By 870 AD the Vikings had settled on the shores of Iceland, and by the start of the eleventh century there were about three thousand Norse colonists established in Greenland. The two Vinland sagasEirik’s Saga and the Graenlendinga – give us the only extant account of further explorations west, recounting the exploits of Leif Eiriksson and Thorfinn Karlsefni, his merchant brother-in-law, who founded a colony they called Vinland in North America around 1000 AD. Crucially, the Norse settlers failed to establish reasonable relations with their Aboriginal neighbours – whom they called skraelings, literally “wretches” – and the perennial skirmishing that ensued eventually drove them out of Vinland, though they did return to secure raw materials for the next few decades; it seems likely that L’Anse aux Meadows is the result of one of these foragings.

The Norse carried on collecting timber from Labrador up until the fourteenth century, when a dramatic deterioration in the climate made the trip from Greenland too dangerous. Attacks from the Inuit and the difficulties of maintaining trading links with Scandinavia then took their toll on the main Greenland colonies. All contact between Greenland and the outside world was lost around 1410 and the last of the half-starved, disease-ridden survivors died out towards the end of the fifteenth century – just as Christopher Columbus was eyeing up his “New World”.

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