Winter, snow and cold in the life of the Westviking
By Jerry Toupin
Proceedings of the 68th Eastern Snow Conference (2011)
Abstract: The Westviking were the ancient Norse originally from Norway who settled in Greenland, Iceland and later partially in Canada (L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, now a National Historical Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet the Vinland as described by them was presumably never discovered) about one thousand years ago. Contrary to the first French and English settlers in Canada and in New England, the people from Scandinavia were probably better equipped to face what awaited them in the cold lands of the North Atlantic as they were accustomed to harsh winter conditions in their homeland. Although several authors have written about numerous archeological sites and sagas in order to better understand this lost civilization, hardly anything is mentioned about how they lived through winter.
The main purpose of this paper is to examine how the Westviking were influenced by winter, snow and cold in their day-to-day life as they were making progress in the West. Essentially three segments are identified and analyzed: toponomy and sailing, lifestyle and housing and food and clothing. Indeed some places were named after the cold season and how and where they sailed were sometimes dictated by glaciers and ice caps. Winter, snow and cold had to be taken into account in the building of their houses, their lifestyle, the type of food they had to produce, eat and store as well as the type of clothing they made.
Introduction: Following the rise and the fall of several empires (Greco-Roman Empire; ± 100 B.C. to ±500 A.D., followed by the Eastern Roman Empire known as the Byzantine Era and the Ottoman Empire: 1299 to 1908), a Nordic invasion was being developed in Europe known as the Viking Age (±800 to 1400). As early as the 8th century, the Vikings or Norsemen (they were explorers, warriors, merchants and/or pirates) were invading most of Europe as well as exploring (namely by building innovative Viking ships mostly called Drakkar and Knarr) and settling in Iceland (around 874), Greenland (Erik the Red in 986 to ±1450) and partially in Canada around 1000 A.D. (henceforth named the Westviking). Some Norsemen now had to live at about the same latitudes or even higher than their native land in Scandinavia and they had to get used to different climates and possibly harsher winters.