If I could go back in time, where would I go? I was born and raised in Canada where our non-native history goes back almost 400 years if you look at what is now the province of Quebec or 1000 years if you count the Vikings having a settlement in what is now the province of Newfoundland.
In 2017, I travelled across Canada to the site of the Viking settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows on the tip of Newfoundland’s Great North Peninsula. There I toured through the encampment which consisted of replicas of the timber and sod buildings constructed by the Vikings who had sailed from Greenland. I talked with the costumed interpreters who were sitting around a fire inside one of the buildings cooking their meal. It felt surreal to be there, to know that my ancestors (I have recently found out that I have Viking heritage) lived there for a few years. This is the first known evidence of European settlement in the Americas. From the camp, I walked along the rugged cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and crossed a large bog on a boardwalk. Then I toured the museum, looking at the fascinating artifacts that were found during the excavation. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
This year I spent 66 days in Europe and one of the places I visited was the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. In the museum is a permanent exhibition of parts of five original Viking ships excavated nearby in 1962. A thousand years ago these ships were deliberately scuttled (filled with rocks and sunk) in a river to stop the enemy from invading the city by water. Over the decades since they were found, the pieces have been preserved and put together on a metal frame to show how the ships would have looked. Also at the site are replicas of the Viking ships and I became a Viking for an hour. A group of us sat on the seats and rowed the ship out of the harbour using the long oars. Once on the open water we hoisted the mast and set sail. After sailing for a while we headed back to the harbour. As we neared it I had the honour of pulling on the rope that lowered the mast and sail and we glided back to our dock.
So if I could go back in time I would like to be a Viking Shield-Maiden. Women of the time were not called Vikings because they normally did not take part in warfare. They were called Norsewomen. However, women fought in a battle in 971AD and Freydis Eiriksdottir, Leif Erikson’s half-sister is said to have grabbed a sword, and, bare-breasted, helped scare away an attacking army. These women were called Shield-Maidens.