The following post is my latest interpretation of a segment of The Vinland Sagas. This one deciphering the Greenlander Saga’s “Karlsefni in Vinland” – Chapter 7, Page 64 – from the 1965 translation by Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Palsson. As with previous interpretations, I claim that specific parts of The Vinland Sagas are ‘Oral Maps’ – tales describing distinct geological shoreline landmarks. The Sagas guide sailors down the coastlines of Baffin Island, Labrador and Hudson Bay, around inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence, then up the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers.

Lavalhallalujah December 2014

With that in mind, months ago I also “deciphered” that Saga references to “Skraelings” were both historical records of encounters between the Norse settlers and the First Nations, AND made-up ‘tales’ describing very unique and highly visible shoreline boulders, rock outcrops, islands and mountain rock faces. Saga segments served to orally guide sailors past treacherous rocks to safe harbours to land, settle and farm, and trade goods with local aboriginals. Donald Wiedman

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The Vinland Sagas’ Karlsefni in Vinland – Interpreted

“The first winter passed into summer, and then they had their first encounter with Skraelings, when a great number of them came out of the wood one day.”

[Interpretation: As you sail south, down the west coast of Newfoundland, the shoreline features barren, uninhabitable scrub brush flatlands and hills. After 200 kilometres or so, denser forest and the Long Range Mountains appear in the distance. The distinctive outcrop rocks at ‘Table Point’ (green sandstone emerging from shale and limestone breccia) are the first “Skraelings” the Norse saw/encountered. ]

“The cattle were grazing near by and the bull began to bellow and roar with great vehemence.” [The Arches and Cow Head, west coast Newfoundland. ]

“This terrified the Skraelings and they fled, carrying their packs which contained furs and sables and pelts of all kinds.” [At Parson’s Pond, the Long Range Mountains begin to move away east again from the shoreline, leaving grasslands in the foreground. Saga also tells of good trapping or trading for pelts in that area. ]

skraelings run

“They made for Karlsefni’s houses and tried to get inside, but Karlsefni had the doors barred against them. Neither side could understand each other’s language.” [At Green Point, the horizontal layers of shale and limestone breccia have been dramatically pushed up into a vertical position – to resemble walls and a door. Two human-like faces in the cliff-side appear to be having a conversation with each other. Curved vertical lines on the left and straight vertical lines on the right are described as each face speaking a different “language.” ]

Doorway

“Then the Skraelings put down their packs and opened them up and offered their contents, preferably in exchange for weapons; but Karlsefni forbade his men to sell arms.” [At St. Paul’s Bay, the Long Range Mountains begin to open, exposing a series of inland “ponds”, or “fjords” within Gros Morne National Park. ]

Parsons Pond

[At Broom Point, Karlsefni “forbade his men to sell arms” (weapons: swords and spears) – indicating sharp, treacherous shoreline rock ahead, to be steered around. ↓]

Broom Point

“Then Karlsefni hit on the idea of telling the women to carry milk out to the Skraelings, and when the Skraelings saw the milk they wanted to buy nothing else.” [This describes the mouth of Western Brook, and the ‘milk’ white sands of Western Brook Beach. The women carrying the milk toward the Skraelings is a reference of the ‘meandering’ nature of Western Brook – mirroring the way women’s hips swing side to side when they walk. ↓]

western brook“And so the outcome of their trading expedition was that the Skraelings carried their purchases away in their bellies, and left their packs and furs with Karlsefni and his men.” [Their ‘bellies’ are Western Brook Pond, and the other inland ponds/fjords inside and just outside Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. ↓]

Bellies“After that, Karlsefni ordered a strong palisade to be erected round the houses, and they settled in.” [The Norse settlers retreat up the coastline back to Green Point – the ‘palisade’ being the distinctive vertical layers of limestone and shale that resemble the log walls of a Norse palisade. ↓]

fortress

palisade

“About this time, Karlsefni’s wife, Gudrid, gave birth to a son, and he was named Snorri.” [Both a historical reference to the birth of the first European in North America, at the settlement at Green Cove, AND a landmark referring to three distinctive boulders sitting on the beach inside the ‘safe harbour’ at Green Cove. ↓]

Snorri

“Early next winter the Skraelings returned, in much greater numbers [referring to the approaching Gros Morne National Park’s many mountains], this time bringing with them the same kind of wares as before [pelts]. Karlsefni told the women, You must carry out to them the same produce that was most in demand as before [milk], and nothing else.” [South of Green Cove, the mouth of Baker’s Brook features the same milky-white sands as Western Brook’s; likewise, Baker’s Brook meanders – like a woman’s hips – eastward toward the Long Range Mountains. ]

Bakers Brook

“As soon as the Skraelings saw it, they threw their packs in over the palisade.” [Gros Morne (the pack) appears as you sail south, like a dropped sack surrounded by a fortress / palisade (the surrounding Long Range Mountains). ]

gros morne
“Now we must devise a plan, said Karlsefni, for I expect they will pay us a third visit, this time with hostility and in greater numbers.” [In this segment, Karlsefni foretells – with information shared with him by Leif Eiriksson – of the upcoming ‘Tablelands’, west coast Newfoundland’s most distinctive and visible geological feature: mountains made of peridotite, or mantle rock, pushed tens of kilometres up from below the earth’s surface. ] 

Tablelands 1

“This is what we must do: ten men are to go out on the headland here and make themselves conspicuous.” [Just after Rocky Harbour and Bonne Bay, the natural meadows of west coast Green Gardens appear. Dotting the shoreline are a series of distinctive, stand alone, tall man-like rock formations, beginning at Brakes Cove. ↓↓]

lookouts

Lookout 2

“And the rest of us are to go into the wood and make a clearing there, where we can keep our cattle when the Skraelings come out of the forest.” [Green Gardens is a strip of natural meadows that grow atop volcanic rock along the west coast south of Rocky Harbour. ↓]

Green Gardens

“We shall take our bull and keep him to the fore.” [Further south along the Green Gardens Trail, just north of Bottle Cove, this distinctive rock formation looks like a bull, complete with two horns on his head. ]

Brakes Cove“The place where they intended to have their encounter with the Skraelings had the lake on one side and the woods on the other.” [The ‘Lake’ is west coast Newfoundland’s Trout River Pond, just south side of The Tablelands (the battlefield); The ‘Woods’ refer to the forest on the north side of The Tablelands, at Rocky Harbour on Bonne Bay. ]

Skraelings Encounter

“Karlsfni’s plan was put into effect, and the Skraelings came right to the place that Karlsefni had chosen for the battle. The fighting began, and many of the Skraeling were killed.” [The dynamic lunar-like landscape of The Tablelands is the ‘battlefield’; the many Skraelings ‘killed’ are the many golden boulders that litter the Tableland foothills. ]

skraelings

There was one tall and handsome man among the Skraelings, and Karlsefni reckoned that he must be their leader.” [Further along the coast, south of Trout River, stands who Newfoundlanders call ‘The Old Man’ ]

old man

One of the Skraelings had picked up an axe, and after examining it for a moment he swung it at a man standing beside him, who fell dead at once.” [Two distinctive rock hills mark the entrance to the safe harbour of Bottle Cove. ]

Dead Skraeling“The tall man then took hold of the axe, looked at it for a moment, and then threw it as far as he could out into the water.” [Following the coast south, Fox Island marks the spot where a ship must veer west, to get around the peninsula and not sail into East Bay – but follow the French Shore south to Cape Saint George. ]

Fox Island“Then the Skraelings fled into the forest as fast as they could, and that was the end of the encounter.” [The Tablelands end just after Lewis Hills, the tallest mountain in Newfoundland. ]

End of Encounter

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Source: Rocks Adrift – The Geology of Gros Morne National Park, Environment Canada Parks Service, 1990

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