximately 2000-3000 years. Spruce and larch boat parts found in Greenland have not been conclusively identified as driftwood and should be carefully considered as having origins in Labrador. The distance between Greenland and the timbered regions of Labrador is much closer than from Greenland to Norway. Wooden artifacts from Greenland, Bergen, Labrador and the Faeroe Islands have been examined. This cross-cultural research in the utilization of wood emphasizes the specific need for wood in the North Atlantic by various groups. Other themes within this paper focus on the environment and the important animal and marine life on the coast of Labrador, which would have contributed to the survival of the Norse. Labrador is a rich environment, one that has sustained Palaeo-Eskimo groups such as the Late Dorset, who were living in northern Labrador and Quebec during the Middle Ages. Other groups such as the Thule-Inuit, and ancestors of today s Labrador and Quebec Innu were also living on the Labrador coast at the time of the Norse voyages to North America. Many of these sites are mentioned in this paper with reference to dates and various artifacts found within these sites during the Middle Ages. The frequency of Norse voyages to North America is uncertain, but scattered Norse archaeological evidence between the eastern Arctic and Maine within various Native and Aboriginal sites indicate their vast journeys to unknown territories. Archaeological evidence at L Anse aux Meadows also shed light on the Norse who temporarily settled in Newfoundland around AD 1000. The Labrador coast would have been used as the main coastal sailing marker to guide the Norse to places such as Newfoundland. The possibility these people explored the North American coasts for centuries after AD 1000 for various resources such as wood should be considered. The Norse act of trading items such as copper for furs with the Native or Aboriginal groups, known as Skraelings in the Sagas should also be carefully measured. Although the Sagas are controversial they do give us some information, which have elements of truth within them. Although we are not sure what Native groups the Norse met on their journeys to North America, the Sagas do mention Skraelings which we know were the Native or Aboriginal groups living in North America during occasional Norse voyages in the Middle Ages. The Icelandic Annals are brief, however in the late 12th century they tell of a small ship in Iceland that came from Greenland, perhaps a ship built from Labrador wood. Also in the 14th century there is an account where a number of Greenlanders on a ship were driven to Iceland from Markland by a storm. In this instance there is no peculiarity by the author when he mentions Markland and is more concerned with the ship s lost anchor. The familiarity of a place such as Markland suggests this area of abundant timber was a well know region by the middle of the 14th century, possibly indicating occasional voyages to this area for its rich source of lumber.