Vikings’ first contact

Meetings with Native Americans will be explored at CLU’s Nordic Spirit Symposium

Nordic Spirit Symposium: Thorunn Clausen

Photo courtesy of CLU
Thorunn Clausen of Iceland will portray the first European woman to reach North America, Gudridur, as told in the Icelandic Sagas.

Judith Gabriel Vinje
Los Angeles

When the Norse first set foot on the rugged shores of northeastern Canada 1,000 years ago, it was onto a landscape that had been inhabited by people for some 8,000 years. Today, there is new information about the “first contact” between the Europeans and the Natives of the area.

The 2018 Nordic Spirit Symposium at California Lutheran University, taking place Feb. 9 and 10, will highlight the Norse “discovery” of North America, and the encounters between the two peoples. Howard K. Rockstad, founder and director of the symposium, now in its 19th year, notes that new findings about what—and who—they found there continue to emerge

Geared to the general public, the two-day event, titled “Vikings Reach America: First Contact,” features leading archaeologists and historians who will present the latest findings on the people they encountered, and the sites in North America, such as L’Anse aux Meadows, probably the gateway to the location of the Vinland discussed in the Icelandic sagas

A different culture
Opening the two-day event will be Gisli Sigurdsson of the University of Iceland, who will analyze how the lands west and south of Greenland are remembered in the 13th-century sagas that describe voyages around the year 1000 AD to the lands called Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, where the Norse found people of a very different culture.

The colonists from Iceland built a settlement that lasted for almost 500 years, only to be finally abandoned. Jette Arneborg, research archaeologist of the national Museum of Denmark, will focus on the lifestyle of the settlers, including new research on social structure, the role of the church, and the economy of the settlements. She will also discuss current ideas on the abandonment of the settlements.

Nordic Spirit Symposium: Gisli Sigurdsson

Photo courtesy of CLU
Gisli Sigurdsson of the University of Iceland, exploring the wilderness in Labrador, will describe how the lands west and south of Greenland are remembered in the 13th century sagas.

Birgitta Wallace, retired archaeologist with Parks Canada, will speak on “L’Anse aux Meadows; the Gateway to Vinland and its People.” The site at the northern tip of Newfoundland was excavated and determined to be a Norse base for far-flung expeditions in all directions.

Anthropologist Donald H. Holly of Eastern Illinois University will present “A Short Prehistory of the Norse’s New World” with special attention to the native peoples who called the region home.

A native population of eastern Canada—the Mi’kmaq people—and its folklore and pre-contact culture, will be brought to life by author and linguist Bern Francis, who is of Mi’kmaq heritage.

Saga of Gudridur
The sagas tell of Norse voyages to Vinland around 1000 AD, and a scene from the sagas will be staged Saturday by Danish-Icelandic actress Thorunn Clausen portraying Gudridur, the first European woman to set foot in North America. Clausen, fresh from a round of performances in Iceland, will perform the one-woman play based on the Icelandic saga account of the Norse arrival.

A reception will kick off the event at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 9, at the Scandinavian Center located near campus. The symposium will conclude with dinner and entertainment at 7 p.m., Feb. 10, in the Lundring Events Center, where UCLA archaeologist Jesse Byock will speak on the language the Vikings spoke. All other presentations will be in Samuelson Chapel.

Cal Lutheran and the Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation are sponsoring the symposium. The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and the Norway House Foundation in San Francisco provided grants. For more information call (805) 660-3096. Sign up for the Saturday lunch and dinner by Feb. 1.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.