Did the Vikings ever make it to America? Might there still be one left?
My mission is to find him!
The Icelandic sagas tell the story of Leif the Lucky who discovered Vinland in the west. More Vikings followed in his footsteps including his brother Thorvald (Þorvaldur). Thorvald was killed by an arrow from one of the natives as he was searching for a place for his future home and buried there. The description of the grave is quite accurate in the sagas but are they reliable?
So far a lot of the stories in the Sagas have turned out to be true. Erik the Red's farm in Greenland has been found and so has the camp of his son Leif the Lucky in Newfoundland. The chance of finding a grave of a single man who's been buried for 1.000 years somewhere in America is slim, to say the least. To increase the change it is important to understand the Sagas and the Vikings. What were they thinking? What were they looking for? Where would they bury a dead chief?
I grew up in one of the Westfjords in Iceland listening to the Sagas of the Vikings who sailed the fjords 1.000 years earlier. In the last few years some of the legendary graves and Viking locations have been unearthed, exactly where they were said to be, proofing the Sagas to be a quite reliable source.
In the picture above you can see me standing by one of the Viking graves, overlooking the magnificent landscape. One of the most fascinating Viking Sagas I heard while growing up is the saga of Erik the Red and the Greenlanders which tells about their exploration of Greenland and Vinland - America. In 1960 Viking buildings were found on the Northern tip of Newfoundland, believed to be the camp of Leif the Lucky. Further down south is the grave of his brother.
The importance of finding the grave is quite big in historical context. It would proof beyond doubt that the Vikings did make it to the mainland of America and it would proof the reliability of the Sagas as a source. For me personally, I love a good mystery, and specially if it is about my ancestors. I can trace my roots directly to Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir, the woman who gave birth to the first Viking in America.
I have been preparing this project for a year now gathering information, looking at archeological sites and talking to scientists. To fully understand the Vikings and maximize the chance of finding the grave it is important to visit their homes in Iceland and Greenland and see where they chose to build their houses, what they were looking for and where they would bury their own. Equally important is to approach it the same way they did - sailing from the North instead of driving from the South. And that is where things seemed to be stranding. The cost of renting a proper boat and a crew seem to kill the project before it took off. Until a few days ago.
I got a request from a twitter friend who wanted some good tips about Iceland and Greenland. Turns out he is sailing with a few friends on a 60 foot ketch from Ireland to Iceland - and onwards to Greenland and Canada. And he still needed crew! So I told him about my mission and we decided to combine the two. The only problem is, they're leaving Ireland June 1st so I only have 15 days to get the minimum amount I need - which is 28.000 USD to cover the bare minimum travel cost, crew and the gear.
The journeyWe plan to leave Reykjavik, Iceland June 15th and start by visiting the birth place of Leif and Thorvald in the west of Iceland before heading off to Greenland. In Greenland we will be visiting the most important Viking sites, including their permanent homes. The Vikings lived in Greenland for over 400 years until they mysteriously disappeared. The last thing that was heard from them was a wedding in Hvalsey church September 16th 1408. No one knows what happened to them after that. From the western settlement in Greenland we will set sail for Vinland and the actual search for the grave begins. We expect to be at sea for 3-4 weeks and return mid July.
The expedition leader and host of the show is Hjörtur Smárason, an anthropologist, Viking descendant and explorer from Iceland. Hjörtur grew up in the Westfjords of Iceland like Leif the Lucky and his brother Thorvald and has been studying the sagas to be able to locate the grave. Hjörtur is well travelled in Iceland and Greenland and has previously participated in film projects like Nokia's filming of the Earth from above with a mobile phone and Game of Thrones where he plays one of the free Wildlings north of the Wall.
The filmmaker is Evan Warner, an aspiring Canadian film maker. The latest project he worked on is People of a feather, a documentary about an Inuit community in Canada which has won a series of awards in the last few months.
The captain is Captain Finbar, an Irish sailor who's been sailing the seven seas for more than half a century. There is nothing that man hasn't tried!
The chef is Garrett O'Mahony who can smooth the fiercest storms and spice up the deadest calms with his delicatessens.
Let's make this adventure happen! Let's go find that Viking!