..... GREENLAND ..... ..... EXPEDITION ..... .ORG

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region


Survey Report - by Peter Hunt



ARCHAEOLOGY: Investigation of Norse Settlement Sites between Tasiussaq and Herjolfnaes, South Greenland - by P.I.Hunt and S.Clark.

The Surveys - by Pete Hunt

Susannah Clark and I visited the Norse settlement sites during an extended 10-day lightweight trek away from basecamp. Our trek route and bivouacs are shown on this map:

Our principle aim was to confirm the locations and corroborate the evidence for the existence of the recently-discovered sites in the remoter fjords of the Cape Farewell region. The information has been published by the local archaeologist, Ove Bak, in 'Nordbo og Eskimoruiner - sydlige Osterbygd' (Sydproven 1969) and lists 100 new Norse settlement ruins at sites either located by him or reported by local travellers in 1967-69. Some of these sites are somewhat dubious and have yet to be studied or recognised officially by the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen. They are distinct from those sites already documented and marked on the G.I. 1:250,000 maps. A similar survey of Norse sites in the Taserssuaq region was made by R.A.Shaw and R.C.Young and described in the 1971 St Andrews Expedition report.

We wished to confirm the existence and locations of Bak's new sites and to give a more detailed description of them. Our results are given below. The sites are shown on the following map - the numbers used are those given in Bak's key:

Site 48.

These ruins at the head of Tasiussaq fjord are described as those of 'a big farm with many buildings scattered over a large area'. It should have been an easy location to find but we were unsuccessful after two days searching in dense willow scrub.

This experience illustrated the difficulties (i) of working from Bak's 1:400,000 sketch maps; and (ii) of seeking poorly preserved ruins amongst the luxuriant summer scrub, where it was hard to see ground-debris until it was trodden upon!

This site seemed ideal for a large farmstead. The terrain was gently sloping and open, the soils looked fertile with willow on terrace gravels and luxuriant grass in wetter areas. Freshwater is available from two streams at the main stream where it enters Tasiussaq fjord. Access is easy from the sea to the south. The site is on the termination of the broad, undulating plainland that extends north to the Big Valley (Itivdlerssuaq).

Site 49.

This 'big farm' was the best preserved site we found. Our diagram of the site shows 3 buildings with foundation walls still 20 cm above ground level. The walls were of simple laid-boulder construction, but any filling with turf had not been preserved. Two were large houses and the other a small store. We found a fallen lintel stone in the south-east wall of the store, but no other relicts.

This site occupied a low rocky promontory between the inlets of Tasiussaq and Igdlukasip tunua. It was overlain with glacial debris and some 3 metres above present high tide level. There was no obvious water supply except two small ponds west of the settlement.

Site 51.

This is 'a big farm' near Sandhavn, a 'harbour of sand' with the wide beaches known to the Norse settlers. We were unable to determine the site's full extent, but it and Site 94 have been adequately described by Bak.

Site 52.

This ruin, 'a paddock and several houses' lies on the edge of a raised beach 1 km west of Herjolfnaes. This obvious site is so close to Herjolfnaes that it is difficult to imagine how it escaped discovery until recently. A comprehensive evaluation of the famous Herjolfnaes sites has been given by Havgaard (1925).

The ruin consisted of a large circular paddock wall, of height 1 metre and diameter 10 metres, constructed in dry closely packed boulders. Part of its south wall has been encroached upon by a receding cliff line. Two nearby smaller ruins are of 'huts'.

The site is located on the flat coastal fringe that slopes gently 1 km northwards to a more rugged, mountainous backdrop, and with fresh water available from a moraine-dammed pond.

Site 53.

This site is located north of Herjolfnaes on the fjordside of Narssaq sarga. It consisted of a long turf and boulder dyke, a pen consisting of two large boulders unfilled with dry boulder walls, and two small house ruins.

Site 56.

This site, 'a big farm' is located at Stordalens Havn. It was within 30 metres of our basecamp. However, it was not until we returned from our trek, with the knowledge and awareness gained through our experiences, that we were adequately able to recognise the evidence of earlier occupation of our campsite!

We identified two ruins. Firstly a ruined house, 3m x 5m with dry boulder walls, height about 30 cm and overgrown by birch scrub. It occupied an elevated position above a dry drainage channel on the southern gravel terrace of the Itivdlerssuaq river. Secondly, a pen or store house, situated 50m east of the house and above the river terrace. It was constructed of two large, leaning boulders interlocked by a dry boulder wall.

This site illustrates the typical location of the larger farm sites we found. It is situated on a freely drained, elevated position close to a freshwater supply from a stream. It occupies the interface between seaborne and landborne communication up the obvious and important route through the valley of Itivdlerssuaq. Extensive grazing land is available in the wide valley floor and it could therefore have supported extensive agricultural activity in the warmer climatic conditions of the Norse period of settlement.

Site 78.

This is 'a small farm' but we located only one building, 3m x 6m, in the dense willow scrub. It occupied an elevated position above sphagnum marshland and close to a small spring (see diagram). The foundation walls were well preserved to a height of 1 metre; a doorway was located in the south wall; outside the north wall was curiously curved.

Sites 94, 95, 99.

The sites of (94) 'some pens and caves in rocks'; (95) 'a stone house and pen'; (99) 'a small stone house or pen' - were not found.

Site 96.

This site is located along the shores of Narssaq sarga. It is 'a stone house, and some caves in rocks', used possibly as sheep shelters. We found the poorly preserved ruins of the small house by the fjordside but could not find the caves.

Site 100. (scroll back up to see diagram of Site 100)

We experienced difficulty in conclusively locating this site (see diagram) described as 'two stone houses and a pen'. We searched extensively in the willow scrubs of an alluvial fall halfway along the northern side of Amitsuarssuk, but were unable to confirm its existence. We did, however, locate two rather regularly shaped boulder outcrops by the fjordside. Although these gave an appearance of ruined boulder walls they may have been a random, but regular, deposition of the rocky outwash debris in the fan.


Bak, Ove (1969): 'Nordbo og Eskimoruiner - sydlige Osterbygd' (Sydproven).

Hargaard, E (1925): 'The Norsemen in Greenland' (Geographical Review).


Peter Hunt on the way through the Big Valley in search of Viking Settlements : tower above right side of lake is Fingers End



Next Section: Viking Settlements - Personal Account by Susannah Clark