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						Lögberg-Heimskringla • Föstudagur 7. júlí 2000 • 3
The search for Vínland
On April 20, a show opened at the
Cultural House in Reykjavík ori the set- ¦
tlement of Iceland and the Vínland
journeys. Gísli Sigurðsson, an Arni
Magnússon Institute scholar and the
show's author, along with Sigurjón
Jóhannsson, theatre designer, describe
the show. The article appeared in the
show 's program.
AT the dawn of a new millenni-
um we celebrate a thousand
years of settlement and sailings
across the North Atlantic Ocean. There
at centre stage we find the Icelandic
sagas with memories of Eirfkur the Red,
Þjóðhildur, and their son Leifur the
Lucky, the first European to explore the
continent west of Greenland. He named
the lands he explored, Helluland,
Markland, and Vínland, which we now
know as Canada's east coast and the
northeastern US. Our national pride, as
well as that of the other Nordic coun-
tries, is mixed into these celebrations,
and empathy with the Native peoples 'of
North America, who don't have very
good memories from the first visits of
Europeans to their coast. In spite of var-
ious reservations regarding such views
we have reasons to commemorate the
important events when two main
branches of the human race first met on
the east coast of North America, a thou-.
sand years ago—when Viking Age sail-
ing technology made it possible for peo-
ple from Iceland and Greenland to cross
the ocean.
In Icelandic writings we find two
different stories of the origin of Eiríkur
the Red. In Ari the Learned's
íslendingabók he is said to be descend-
ed from a Breiðafjörður family. This
was Ari's way of describing people
born in Iceland.
However, Norwegians give another
description. In other written sources,
Landnáma, and The Saga of Eirík the
Red, he is said to be from Jaðar in
Norway, having come to Iceland with
his father. Father and son first lived at
Drangar at Homstraðir, but Eiríkur
moved south to the Valleys when he
married Þjóðhildur, the daughter of
Jörundur, son of Björg who was a sister
of Helgi the Lean and a daughter of
Eyvindur, the husband of Rafata
Kjarvalsdóttir, king of Ireland. As a
result Leifur traces his family to the
British Isles, as many other people in
the Valleys (Dalir) in Iceland.
Written sources make no reference
to the birth of Leifur the Lucky
Eiríksson. However, keeping in mind
that Eiríkur and his family moved to
Greenland in 985 or 986, after Eiríkur
spent three years exploring Greenland,
it is estimated that Leifur must have
been born in Iceland in order to be old
enough to steer a ship to the Southern
Islands (where he had the son Þorgils
The exhibit features displays designed by theatre designer Sigurjón Jóhannsson.
Phoív: Morguhbiaðið/Kristinn
with Þórgunna), and Norway and back
home in 999-1000. And it is not unlike-
ly that he was born at Eiríksstaðir,
Haukadalur where his parents first lived.
Guðmundur Ólafsson, archaeolo-
gist, has now excavated a 50 square
meter structure (hall) which was occu-
pied for a short time late in the tenth
century. Two building steps have been
identified, but the hall was deserted
shortly after it was built. It was located
at the eastern limits of the Vatnshorn
land, which shows that it was squeezed
down between two farmsteads, and the
information archaeologists have on the
history and location of the hall are in
congruence with the stories of Eirík the
The oldest archaeological remains
from the settlement of Nordic people in
Greenland are found at Brattahlíð,
where Eiríkur the Red and Þjóðhildur
lived in the Eastern Settlement. The
remains of a small church are found
there. Carbon studies on skeletal
remains from the graveyard indicate
that they date back to late tenth century.
The latest carbon studies of the oldest
remains from the Western settlement,
from the "farm below the sand," show
that people have settled there early in
the eleventh century.
The earliest written descriptions of
mainland North America are found in
the Greenlanders' Saga and the Saga of
Eiríkur the Red. Older stories also show
that people in Iceland and mainland
Europe knew about the Vínland jour-
neys, before the two sagas were written
at the beginning of the thirteenth centu-
ry. A great deal of study and scholarly
writings have grown out of these sagas
and many theories on the Vínland jour-
neys have come forth, with the sagas as
the only source.
The oldest written reference to
Vínland are found in writings by Adam
of Bremen, in Saxland. In 1075 he wrote
the history of Hamburg Bishops, where
he wrote down news he received in
1068-1069 from Sveinn Ulfsson, King of
Denmark, regarding Vínland— an island
in the west where both grapes and self-
sown wheat grow. If we did not have
more dependable stories from Iceland
regarding this same Vínland we could
think that Adam's descriptions were but
one of numerous stories of legendary
islands in the Atlantic Ocean, said to
originate in Ireland and elsewhere.
A considerably shorter reference to
Vínland is found in íslendingabók (Ari
the Learned) written in 1122-1133.
There Ari tells of Eiríkur the Red having
found "habitations" in Greenland of the
same kind as the inhabitants of Vínland
used—whom the Greenlanders called
skrœlings. It appears that Ari considers
Vínland to be known, and among those
whom Ari first showed his book was
Þorlákur Runólfsson, Bishop at Skálholt
(1085-1133), a grandson of Snorri
Þorfinnsson, the first Caucasian man
born in North America. Þorlákur should
have known about the Vínland journeys
from his grandfather. Ari wrote
Islendingabók shortly after 1121 when
annals mentioned that Eiríkur upsi
Gnúpsson, Bishop in Greenland, had
left in search of Vínland. Although
nothing more was heard of him, the
search indicates that Vínland was upper-
most in the minds of people at
Please see Vínland on page 4
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