Vinland was the site of a Viking settlement which is estimated to have existed around 1,000 CE. The precise location of Vinland is a topic of dispute and debate, thanks to sketchy supporting evidence and inconclusive archaeological research, but it is believed to have been located somewhere along the northern coastal region of North America, perhaps around Newfoundland. If Vinland really did exist and Vikings settled there, it would be the oldest European settlement in North America by far, discovered and settled 500 years before Columbus sailed to the Americas.
Numerous Norse sagas and stories talk about Vinland, describing the area and the failed settlement there. According to legend, the site was discovered by Leif Eiriksson, one of the great Viking explorers, on one of his journeys out into the Atlantic. A settlement was briefly established there, but it ultimately failed due to encounters with the native community, which did not welcome the settlers.
The name Vinland has been a topic of some discussion. Some historians believe that it translates as “Vine Land,” a reference to grapevines discovered growing in the area. However, it could also mean “Plain Land,” suggesting ample pasturing for animals. Grapevines do grow wild in some parts of North America, as do berries which could be used to produce wine, so supporters of the Vine Land theory suggest that the land was simply named for its most notable feature.
However, the name could also have been a sort of early advertising ploy, designed to get people to settle in Vinland to establish a firm Viking foothold in the New World. “Greenland,” for example, was anything but, suggesting that this ploy had been used before. The name might also have been a joke, or a confused translation perpetuated by authors who wrote about Vinland without ever having seen it.
In the 1960s, evidence of a Viking settlement was uncovered at L'Anse Aux Meadows, a site in Newfoundland, and artifacts from the site seem to support the concept of an 11th century settlement. At around the same time, a “Vinland Map” surfaced. The Vinland Map has been a topic of controversy. Although it purports to date to the 15th century, the map may have been doctored of tampered with; the ink used, for example, seems to date to the 1920s, and the map was treated with chemicals which would not have been available in the 15th century. Many historians now believe that the Vinland Map is a fake, although Vinland itself may have been quite real.