Discovering Greenland

„The country which is called Greenland was discovered and settled from Iceland. Eirik the Red was the name of a man from Breidafjordur who went out there from here and took possession of land in the place which has since been called Eirkisfjord. He named the country Greenland, and said it would make people want to go there if the country had a good name. There, both in the east and the west, they found human habitation and fragments of skin boats and stone tools, from which it was evident there the same kind of people had been there as had lived in Wineland(Vinland), whom the Greenlanders called Skrælingar. He began settlement in the country 14 or 15 years before Christianity came to Iceland, according to a man who himself had gone there with Eirik the Red told Thorkel Gellisson (Ari´s uncle) in Greenland.”

This extract from the Book of the Icelanders by Ari the Learned (1067-1148) is reliable, though tantalizingly brief. He could be sure that his audience knew about Vinland, so he wasted no words on the presumably well-known story of its discovery and the early attempts to settle there.

The Icelandic book, The Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), describes all the chief settlers of Iceland telling where they settled and tracing their genealogy. That book was originally composed early in the twelfth century with Ari the Learned taking part in its composition. It is a much longer, detailed work than Ari´s Book of the Icelanders. Unfortunately, it has not come down to us in its original form, and the extant versions contain extracts from other texts, including some Sagas of Icelanders, such as Egil´s Saga, The Saga of the People of Eyri and others.

The Book of Settlements contains two accounts of Eirik the Red and his father Thorvald. The first of these is much more detailed and begins as follows:

“Thorvald, the son of Astvald, son of Ulf-Oxen-Thorisson, and his son Eirik the Red left Jadar on account of some killings and took possession of land in the Hornstrandir; they settled at Drangar, where Thorvald died. Eirik

then married Thjodhild, the daughter of Jorund Atlason and Thorbjorg Ship-breast, who was then married to Thorbjorn the Haukadaler. Eirik then moved south and cleared land in Haukadalur. He lived at Eriksstadir near Vatnshorn.”

Thjodhild´s Church in Brattahlid

Eirik the Red´s saga tells of a church built in Brattahlid, Greenland with the financial support of Thjodhild, Eirik´s wife. Archaeological excavations on the site have revealed a church from the first decades of the settlement surrounded by a Christian cemetery where nearly one hundred men, women and children were buried