The Middle Settlement

One key issue is that carving a settlement out of virgin wilderness requires a very different population and skill mix than an already running medieval community.

Firstly it may take several years before you become more or less self-sufficient – particularly if there is a lot of forest to be chopped down, the need to build a fort before you can start planting crops, pesky goblins or whatever to be exterminated etc.

So initially you need lumberjacks, carpenters, blacksmiths, foresters and so on a lot more than peasants – some of these will happily convert into farmers later, others will move on.

Once the first wave has cleared the forest, built some basic infrastructure and established a secure border of some sort then you can bring in a second wave of peasants proper along with their livestock.

Once the peasants are in place and producing a surplus that should start attracting the odd trader and specialist craftsmen.

But even the best laid plans can be destroyed by an epidemic, a storm, a drought, an earthquake, a raid or whatever.

For this reason much of the pioneer work in eastern Europe was led by religious orders who had the resources to deal with such risks and a ready-made labour force of more than usual dedication – a mere knight should have a lot more problems funding the project and particularly finding settlers of the right calibre.

The Eastern Settlement, located at about 45 degrees West and 61 degrees North, was the largest. The remains of almost 450 farms have been identified in this area clustered in the sheltered areas of the inner fjords. Eric the Red settled at Brattahlid on Ericsfjord. Most of walls of the structures at Brattahlid that have been excavated are from a date later than the settlement period, but some of the foundations of the house may date from that time. A small turf church some distance from the farm had been identified as Tjodhild’s church described in the Sagas.

A small area called the Middle Settlement was located at about 48 degrees West and 62 degrees North. This settlement area consisted of about 20 farms streched along the coast near modern Ivigtut.

The Western Settlement was centered around the present day Godthabsfjord at about 51 degrees West and 64 degrees North. Sandenes on the inner fjord area of the Western Settlement has been extensively excavated. Established before the twelfth century, it consists of stone and turf farm buildings with evidence that the interior was were covered with wooden boards. A wooden sheath used for holding iron shears was also found here.

A study of animal bones excavated from Viking Age farms shows that sheep, cattle and goats were all raised there. Seal and Caribou supplimented their diet.

The settlers found that the area to the north of the Western Settlement, called the Nordseta, was good for hunting, fishing and gathering driftwood. A stone inscribed with runes has been found telling that in 1333, three Greenlanders wintered on the island of Kingigtorssuaq just below 73 degrees north. There is also evidence of voyages to the Canadian arctic. Two cairns have been discovered in Jones Sound above 76 degrees North and two more have been found on Washington Irving Island at 79 degrees north.

Ivittuut (old spelling: Ivigtût) is an abandoned mining town in the Sermersooq municipality in southwestern Greenland. It holds the record for Greenland’s highest recorded temperature of 30.1 °C (86.2 °F).1 The lowest recorded temperature was −28.9 °C (−20.0 °F). The name of the settlement means the grassy place in Greenlandic.2 The town has a 5 kilometer road that connets it to Kangilinnguitit is also the only town in Greenland to have roads leading to another.

In Greenland and Vinland, contact was with indigenous maritime hunter-gatherers rather than agriculturalists. The Vinland contact rapidly resulted in victory for the local population—hostility of the local Skraeling.

In Greenland, a still poorly understood contact between Norse settlers and Dorset Paleo-Eskimo hunters resulted in a distribution of Norse farming settlements along the southwest coast and Dorset settlements far to the north in the Thule district. As they had in Iceland and the Faeroes, in Greenland the Norse again took over ecosystems unexploited by large-scale farming and again set up a new cultural and economic landscape.

Archaeological evidence also suggests a sharply stratified medieval society, with the bishop’s manor providing housing for more than one hundred cattle, whereas most farms had room for only two or three head.

The Greenlandic economy was based partly on domestic stock, but with considerable supplement from hunted caribou and seals. Fishing seems to have played a minor role in Greenland, with walrus hide and ivory, polar bear and fox skins providing the key export products. In 1127 the Greenlandic chieftains traded a live polar bear to the king of Norway to get their own bishop, who appears to have rapidly taken the best land in the eastern settlement for his manor. By the fourteenth century, Greenland boasted a monastery and nunnery as well as some of the largest stone churches in the North Atlantic.

Nordic and northern British settlers in Iceland and Greenland would have encountered fjords, valleys, and mountains covered with the same sort of dwarf willow, birch, grasses, sedges, and flowers so familiar from home. These plant communities formed the basis for northwest European Iron Age agriculture, providing grazing for domestic animals, construction material, fuel for heating and cooking, charcoal for iron smelting, important dietary supplements, and folk remedies for illness and injury.

Farming practices sustainable for thousands of years in the homelands were to prove unsustainably destructive within a few generations in northern Iceland and Greenland. In the North Atlantic, a few degrees difference in annual temperature can have a massive impact on the viability of imported crops like barley and on the resilience of local pasture plant communities in the face of grazing pressure.

In Greenland, soils are generally less prone to wind erosion, but several studies have indicated a parallel pattern of deforestation and locally significant soil erosion following shortly after landnám.

It is possible that pigs and goats were most responsible for the rapid loss of tree cover in ninth- and tenth-century Iceland and that the loss of woodlands in turn made the keeping of these species uneconomic. Imported domestic animals were only a part of the complete subsistence economy, and especially in the early days of landnám wild birds, fish, and mammals were critical supplements. The landnám settlers in the greater Reykjavík area also apparently made use of nowvanished local walrus colonies, as a few bones of immature walrus have been found at Tjarnargata 4 and an impressive set of tusks were recently recovered from the early longhouse at Aðalstraeði nearby.

Skallagrim was an industrious man. He always kept many men with him and gathered all the resources that were available for subsistence, since at first they had little in the way of livestock to support such a large number of people. Such livestock as there was grazed free in the woodland all year round. . . . There was no lack of driftwood west of Myrar. He had a farmstead built on Alftanes and ran another farm there, and rowed out from it to catch fish and cull seals and gather eggs, all of which were there in great abundance. There was plenty of driftwood to take back to his farm. Whales beached there, too, in great numbers, and there was wildlife there for the taking at this hunting post: the animals were not used to man and would never flee. He owned a third farm by the sea on the western part of Myrar . . . and he planted crops there and named it Akrar (Fields). . . . Skallagrim also sent his men upriver to catch salmon. He put Odd the hermit by Gljufura to take care of the salmon fishery there . . . When Skallagrim’s livestock grew in number, it was allowed to roam mountain pastures for the whole summer. Noticing how much better and fatter the animals were that ranged on the heath, and also that the sheep which could not be brought down for winter survived in the mountain valleys, he had a farmstead built up on the mountain, and ran a farm there where his sheep were kept. . . . In this way, Skallagrim put his livelihood on many footings.

The site at L’Anse Aux Meadows, on the northern edge of Newfoundland, was first explored in 1960 by Norwegian husband and wife team Helge and Anne Ingstad.

The site consists of eight buildings, which were dwellings and store houses, most of which were built on a timber frame with a turf roof. Although investigations show that the site was occupied for only a couple of decades, there is evidence of plenty of activity during this period. The remains of the workshops have revealed evidence of an iron smithy, perhaps used for weapon repair, boat repair and building facilities, and a carpentry workshop.

The largest dwelling measured 28.8 by 15.6 m (94.5 by 51 ft) and consisted of several rooms.5 Workshops were identified as an iron smithy containing a forge and iron slag, a carpentry workshop, which generated wood debris, and a specialized boat repair area containing worn rivets.

Besides those related to iron working, carpentry, and boat repair, other artifacts found at the site consisted of common everyday Norse items, including a stone oil lamp, a whetstone, a bronze fastening pin, a bone knitting needle, and part of a spindle. The exceptional significance of l’Anse aux Meadows arises precisely from a temporary Viking settlement comprising eight houses, one forge and four workshops.

The Middle Settlement

Altmaria Greipr