Helluland is the name given to one of the three lands seen by Bjarni Herjólfsson, discovered by Leif Ericson and further explored by Þorfinnr "Karlsefni" Þórðarson around AD 1000 on the North Atlantic coast of North America.
Helluland was characterized by the Icelandic Saga of Erik the Red and the Greenland Saga as a land of flat stones (Old Norse: hella). According to a 2012 article by Jónas Kristjánsson et al., most scholars agree that Helluland corresponds to Baffin Island in the present-day Canadian territory of Nunavut.
In ancient Icelandic scholarship
According to a footnote in Arthur Middleton Reeves's The Norse Discovery of America (1906), "the whole of the northern coast of America, west of Greenland, was called by the ancient Icelandic geographers Helluland it Mikla, or Great Helluland; and the island of Newfoundland simply Helluland, or Litla Helluland."
According to the Sagas
Helluland was the first of three lands in North America visited by Eriksson. He decided against trying to settle there because he found the land inhospitable. He continued south to Markland (probably Labrador) and Vinland (possibly Newfoundland).
According to the Saga of Erik the Red, "They sailed away from land; then to the Western Settlement and to Bjarneyjar (the Bear Islands). Thence they sailed away from Bjarneyjar with northerly winds. They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar-foxes were there in abundance. This land they gave name to, and called it Helluland." [the land of flat stones]
Contact with other cultures
From the testimony of the sagas, the Norse explorers probably made contact with the native Dorset culture of the region, people whom the sagas term skrælings. Historians[who?] suggest the contact had no major cultural ramifications for either side.
In September 2008, the local Nunatsiaq News reported on work by an archeological team. Their evaluation of archaeological artifacts of yarn, rats, tally sticks, a carved wooden face mask depicting Caucasian features, and possible architectural remains, constitute evidence suggesting European traders and possibly settlers on Baffin Island not later than 1000. The material suggests they may have settled there for some time. The origin of the Europeans is unclear. The report states: "Dating of some yarn and other artifacts, presumed to be left by Vikings on Baffin Island, have produced an age that predates the Vikings by several hundred years. So [...] you have to consider the possibility that as remote as it may seem, these finds may represent evidence of contact with Europeans prior to the Vikings' arrival in Greenland. The archaeological site at Nanook is thought to be a trading post and port.
- National Museum of Natural History, Arctic Studies Center. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga.
- Jónas Kristjánsson et al. (2012) Falling into Vínland. Acta Archeologica 83, pp. 145-177
- "Is L'Anse aux Meadows Vinland?". L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada. Parks Canada. 2003. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Nunatsiaq News
- CBC, The Nature of Things episode "The Norse: An Arctic Mystery, season 2012-2013 episode 5 airdate 22 November 2012