Is Cape Cod the Real Vinland?
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 29

Is Cape Cod the Real Vinland?

Author: Colleen Andjelic

Series Editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14–16

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Late in the 10th century, Vikings travelled west from their homelands to explore and settle in North America. The Vikings were Norse people from the northernmost countries of Europe — Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden. It was not Columbus who was the first European to set foot in America, but these Norse explorers. The proof of this lies in the 1961 discovery of the remnants of a Viking village at L’Anse aux Meadows in the present-day province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This village is thought to have been settled 500 years before Columbus landed in 1492.

Viking explorers like Leif Eriksson and his son Bjarni found a lush land on the North American continent that they named Vinland the Good because of its abundance of grapevines. The precise location of Vinland remains a mystery. While a variety of locations are claimed to be the real “land of wine,” each with its own set of supporting evidence, none of these claims has yet been conclusively proven. Translations and interpretations of the Viking sagas — written versions of the stories passed on about the Norse voyages — have helped to uncover many clues and artifacts that may lead us ever closer to finding the truth. One theory is that Vinland was located in present-day Follins Pond on Cape Cod in the state of Massachusetts. How convincing is the evidence supporting this solution to one of North American’s most puzzling mysteries?

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In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to consider whether Follins Pond on Cape Cod is likely to have been the site of Vinland. The author of this theory, Frederick Pohl, offers various arguments to support this view. But are these arguments convincing? Is the evidence sufficient and the theory compelling enough to warrant the conclusion that Cape Cod is the real site of Vinland?

To address this challenge, you will need to learn both about the Cape Cod location and about Vinland itself. You will examine several documents containing comments about the likelihood that Follins Pond, Cape Cod is the site of Vinland. Using the criteria for determining whether a theory is convincing, you will assess how well the “Cape Cod theory” measures up. Finally, after weighing the evidence, you will offer your own conclusion about the strength or weakness of the Cape Cod theory.

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STEP 1: Learn about Vinland and the Cape Cod theory

Your first task is to learn more about Vinland and about the Cape Cod theory by reading two brief accounts written by the historians who created the Where Is Vinland? website. You may also find the map of the proposed Vinland locations and the map of the Follins Pond area helpful. The following documents, also listed in the Evidence in the Case section of this MysteryQuest, will provide you with some of the background information you will need for your task:

STEP 2: Examine documents for evidence

Your next task is to examine the following five documents about Vinland and the Cape Cod theory found in the Evidence in the Case section of this MysteryQuest:

Using a new copy of Gathering Information for each document, record information about Vinland and the Cape Cod location, paying special attention to details that will help you assess whether the theory is convincing or not. Note both consistencies and inconsistencies in the information provided about Vinland and Cape Cod.

STEP 3: Consider what makes a convincing historical theory

In deciding whether a theory is convincing or not, you should consider four criteria:

  • Consistent: Is the theory highly consistent with the body of evidence presented in various historical documents (i.e., there is no conflicting evidence)?
  • Comprehensive: Does the theory have few or no gaps (i.e., almost every angle is addressed)?
  • Supported: Is there lots of relevant evidence to support the theory?
  • Credible: Is the theory based on information drawn from credible sources that are reliable and trustworthy?

To help you think about these criteria, review the documents and your completed copies of Gathering Information, looking for the following:

  • How closely do the various documents support each other?
  • Are there “holes” in the theory? If there are, are they minor or major when considering the overall strength of the theory?
  • How much evidence is provided? Should some evidence be weighed more or less heavily?
  • Is the evidence from believable sources? How do you know?

STEP 4: Assess the theory

Considering all the evidence you found in your examination of the documents, assess the extent to which the Cape Cod theory is convincing. Use the rating scale (“very strong” to “very weak”) on the Assessing the Theory sheet to record your judgment for each of the four criteria. Provide evidence to support your ratings.

STEP 5: Explain your conclusion

Based on your ratings, offer an overall conclusion about whether the Cape Cod theory is a good one or not. Use Justifying My Conclusion to record your answer and the reasons that both support and potentially challenge your position.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing the Evidence and Ratings may be used to assess how well you were able to identify relevant evidence in the historical documents, identify possible consistencies and inconsistencies, and assess the strength of the theory.

The evaluation rubric Assessing the Justification may be used to assess whether you were able to provide reasons for and against your conclusion and justify your assessment of the theory.

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What did Vinland look like, sound like, and feel like?
While the “Where is Vinland?” website provides an excellent three-dimensional, interactive video about L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, this may or may not be the actual site of Vinland. Using primary documents from the website (Viking Society and The Archaeology Work), create a short digital presentation that shows what it might have looked like, sounded like, and felt like to be in Vinland in the late 10th century.

What other sites would be viable Vinland candidates?
Examine other documents to determine which of the other possible locations (Newfoundland, Rhode Island, and New Brunswick) would be the most viable Vinland candidate.

Follow the trail of the First Nations people
Look for evidence of contact with First Nations people at each site (Newfoundland, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, and New Brunswick) and in the Viking sagas. Then, given this new evidence, determine whether your conclusion about the most likely location of Vinland would change or remain the same.

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to a related mystery associated with Vinland:

  • MysteryQuest 28 invites you to plot the course the Norse would most likely have taken when travelling to Vinland, given a selection of evidence.
  • MysteryQuest 30 provides an opportunity for you to investigate the lifestyles, beliefs, values, and cultures of the Norse people by creating a profile of a common Norse man.

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Activity Sheet: Gathering Information

Activity Sheet: Assessing the Theory

Activity Sheet: Justifying My Conclusion

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Secondary Sources (interpretations and summaries of the evidence created at, or close to, the time and events you are studying)

Introduction: Where is Vinland?

Cape Cod

Morton M. Hunt, The Secret of the Vanished Explorer, Saturday Evening Post, June 12, 1951

Benjamin L. Smith, "A Report on the Follins Pond Investigation," Massachusetts Archaeological Bulletin 14 (January 31, 1953): pp. 82-88

Birgitta L. Wallace, "A New Book on the Vikings," [A Review of Frederick J. Pohl's book The Viking Explorers, 1966] Carnegie Magazine (May 31, 1966): p. 161

B. Wallace Field Journal, Personal Collection, [Excerpts from field notes by Birgitta Wallace], B. Wallace, "B. Wallace Interview with Follins Pond Landowner, 1964," September 18, 1964 — September 19, 1964

Map of Greenland Settlements and Proposed Vinland Locations

Follins Pond Area Map

Primary Sources (evidence created at, or as close as possible to, the time and events you are studying)

From the Sagas

Keneva Kunz, trans., "[Vinland (Land of Wine) in] The Saga of the Greenlanders" in The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, preface by Jane Smiley, introduction by Robert Kellogg, (Toronto: The Penguin Group, 2000), pp. 636-652