Welcome (back I hope!) to Lavalhallalujah, the blog that researches, interprets and promotes the distinct plausibility that Norse expeditions to North America (985-1010AD) – led by Bjarni Herjolfsson, Leif and Thorvald Eiriksson, Thorfinn Karlsefni and Freydis Eiriksdottir – explored and mapped what would later become known as ‘French Canada’, including the shorelines of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up, way up the St. Lawrence River.

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Norse maps of those expeditions were evidently recorded and shared, not on paper, but through the spoken word. Segments of The Vinland Sagas have been emerging since 2013, based on satellite imagery and local photo research, as sailing directions, laid out through oral storytelling. Wonderful ‘double-entendres’ that both describe the natural details along routes to and from Norse settlements in Helluland, Markland and Vinland, and record the dramatic history of events of the Norse colonization attempts in North America.

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As with my last post, this blog is not a new entry, but an update of my original December 2013 “Red Cloth Unravelled” post. More a photo essay, the 2013 blog was published to officially mark my newly discovered ‘Skraelings are (also) Trolls’ interpretive match between: the distinct red ‘sinuous infolding‘ rock that stretches for kilometres along the shoreline of L’Ile Verte, Quebec (below); and, the matching details spoken of in The Vinland Saga that record Thorfinn Karlsefni trading red cloth with the local “Skraelings”, the First Nations peoples.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

As one moves upriver, the very visible widths of red and grey stripes in the shoreline rock along L’Ile Verte, shrink in unison with the spoken words in the Saga. Very soon afterwards another match, a beachfront Skraeling face in stone, with a large stripe of red cloth around its head. Following that, kilometres upstream at Ste. Andre, Quebec, a natural palisade bounds like The Vinland Saga’s “bellowing bull” out onto the flat, fertile farmland between the Appalachians and the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River.

With so many direct, distinct geographical and Vinland Saga matches, in a row along the Ile Verte shoreline, it became clear to me in December 2013 that the long-unidentified “Skraelings” of The Vinland Sagas were in fact, for the purpose of Norse mapping, mountain-based, troll-like ‘beings’ – much like the trolls found living within boulders, crevices, cliffs and mountainsides within Icelandic spiritual beliefs, to this day.

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In the red cloth Saga, The Skraelings emerge as do the Appalachian mountains that extend to the tip of the Gaspe peninsula. In other Sagas, the Norse encounter Skraelings as they approach Newfoundland’s Long Range Mountains, Quebec’s Laurentiens, Mount Royal and Gatineau Hills, and the Appalachians in north New York state.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

Through 2014 and 2015, I continued to match geography with The Vinland Sagas, soon interpreting the “boats” and “sticks waving” in the Karlsefni Sagas as signifiers of islands, and pointes. Research followed into marsh hay cord grass (Vinland’s “self-sowing wheat“) that led to matching the Sagas’ location of the Norse settlement of “Hop,” at Barachois Pond in southwest Newfoundland – in the same stretch Sarah Parcak found potential evidence of a Norse presence at Point Rosee.

Then finally, with the second “headland” in the red cloth Saga still to be found, I took an October 2016 bike ride around Ile d’Orleans, Quebec (my suspected “Straumfjord”). There, off the northeastern tip of the island, it became easy to conclude with confidence my “red cloth” oral map interpretation, with the sight of the unmistakable second “headland” spoken of: Cap Tourmente, Quebec.

Here’s how Thorfinn Karlsefni’s “Red Cloth Saga” (c. 1010AD), weaves together both the Norse history of explorations in North America, and sailing directions from “Hop”, out Newfoundland’s St. George’s Bay, “south” across the Gulf of St Lawrence, and up the St. Lawrence River estuary to “Straumfjord”:

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“Then, early one morning in spring, they saw a great horde of skin-boats approaching from the south”,

The Saga/map begins after a winter’s stayover at The Vinland Sagas’ settlement of “Hop” (Barachois Pond, Newfoundland). The Karlsefni expedition sets out in the spring, “south” out of St. George’s Bay – using Point Rosee as bearings – across open water toward Les Ile de la Madeleine. The word “horde” is used here to describe the collection of low-lying islands that make up Les Iles de la Madeleine, all linked by sandbars. The stress of the unexpected encounter advises map followers to steer away from the islands, and head for Gaspe, Quebec.

“round the headland”.

Then, it’s up and around the first “headland”, the Gaspe peninsula (the northeast tip of the Appalachian mountain range), past the Norse settlement of Kjalarness. Following the shoreline “south”, the oral map brings one to the entrance of the St. Lawrence River estuary.

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“So dense that it looked as if the estuary were strewn with charcoal.”

On cue at Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis, Quebec, the Sagas’ words describe an estuary perfectly matched with the very (very) distinct local geology: a unique charcoal-black cliff face, and black rock slides that follow. All add up to making the entrance into the St. Lawrence River estuary look very much like it is “strewn with charcoal”.

Again, one must take into account, always, the Icelandic (Norse/Greenlander) cultural belief in ‘trolls’. The Vinland Sagas use trolls’ characteristic rock, hill and mountainside abodes to map sites in the new world – making recognizable landmarks where the earth has erupted in highly distinct shoreline peaks, crevices, cracks and colours. Here, along this stretch of the Gaspe peninsula, the spectacular topography is described by The Bicyclist on his cycling blog as “sedimentary rock that has been lifted, sometimes 60 degrees, in some ancient upheaval.”

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“And sticks were being waved from every boat.”

In The Vinland Sagas, natural features become the tools of the Skraelings, and the Sagas speak twice of the “sticks” they wave from their “boats”.  Here the keel of ‘Kjalarness’ (Gaspe) is mentioned, then ‘La Tourelle’ a very distinctive paddle-shaped rock formation at Haute Gaspésie. All is a description of the numerous (30+) pointed ‘boat’ shaped islands coming up on the way up the river to Ile d’Orleans and Quebec City.

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“Karlsefni’s men raised their shields and the two parties began to trade. What the Skraelings wanted to buy most was red cloth;”

Here, at Baie-des-Sables, Quebec, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his men encounter a trade-friendly First Nations’ people. This trading takes place in the same lands French explorer Jacques Cartier reports (1) trading with members of the Donnacona nation on his first voyage to Gaspe in 1534. The Norse “red cloth” reference here is likely to red silk brought from the orient, and to the abundance of unmistakeably silky ‘sinuous infolding’ red and white stripped rock that increases in quantity further up the river.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

“They also wanted to buy swords and spears, but Karlsefni forbade that.”

Jacques Cartier’s  journals (2), and The Vinland Sagas, here warn ship navigators to stay out of the passages between the mainland and the islands of Saint Barnabe and Du Bic. Cartier’s words of warning match the defensive tone of the Sagas reference to Ilet Canuel as a sharp “sword” and to Ile Sainte-Barnabe as a long and slender, dangerous “spear”.

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“In exchange for the cloth they traded grey pelts.”

At first the ‘sinuous infolding’ rock of L’Ile Verte has the same proportions of grey and red coloured stripes within it. Then, curious seal-like shoreline rock formations appear at the water’s edge. A little further up, the grey rock resembles harbour seal pelts, cut and laid out on the beach to dry.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

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“The natives took a span of red cloth for each pelt, and tied the cloth round their heads.”

Like Jacques Cartier also reports (3), the Donnacona First Nations’ people between Gaspe and Quebec City ceremoniously tied strips of red material around their foreheads. Here (photo above), halfway down the shore of L’Ile Verte, a landmark face-like outcrop of red ‘sinuous infolding’ rock corresponds with the ceremonial headdress  of the Donnacona people, and The Vinland Sagas.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

“The trading went on like this for a while until the cloth began to run short;”

Two thirds of the way along L’Ile Verte however, the red stripes in the sinuous infolding rock, and the red cloth in the Saga, begin to disappear (inset above), leaving much more grey (pelt) for each small strip of red.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

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“Then Karlsefni and his men cut it up into pieces that were no more than a finger’s breadth wide; but the Skraelings paid just as much or even more for it.”

Then, another perfect match!… At the “south” end of L’Ile Verte, the red rock returns – this time with a vengeance. But, like the Saga says, in stripes shrunk to only “a finger’s breadth” or 3 inches wide, the length of an average Norseman’s finger.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

“Then it so happened that a bull belonging to Karlsefni and his men came running out of the woods, bellowing furiously.”

Here, past Ile Verte at about Ste. Andre, Quebec, a beautifully curvy palisade erupts out of the trees between the Appalachians and the fertile St. Lawrence shoreline flatlands. A “bellowing bull” comes to mind when looking at the unique characteristic of the cliffs. Local climbers today call the rock face “Moby Dick”.

Vinland Sagas map sailing route

“The Skraelings were terrified and ran to their skin-boats,”

Here, the aforementioned skin-boats (waving sticks at Gaspe and La Tourelle) reappear in the Saga. The word “ran” used to reference the “run” or ‘continuous stretch‘ of flat, fertile farmland stretching along the St. Lawrence River shoreline. The “skin-boats” represent the dozens of long, thin, low-lying islands, there in the St. Lawrence River estuary.

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“and rowed away south round the headland.”

To end this oral map, the “red cloth” Saga introduces the word “away” – directing navigators to head toward Isle aux Coudres, across the River at the St. Lawrence Valley’s thinnest crossing point. Then head down the opposite coast until you meet the second “headland” – Cap Tormente, Quebec – and go “round” it.

At Ile d’Orleans, the current strengthens significantly as one passes between the island and the Quebec mainland, so the Saga directs sailors to get ready to “row” their ship, upriver to the destination: a deep, quiet bay at the mouth of the St. Charles River below Quebec City) where Jacques Cartier moored his ships in 1534 and 1535 (4).

Considering the numerous near perfect matches between The Vinland Sagas’ descriptions and the natural landmarks and landscapes between Newfoundland and Quebec City – it looks, and sounds, like Thorfinn Karlsefni might have moored his ships in that same bay at the mouth of the St. Charles River too, circa 1010AD!

– fin –

Donald Wiedman
Toronto, Canada

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Footnotes:

The Voyages of Jacques Cartier – Ramsey Cook, University of Toronto Press, 1993

  1. “During that time there arrived a large number of savages.” – Jacques Cartier’s First Voyage, 1534, page 24
  2. “One passes an island some five leagues to the east, with no passage between it and the mainland.” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535, page 47
  3. “He wore about his head for a crown a sort of red band.” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535, page 63
  4. “We thought this river a suitable place in which to lay up our ships in safety.” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535, page 50
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