name supposedly given by Leif Erikssson to lands he explored in northeastern North America c. 1000; it could mean either "vine-land" or "meadow-land," and either way was perhaps coined to encourage settlement (compare Greenland).
That others might have found the New World before Columbus was popular knowledge: Irving's "History of New York" (1809) lists Noah along with Phoenician, Carthaginian, Tyrean, Chinese, German, and Welsh candidates, along with "the Norwegians, in 1002, under Biorn." Evidence in the old sagas of a Norse discovery of North America had been noticed from time to time by those who could read them. In early 19c. the notion was seriously debated by von Humboldt and other European scholars before winning their general acceptance by the 1830s. The case for the identification of Vinland with North America began to be laid out in English-language publications in 1840. Lowell wrote a poem about it ("Hakon's Lay," 1855). Thoreau knew of it ("Ktaadn," 1864). Physical evidence of the Norse discovery was uncovered by the excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows in 1960.
updated on October 10, 2017
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