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Erik the Red Museum

We started the day with a visit to the Erik the Red Museum, which consisted of three small buildings – a shop, a pitstop with attached informational kiosk, and a reproduction of the turf house where Erik the Red, also known as Erik Thorvaldsson, once lived. Or rather, this was one of many places where Erik Thorvaldsson lived.

His claim to fame is in colonizing Greenland. That and having fathered Leif Erikson. I’ll get back to all that in a minute.

As soon as we’d all made use of the facilities, we headed into the turf house. There a young man in traditional garb armed with props, a heavy accent, and lots of one-line jokes greeted us. We sat around the long fire pit on the reproduction beds and listened to Erik’s story.

Please forgive the hideous photo quality. Apparently turf houses don’t generally come equipped with windows.

I mentioned that Erik got around, right? He actually started in Jæren in 950 AD. Like most of the people who emigrated into Iceland early on, he was a Viking leader. He was also a killer. One of his neighbors had two sons who took it upon themselves to kill two of Erik’s slaves. Erik didn’t like that much, and in retaliation killed the sons.

By Viking law of the time, killing slaves might mean you owe property damage, but it wasn’t considered murder. Killing another leader’s son’s… that’s a completely different story. The penalty is exile.

The thing is, when Iceland was first colonized, it wasn’t too hard for someone who had been exiled to just move up the coast a ways. New neighbors might not hear about the crime for many years. But when he uprooted his people, there wasn’t room for his wife’s loom. (like the one to the right)

Looms are important to Vikings. It can take up to 12 years and the sheerings from 500 sheep to make enough sailcloth to outfit a ship, not to mention any clothing they might want to wear.

Erik’s wife objected. After three years Erik went back to the friend with whom he’d left the loom. The friend said he couldn’t have it back because he was only supposed to leave it for six months. Erik went home empty handed. Not good enough, his wife sent him back. Still the friend refused, and Erik killed him. I’m sure it had nothing to do with a couple of swords that were also left with the friend, even though swords were hard to come by. Generally you got one from the King of Norway.

Time to move a bit further away. He headed West and discovered Greenland.

The first thing he did was go back to Iceland and see if he could get some people to join him out on the rocky shores of Greenland. He named it Greenland as a marketing ploy. The guy could sell timeshares.

It worked. He managed to talk 500 people into sailing with him to Greenland. Most of them should have stayed home. They left in 46 ships and arrived in 14. 10 sank. 2 ran off on their own. The rest are a mystery. Might be related to the fact they sailed right past Greenland to Newfoundland.

They brought the wood from his Iceland house, which was already brought from some place like Russia and/or driftwood. They only managed to raise one house. Generally speaking a house like the one we sat in would be expected to accommodate 25 people. They packed in 35.

The beds consist of connected platforms running the length of the main room around the long fire pit. The only other room is a small one to the side for storage. Even before over packing the place, the beds were shared. Generally they lay on their sides spoon style because of the belief that sleeping on your back was to invite death.

Newfoundland was too cold and hard to set up, so after three years they moved on to Vinland.

They arrived looking… well, like Vikings. Swords, shields, helmets, etc. Even though the only Vikings to run around with horns on their helmets were either in Shakespearean plays, or happened to have the horns land near the helmets in their graves, the still looked war like. The natives invited them to keep on moving along. Exiled again.

So they just kept on going well into America. Then Leif went back to Iceland. He managed to spread the tale far and wide before returning to America only to find his father had passed away at the ripe old age of 65. Erik became known for finding Greenland and Leif for finding America.

It’s remarkable that Erik managed to reach that age. This is partly because of the health issue from living in a dark, smokey room. We didn’t have to suffer from the smoke because the lovely, warm fire pit before us was actually gas.

Turf houses are high maintenance. Every few years the old turf must be completely removed and new turf put in place. There are various ways in which to layer in the turf and some argument over which way is better. The main thing is that the turf on the roof be kept light. It soaks up water enough to make the roof cave in if it’s too thick.

The above is the view from the front of the turf house. to the parking lot and gift shop. We stopped in to look over their wares. I was sorely tempted by some of their horn and bone buttons, but frankly I didn’t have any extra arms or legs with which to pay.

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