Saturday, April 8, 2017

G - Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, Mother of the first European born in North America

For hundreds of years, it was generally accepted that Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas. This is of course blatantly false, since there were MILLIONS of people here before Columbus stumbled along and set into motion what was to become the near-genocide of an entire race of humans.

Can we even claim that Columbus was the first EUROPEAN to arrive in America? Nope. Not by a long shot. The first confirmed visit (and permanent settlement) in the Americas took place about FIVE HUNDRED YEARS before our bumbling Italian explorer was even born.

(There are many fascinating and believable theories that Europeans visited the Americas long before that as well, but I'll stick to the oldest that has been scientifically proven).

In the 1960s, archaeological exploration at the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland uncovered Norse artifacts, suggesting that the vikings had visited the island sometime around 1000AD. Further investigation uncovered additional items and the ruins of at least 8 buildings - sod and wood huts that were used as dwellings and workshops, including an iron smithy. Carbon dating places the artifacts at somewhere between 990 and 1050 AD.

Rebuilt viking settlement, L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.
Photo credit:

So not only did the vikings visit North America, but they actually set up shop here. Because the land around the settlement (now called "L'Anse aux Meadows," an anglicism of the French "L'anse aux méduses" or "Jellyfish Cove") was at the time covered in heavy forest, it would have served as excellent boat-building and repair material. Experts now believe that the site was the exploration base for the Norse people as they traveled west across the Western continent, a land they called "Vinland." In 2012, evidence of additional Norse outposts were discovered on several Canadian Arctic islands, indicating indeed that the viking presence may have been extensive. Further investigation is ongoing.

This random bit of rusty metal is a piece of a Norse spinning wheel. Along with needles and scissors that were found nearby, this is pretty conclusive proof that vikings not only visited Newfoundland but settled, at least long enough to bring their spinning wheels with them. Archaeologists wet themselves over this tiny lump of rust.
Photo credit: Daze End

But who is the titular Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir from today's post? Besides being my best way to shoe-horn in a "G," she was a viking who was married to Thorstein Erickson, the younger brother of Lief Erickson. Like many norsewomen of her time, she traveled and adventured with the norsemen, drinking and sailing and raiding all across the Northern Seas, including across the Atlantic to the fabled Vinland. After Thorstein's death, Gudrid was supposedly visited by his spirit who told her she would remarry and give birth to a child in the new world. Sure enough, she married a wealthy merchant named Thorfinn Karlsefni, and gave birth to a son, Snorri Thorinnsson in Vinland, the first European born in the Western Hemisphere. Forget Cortez, Ponce de Leon or Jamestown, the first white people to settle in the Americas was a badass woman with an axe in one hand and a baby in the other.

No seriously, here is an actual statue of Gudrid and Snorri from Glaumbær, Iceland.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Again, I can't stress enough that there were literally MILLIONS of people already over here, who by some accounts actually fought the vikings and drove them away, but it's still a pretty cool story.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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