Vinland – Skálholt Map

1) Who wrote the document and why?

This document was written in 1570 by Sigurd Stefansson, a teacher from Skalholt, Iceland. His original map has since been lost and thus this copy dates back to the late-seventeenth century. As an instructor in an educational centre of Iceland, Stefansson sought to depict the travels of the Ancient Norse explorers throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Using information from the Vinland Sagas, he was able to document their North American discoveries. Areas such as Helleland, Markland and Promontorium Winlandiae (Vinland) seem to represent modern day Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland respectively. The Skalholt Map indicates that the northern tip of Vinland shares roughly the same latitude as the southern coast of Ireland. This encouraged the excavations at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, which in 1960 produced the first archaeological evidence of pre-Columbian Viking presence in America.




2) Where was this colony located?

Skálholt Map

Skálholt Map

Our group was given the Skalholt map, which depicts the transatlantic adventures of the Vikings.  This map shows the exploration of land by the Vikings, which includes Greenland, Nunavut, Iceland, and Vinland.  Vinland is the term that the Vikings used to refer to North America.  The colony of importance to Canadian history is the land referred to as “Promontorium Winlandia,” which is on the northeastern tip of Newfoundland, today known as L’Anse aux Meadows.  Using the latitudes in the Skalholt map researchers were able to extrapolate that Promontorium Winlandia is in Newfoundland, which contributed to its successful excavation.

3) Who were the settlers who tried to colonize this place?

Sixteenth century Vikings tried to colonize the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, which was otherwise known as “Vinland.”

In terms of characterizing these people, they have been historically described as brave voyagers and fighters. This identifying feature presents itself in the manner through which they detailed their own histories: through stories. It is known that this group of Norsemen typically focused on recording information in written form, rather than cartographically (i.e. in map form). It was common for the Vikings to impart their exploration-based stories through sagas, which are lengthy tales detailing courageous adventures—in this case, the act of colonizing (or attempting to colonize) a foreign land.





4) What motivated these people to travel across the Atlantic?

The motivation behind these people travelling across the Atlantic was the thought that there would be good lumber to produce buildings back home, and also they were looking to simply capture land, not to necessarily inhabit said land entirely, but capture it under their name. What they found was that there was good catch in the area such as fish and other wild catch, as well as there was a lot of wild berries. It was a baron, cold land which did not have much life in the Viking’s eyes, and very few of them inhabited the land for long periods of time.

5) With whom did these people come into contact when they arrived in North America?

When the vikings landed in Vinland, it was lush and green with everything they were looking for in a new land. Unfortunately it was already populated with natives that the vikings called Skraelings (barbarians). Archaeologists surmised the native populations in this area to comprise of the Beothuk and/or the inuit. The interactions between these two groups were disastrous and eventually the vikings left after much fighting and bloodshed.

6) Why did the colony fail?

The “Vinland” settlement of North America failed due to a lack of resources and technological development. The ships that the Vikings were using to island hop across the Northern Atlantic were primarily designed to only travel within sight of land so the leap from Greenland to North America was something that many ships did not survive. This coupled with the fractured nature of Viking culture meant that there was no organized shipping of colonists or supplies to populate and settle the new found land; unlike the European settlements that were founded in the 15th century.


1) “Why Did They Leave?” Where Is Vinland? Canadian Mysteries, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.<;.

2) TheOtherMaven. “Why Did the Vinland Colony Fail?” : Why Did the Vinland Colony Fail? Daily Kos, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <;.

Viking trade with Natives

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