Viking Trade

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While the sagas provide valuable information about Helluland, Markland, and the skraeling, the stories and descriptions they provide are probably not as reliable as historical accounts recorded at or shortly after the events they relate. There are three Norse historical accounts relating to Markland/Helluland and the skraelings. These historical records have been extremely useful in piecing together how Native Americans and Vikings might have met, especially in Greenland.

One of the most important reports concerning Markland is an entry in the Icelandic Annals from A.D. 1347 referring to a small Greenlandic vessel with a crew of seventeen or eighteen aboard that arrived in Iceland while attempting to return to Greenland from Markland with a load of timber. Because no further details were provided, this reference may indicate that voyages to Markland were relatively common.

Reference to Helluland is more rare, possibly because voyages in this direction originated mostly from Greenland from which we have few written records, whereas knowledge of voyages from or to Iceland, with its literary traditions, was more likely to be preserved. Contacts with natives in northern Greenland are known from the Book of the Icelanders thought to have been written by the Icelandic scholar Ari the Wise shortly after the founding of the Greenland Norse settlement in the early 12th century. Here is written:

In both the eastern and western parts of the country they found human dwellings, fragments of skin boats, and stone artifacts from which it appears that the same kind of people had passed that way as those who inhabited Vinland, whom the Greenlanders [i.e. Norse] call skraeling.

The next early reference to Native Greenlanders comes from the late 12th century Historia Norvegiae (History of Norway):

On the other side of Greenland, toward the North, hunters have found some little people whom they call skraeling; their situation is that when they are hurt by weapons their sores become white without bleeding, but when they are mortally wounded their blood will hardly stop running. They have no iron at all; they use missiles made of walrus tusks and sharp stone for knives.

Kingiktorsuaq Runestone
Kingiktorsuaq Runestone

Finally, also from northern Greenland, has been found the only stone with runic writing known in North America. This rune stone was found in a rock cairn by Greenland Inuit while hunting on Kingiktorssuak Island in Upernavik District north of Disko Bay, in 1832. The inscription reads, "Erlingur Sigvatsson, Bjarni Thordarson, and Enridi Oddsson built Saturday before Rogation Day a cairn." This note suggests that by the fourteenth century Norse hunters had begun to deplete the walrus resources of the Nordsetur (Disko Bay) and were pushing north into regions not frequently visited by Greenland Norse. The importance of Church holidays during Easter week in the life of the medieval Greenland Norse is also apparent in this inscription. It is in such northern regions that the Norse probably encountered skraeling for the first time in Greenland.