Eiríksstaðir

The presumed ruins of Eiríksstaðir in Haukadalur

Eiríksstaðir is a remarkable archaeological site halfway up the Haukadalur, a wide fjord in northwest Iceland.  A detailed replica of what Eirík the Red’s long house is supposed to have looked like was constructed in 2000, and according to the woman dressed in period costume and interpreting at the site, this was all due to the kindness of one William Jefferson Clinton, who made sure the money was available for the project to happen. 

Eirík, a violent immigrant from Norway, apparently hated the place.  He came into the property when he married a local woman, Thjodhild Jorundardottir.  Feeling cramped in what today would seem like half the universe to most of the inhabitants of planet earth, Eirík, after some of the same troubles in Iceland that gotten him banished from Norway, set out west.  Eventually, he found decent homestead land in southwest Greenland, bringing Thjodhild and four children with him.  One of those children, Leif, later went on to explore the New World.

It is yet another American link to this beautiful country, in addition to the innumerable sculptures recorded on this journey: including one of Eirík’s son Leif at the Eiríksstaðir site.  Taken as a leit motif, they can be seen as the public art that binds the literature of the Norse sagas with the archaeology of saga explorers like Helga and Anne Stine Instad.  This in turn tells the first truly American story: the voyages, discovery, exploration, contact and conflict between Europe and North America that had already begun even in medieval times.

Beware, if you are an aging chicken like me, that the area is reached through a heart-stopping drive over a mountain pass northwards on Route 60.  I did most of it in 2nd gear going north, and first on the return south.  The reward is some of the most stunning scenery of stark cliffs cut by cascades of glacial waters that I have ever seen.

Ten hours on the road today from Akureyri to Keflavik, over 517 km in all, with temperatures starting with about 4 celsius with light mist in Akureyri, to 8 celsius and bright sunshine at Eiríksstaðir in Haukadalur, to 13 and broken clouds at Keflavik.  Apparently Icelandair is also broken, as there is a partial strike on.  The Boston flight still looks as if it will go tomorrow, but if not my Icelandic sojourn will be extended by human, not natural, volcanoes.

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