Douglas Bolender hosts talk about Vikings settlements in North America

By Dan Curtin

Jessica Picard/Collegian
Jessica Picard/Collegian

Research assistant professor Douglas Bolender spoke about Vikings and their colonization of Iceland, Greenland and North America to about 50 students, faculty and members of the community in Herter Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Monday evening.

Bolender is a research assistant professor at the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research and the Department of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Northwestern University in 2006 and has conducted fieldwork in Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Hungary and Eastern North America, according to his UMass Boston biography page.

Bolender talked about his field work and experience using satellites and multispectral imagery to try and find more sites of Vikings settlements in North America.

“Many of the efforts to … look for sites have actually contacted us because we do a lot of geophysical work,” Bolender said. “We specialize in finding very hard to find Viking-age sites. One of the problems with that is Canada is big. It’s really, really large. Geophysics and clearing work on a very small scale.”

Part of the talk was about L’Anse aux Meadows, the site of an 11th century Viking settlement on the island of Newfoundland. The National Historic Site L’Anse aux Meadows is the only known site established by Vikings in North America, according to its World Heritage United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) page.

Sherrill Harbison, director of the Scandinavian studies program at UMass, introduced Bolender.

“It’s a pleasure to welcome today a colleague from UMass Boston,” Harbison said. “His findings will allow us to re-interpret sites associated with prominent settlers such as Erik the Red and Leif Erikson”

Bolender’s presentation featured a slideshow and included pictures of sites he had been a part of including work on BBC’s “Viking Unearthed.”

The session was sponsored by the German and Scandinavian studies program at UMass Amherst, and funded by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation. The name of the talk was “The Vikings Age Colonization of the North Atlantic and the Importance of being First.”

A section of Bolender’s talk explored the motivations behind why so many people would move to place with inhospitable environments.

“I want to come back to this question of why would people first move into someplace like Iceland in the … thousands and shortly then push on to an environment that’s even more marginalized than Iceland and continue to push into new areas,” Bolender said.

Bolender answered his own question by explaining there were more opportunities the earlier someone arrived at settlement.

“I’m taking a couple of Scandinavian classes,” said Nicholas Wolley, a senior economics and psychology double major. “For settlements, it’s best to be there early.”

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.