Did the Viking explorers Erik the Red and Leif the Lucky make it all the way across the Atlantic to America 500 years before Columbus? Josh Bernstein sails a Viking ship from Denmark to discover what made the Vikings such masterful mariners. With the ancient Viking sagas as a guide, he embarks on a 4,000-mile journey from Scandinavia to Newfoundland, via Iceland and the wilds of southern Greenland. Along the way, he tracks down the archaeological evidence behind the Viking legends and proves, once and for all, that they really did be.
"In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue...": "This is what I remember learning in Elementary school. I remember learning about the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and how Columbus believed the world was round, not flat. But I don't remember learning that the Vikings were here before Columbus. Why not? Well, this journey explores the Viking journey, and it begins in Denmark."
Roskilde, Denmark: "The Viking Museum here has the largest collection of ACTUAL Viking ships in the world. These 5 ships were built around 1030 A.D. and were preserved by the mud they sank into. Pretty cool, huh? They were so well-preserved that the curators and archaeologists here at the museum could replicate their construction board-for-board, creating modern Viking ships with complete accuracy. And I could even go out and sail one! How cool is that?"
Gunnar Eggertsson: "Two things you need to know about Gunnar. 1. He's the great-great-great (30 times) grandson of Leif the Lucky's grandfather. And 2), he's probably done more sailing on a Viking ship than anyone else alive today. So he's doubly qualified to give me insights into the Viking world one thousand years ago and help me start my quest."
Sailing, Viking Style: "Scandinavian seamanship is a fascinating area of study. Today, Norse ship craftsmen have an unbroken tradition of working wood and building ships that goes from the present back several thousand years. There are no gaps in that knowledge, which means that the techniques and insights of Viking shipbuilders has not been lost. Gunnar is one of these modern sailors with that ancient knowledge, and he's able to explain to me how revolutionary the Viking ships were. They could tack into the wind--that is, go upwind with their sails by cutting back and forth across the water. This was not done by
other sailors. The Vikings also contributed the Keel to ships--that piece of wood below the hull which helps keep a boat on course and allows it to tack. And the word "Starboard" for a ship's right side (Left is "Port") comes from the Vikings 'Steeringboard,' which was always on the right side of the ship. Really, the Vikings made many significant contributions to sailing, as they were some of the most aggressive and competent sailors ever to journey across the ocean. And, as I learn from Gunnar, crossing the northern Atlantic would have been well within the abilities of both the Vikings and their ships."
Erik the Red: "Erik 'the Red' Thorvaldsson was a hot tempered explorer who came from a family of hot tempered explorers. They had a propensity for ending their disputes by killing people, which led to the standard decree from the Viking court system--3 years of exile. Erik's father Thorvald decided to leave Norway and head west to the island of Iceland, where he raised his (hot tempered) family."
Reykjavik, Iceland: "Reykjavik is the world's northernmost capital. At least, that's what I learned on the flight over. Here on the ground, I also learn that all the hot water here comes from thermal springs, so it has this sulfury heaviness that makes me feel kind of like I didn't really shower. Or that someone slipped some rotten eggs into my tap water. But, hey, it's the same for everyone, right? So maybe you get used to it."
"Sulfur-water aside, Iceland is a magical place. The landscape has an eery, volcanic quality to it, with large fields of black creeping along the landscape. There are geysers, hot springs, caves, and lagoons. There's also a crazy nightlife in Reykjavik, since the sun doesn't really go down here at all at this time of the year. Wild. But I'm not here to party, but to see Erik's home."
Eiriksstadir: "Erik the Red's home on Iceland was the result of his marriage to Thorhild. He was given a plot of land in the Haukadalur valley, where he and his wife would have several children, including Leif."
"The reconstruction of his home is interesting—this being my first Viking longhouse. Everyone shares the one central room where people sleep, work, and take refuge from the winter's cold. The structure appears to be mostly sod, with some wood for support and platforms. Very clever use of earth. But with 20-30 people living here, it was certainly cozy, if not just plain crowded."
"But tempers being what they were in this family, a dispute (and 2 deaths) forced Erik into exile and away from his home here. So off the family went in search of a new home, once again, to the West."
Greenland, Ho!: "My first impression of Greenland is, well, NOT green. It's mostly ice—look at it on a map and you'll see what I mean. In fact, Iceland and Greenland should really switch names. But this barren land of ice and rock is where the bold Erik the Red-Haired made his explorations over 1000 years ago. He and his family were tough, and intrepid, and for 3 years they explored the southern waters of this giant island in search of the nicest piece of land. And, sure enough, it seems they found it."
Big Plane, Little Plane, Helicopter, Boat: "Honestly, this could have very easily been a show about how we get to a location. We traveled SO much for this Viking show that the journey itself was epic. Epic, I say! But this is The History Channel, not The Travel Channel, so it doesn't make sense to spend too much time dwelling on the "how we got there" part. Just be aware that, should you want to visit some of these places, prepare to be sitting on a lot of planes. And helicopters. And boats."
Icebergs, Ho!: "I hope the HiDef image gives you a sense of the purity and majesty of these icebergs. The water was so blue, the ice so white, it was mesmerizing. Caroline and I were captivated (okay, only I was captivated) by their beauty and brilliance. I think I could have spent hours just staring at them. Standing on one was one of the great thrills of my life--it's impossible to describe properly. Perhaps if you were to imagine the feeling you get just as you're going to jump out of the plane when skydiving--it was that exhilarating standing on an iceberg that could very easily capsize or collapse and take all of us with it (even the boat). Not for the faint of heart."
Brattalid: "Brattalid is considered to be one of the nicest places in southern Greenland. To a Norse chieftan like Erik, who needed a place to command and control trade items, it offered him everything he needed. It was from here that he raised his family and, ultimately, died. At least, I think he died here. I know that he didn't go on to America with his son Leif because of an injury suffered on horseback. But what a view he had from his house, huh?"
Helluland, Markland, Vinland: "These terms appear in the Sagas, describing the lands the Leif the Lucky explored on his journeys west from Greenland. There's still some debate as to which lands these describe--and whether they refer to specific places or to general regions. But many archaeologists believe that Vinland is Newfoundland and the regions south where grapes once grew. The evidence that Dale shows me (and that's easily seen on the ground) strongly supports their presence here."
Newfoundland and the Final Frontier: "The archaeological evidence at L'Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland would suggest that Norse settlers reached here in the early 11th century. The building shapes, the iron nails, the clothing pin--all these things suggest a Viking presence here 500 years before Columbus."
October Ninth: "In 1964, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted for--and President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed--October 9th to be Leif Erikson day. The date doesn't really relate to anything in Leif's life--the ship Restauration "arrived in New York Harbor on October 9, 1825, at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the US" (from Wikipedia). So it would seem that even 40+ years ago, it was generally accepted that Leif and the Vikings got here before Columbus. Yet Columbus day is a national holiday and Leif Erikson day is hardly talked about. I'd never ever heard about it before this journey. In fact, I wasn't even aware of how much archaeological evidence supported the claim that Vikings were here first."
Maybe after people see this show, things will change a bit, huh?"