Eric the Red shown in a woodcut frontispiece from the 1688 publication of Gronlandia (Greenland).
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Image is in public domain.
The Vikings were a group of seafarers from Scandinavia that colonized and raided parts of Europe from about 800 AD through about 1050 AD. This time period is also called the Viking Age
. The word Viking originally meant a man from Vik, which is a bay that lies along the border of Norway and Sweden. Now the term is used to refer to the entire Scandinavian culture during the Middle Ages. The Vikings are sometimes called Norsemen.
The Vikings are often thought of as warriors and conquerers. Now we know that most of their travels were based on trade and exploration. They traveled over much of the coast of Europe including Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Spain. They also explored North Africa, Russia, and the Middle East. Some Viking trips even reached North America. Archaeologists have found evidence that Vikings colonized Newfoundland in Canada. They also explored what is now Maine and Massachusetts about 500 years before Columbus's time!
The Vikings used two different kinds of ships in their travels. The longship, which was used for war and exploring, was faster and had oars so that it was not completely dependent on the wind. The knarr, which was used for trade, was slower but could carry much more cargo. It was usually dependent on wind to move, and did not have oars.
One of the most famous Vikings is Eric the Red, who is thought to have discovered Greenland. His son was Lief Ericson. Lief Ericson was the first European to land in North America when he and his crew reached what is now Newfoundland, Canada.
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The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
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