The Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows – a ‘temporary base camp’

The only confirmed archaeological site of a Viking presence in North America is L’Anse aux Meadow. What was the function of this settlement? Recent research indicates that it was never meant to be a long-term settlement.

L’Anse-aux-Meadows historical site – photo by Douglas Sprott / Flickr

Norse in Newfoundland: A Critical Examination of Archaeological Research at the Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, by Janet E. Kay, is based on her undergraduate thesis from Boston College. The book re-examines the archaeological and saga evidence to determine what was the purpose of this Viking settlement.


L’Anse aux Meadows, located on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, was discovered in 1960. The Vinland Saga and other medieval accounts tell of how the Vikings sailed west of Greenland, and made a settlement in a place they called Vinland.

Kay points out several observations to suggest the Vikings only intended to use L’Anse aux Meadows as a short-term settlement: the Vikings did not build farming structures like a barn, and there is no evidence that they kept livestock or practised any agriculture. She adds that “had the settlers intended for L’Anse aux Meadows to be a permanent colony, they would most likely would have used some of the larger stones from the shoreline – less than 70 km from the terrace – in the foundations of the turf-wall construction. Thus, their absence may indicate that the turf walls were not intended to be as permanent as the structures in Greenland and Iceland.”

The main activity of the settlement seems to have been boat repair. Some of the archaeological finds include nails and slag pieces, which help to show that carpentry and other work was done in the excavated buildings, and that there were also boat sheds on the site. Kay concludes that “the Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows operated as a short-lived, temporary settlement based not on agriculture, but on exploration.”


According to Kay, between 60 and 100 people lived at L’Anse aux Meadows, some of which were Greenlanders, while others came from Iceland. Although nearly all of the settlers were men, there is evidence that at least one woman was among the group – some stones and unusual marks reveals that an upright weaving loom was on the site. Traditionally operated by a woman, this loom could have been used to make cloth or a ship’s sails.

Norse in Newfoundland also offers information on other topics related to the settlement, including analysis of the various artifacts found there, and the dietary habits of the settlers. The book is available from Archaeopress.

See also: Native American came to Iceland over a thousand years ago, research finds


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