Markland and Helluland: Who Were the Skraelings?

Markland landscape

The first areas of North America which the Vikings encountered and explored were named Helluland (Flat slab land) and Markland (Forest Land), according to the sagas. The descriptions leave little doubt that Helluland is modern-day Baffin Island, whose glaciers and high, flat-topped mountains drop steeply to the sea, while southern Labrador, with its extensive forests, is certainly Markland. Historic documents and archeological discoveries suggest that these lands, even more so than Vinland, continued to be visited by the Norse Greenlanders well into the 13th century. It was also here that the Vikings had their most sustained contact with the native people they called the skraelings. These encounters were the first between Europeans and Native Americans, and are an important moment in the history of North America. But who exactly were these people, and what was the nature of their relationship with the Vikings/Norse? The saga evidence provides little information, but recent archeological discoveries have revealed a complex array of native peoples, all with particular cultures and ways of dealing with intruders like the Norse.

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