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Helge's saga

Viking shipThere was a man named Helge, son of Olav, who was a great adventurer. Helge journeyed to Vinland to study the Skraelings and to follow in the footsteps of the old warriors. He took as his wife a woman named Anne. Together they made many discoveries and told many stories that brought great honour to his people. In time Helge became a great man and died at a very old age.

The life of Helge Ingstad, who died yesterday in Norway at the age of 101, was very much in the manner of the Norse Sagas he helped to popularize. He was a lawyer, a Governor, an author and an archeologist who rewrote history by proving that Norse explorers landed in Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus. And his accomplishments should be considered as important to Canadians as they are to Norwegians.

While Vikings have enjoyed something of a public relations revival of late, their reputation a generation or two ago was quite different -- that of horn-hatted madmen running berserk through coastal villages. In large part, this was because the historical record of their time consisted mainly of the writings of monks, the Vikings' frequent victims. In the case of the Norse, history was written by the losers not the victors.

And so the great many achievements of the Norse in the areas of science, politics and exploration were largely ignored. In particular the Vinland Sagas, which detailed trips by Leif Ericsson and others to Vinland (North America) were dismissed by many academics as fantasies. Mr. Ingstad set out to find evidence of the Vinland tales and in the 1960s, with the help of his wife Anne Stine, he found the remains of three sod huts and various Viking artifacts at L'Anse aux Meadow in Newfoundland, now considered a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. The approximate date of the settlement was 1000 AD, long before Continental Europeans had the notion or ability to travel across the Atlantic. The rehabilitation of the Vikings had begun.

Canadians should be particularly thankful for the contributions of Mr. Ingstad. History is becoming a popular topic in this country, and if we consider the voyages of Jacques Cartier and his contemporaries to be important to understanding who we are, then surely Leif Ericsson deserves equal consideration. Mr. Ingstad's work has also inspired artists to fill in the details of early Canada that archeology cannot provide, such as Joan Clark's excellent 1995 novel Eiriksdottir. In revealing to the world the true accomplishments of the old Norse explorers, Mr. Ingstad revealed something important to Canadians, as well.

(a reader link from from the National Post)

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