Vinland (formerly also Winland, often interpreted as "wine country") is the name that Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red and a native of Iceland, gave to a part of North America around the year 1000, when he was probably the first European to land there.

According to the Skálholtsbók, it happened on the way back from Europe that Leif went slightly off course and discovered land on the other side of the Davis Strait.

The Flateyjarbók, on the other hand, says that he first returned to Greenland to his father's farm and then set off to search for a flat and forested land that Bjarni Herjúlfsson had sighted from his ship far out in the Davis Strait.

History of Vinland

According to traditional interpretation, the name Vinland comes from the "vines" that the German-speaking foster father Tyrkir, who accompanied Leif Eriksson, is said to have found there. Recently, discussions have arisen about the origin of the name.

Vin has two meanings in Old Norse: With an accent on the i (i.e., í), it means "wine"; without an accent, it means "pasture" or "farm" (linguist Einar Haugen suggested that the meaning "pasture" was probably very uncommon to unknown in the 10th/11th century in Iceland and most of the Nordic world).

The Greenlandic settlers may have been impressed by the green pastures, compared to the barren Greenland soil. Consequently, the land may have been called "pasture land." There is the possibility of a reinterpretation of "pasture land" to "wine land," which enjoyed greater popularity.

If the name Vinland is derived from "wine country," as originally thought, either vines of wild North American wine (the grapes of which are probably more or less undrinkable, however) may have given rise to the name, or the land may have been named after other wild berries, which is perhaps more likely, since at least the Grænlendingar had probably never seen vines or grapes.

Previously, according to tradition, Leif had discovered Helluland (Baffin Island or Labrador) and the forested Markland (Labrador or Newfoundland).

The exact geographical location of Vinland is disputed, partly Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is assumed, partly New England near today's Boston, Massachusetts, partly also the island of Newfoundland. Meanwhile, this account has been challenged by archaeology, in that European artifacts pre-dating Erik the Red are thought to have been found as far north as Devon Island.

Many artifacts attributed to Norse Greenlanders have been found in Canada, especially on Baffin Island, and in northern Labrador. Also, a coin from the late 11th century, with a hole to string it on a necklace, was found in Maine.

The sagas also mention the places Bjarney ("Bear Island"), Furðustrandir ("Wonder Beach"), Straumfjorður ("Stream Fjord" or "Stream Fjord"), Straumsey ("Stream Island") and Hóp ("Lagoon"?/"Wiek") as well as a "Land of the One-Legged".

Leif Eriksson and his men are said to have settled in a place in Vinland, which they christened Leifsbuðir, according to the Greenland saga. According to the saga of Erik the Red, other Grænlendingar founded the settlement of Straumfjord in northern Vinland and the settlement of Hóp further south.

At least in the latter, in Newfoundland, the Grænlendingar definitely settled. There, in 1961, Norwegians Helge and Anne-Stine Ingstad discovered a settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows at the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

This settlement was excavated and reconstructed. It included several houses and a blacksmith shop. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1978.

According to the saga of Erik the Red, Thorfinn Karlsefni settled in Vinland with 140 men.

However, after initial good contacts with the natives, who were called Skrælingar by the Grænlendingar, conflicts are said to have arisen, whereupon the Northmen returned to Greenland.

Even though the fighting record of the Grænlendingar in the conflicts with the Skraelingers does not seem to be very impressive according to the image of the "Vikings" that we have of them today, their losses as recorded in the Vinland sagas - of a total of only three participants killed by Skraelingers - are extraordinarily low when compared with the reports of the voyages of later explorers, such as Jacques Cartier or Martin Frobisher, during whose first voyage already five crew members were abducted by Inuit.

In addition, there were better earning prospects for adventurous and war-loving Scandinavians in early 11th-century Europe, which may have made a forcible land grab in Vinland more difficult.

Snorri Þorfinnsson is considered the first child of European descent born in Vinland and thus in America.

Vinland's Vineyards

The vines found in Vinland in the saga may have been currants. In Scandinavia, it is still called grape berry, as in the Swedish Vinbär. In the Middle Ages it was also called this in northern Germany, while in southern German/Alemannic regions it is simply called Träuble or Meertrübli. The shrub grows up to 1.5 m tall and has the monastic name black "currant" because the fruit can be harvested from St. John's Day on June 24.

Its North American sister is the golden currant, so called because of its yellow inflorescence, a fairly undemanding, hardy shrub that grows up to 2 m tall. The occurrence of this plant extends from northeastern Canada to the highland steppes of northern Mexico. Fruit growers today use it as a rootstock for grafting gooseberry, josta and currant, precisely because of these hardy characteristics.

Another option would be the blueberry. Traditionally, the Scandinavians were familiar with a weakly alcoholic drink made from fermented blueberries, which they called win, which in later traditions was misleadingly equated with the Latin vinum.

Encounters with the North American-based Johannis cranberry or American blueberry, which have disproportionately higher-yielding fruit, may also have prompted the explorers to name them.

An older publication noted that Leif Eriksson's companion, Tyrkir, who apparently reported excitedly about the "Wiitrauben" or "Wiibeere," was a southern German.

In southern Germany - at least in the Alemannic-speaking area - "Wibeeri" are indeed currants (see also Alemannic Dictionary, Post, Scheer-Nahor; C.Braun Buchverlag 2009). Therefore, the possibility that it is the currant found much further north is quite likely.