On Eriksfjord

When the Norse disappeared from Greenland in the 15th century, the only traces of their 400-year occupation were the ruins of their farms and settlements throughout the numerous fjords of southwest Greenland. The most legendary of these fjords, was settled by Erik the Red – Greenland’s first colonizer. For centuries after the Norse vanished their lands lay mostly untouched until another wave of colonization and settlement returned to these remote farms. As the memory of the Norse faded so did their place names – Eriksfjord became Tunulliarfik, and Erik’s farm at Brattahlid was resettled as Qassiarsuk.

Quassiarsuk

The ruins of Brattahlid can be seen in the foreground of modern Qassiarsuk

I flew into Narsarsuaq, a former U.S. military airstrip called Bluie West One, which also breathes a new life as a commercial airport and operates daily in summer. It welcomes researchers and adventurers to South Greenland from around the world. Amazingly, the airport is only 5 kilometers across the fjord from Qassiarsuk (Brattahlid), making this significant Viking Age site relatively simple to visit. Before heading across the fjord I spent a couple of days in Narsarsuaq, taking the opportunity to hike to the largest non-polar ice cap in the world. While staying at the hostel I met other groups of researchers ranging from glaciologists to peregrine falcon specialists. So far it seemed that I was the only one in search of Norse sites.

Crossing Eriksfjord in a small boat took merely 10 minutes. In the perfectly bright overcast sky, I set out to begin photographing the ruins and the reconstruction of Thjodhild’s church, the first Christian chapel in Greenland, built at the time of the Norse conversion to the ‘new’ faith. It was at the replica site that I met Lars, the keeper of the keys for the reconstructed Brattahlid buildings. Lars is a typical local – he was born in Qassiarsuk and lives in the yellow house closest to the ruins.

Brattahlid reconstruction

This replica of the chapel at Brattahlid had also been reconstructed in Iceland

Spending five days in Qassiarsuk afforded the time for hiking to ruin sites up in the fells (mountains) and on iceberg laden Tasiusak fjord.  Although these piles of historic stones stand impressively against the sublime Greenlandic landscape, I was more captivated by the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern architecture of Qassiarsuk.

Ruins near Tassiasuk

The viking explorer surveys these ruins on icy Tasiusak fjord

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3 comments on “On Eriksfjord

  1. Dear Jessica,
    there is no reconstruction of the church of Þjóðhildur in Iceland. In Iceland a reconstruction of the church at Stöng in Þjórsárdalur resembles the reconstruction of Þjóðhildur’s church, simply because the same persons erected them. The reconstruction in Iceland has no basis in reality and was not built in collaboration with the archaeologist who excavated the church at Stöng (I am that archaeologist). I think the same procedure took place in Greenland. The circular enclosure around the “replica” in Brattahlíð was not located archaeologically.

    • Dear Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson, thank you for your comment and clarification! I had been trying to find out which reconstruction came first, the one at Brattahlíð or the one at Þjórsárdalur and which was the original church excavation used for the replica plans. Now I understand better. A few weeks after posting this entry, I went back to Þjórsárdalur in Iceland and noted the many differences between the two replica churches, mainly that the reconstruction in Þjórsárdalur is a much larger chapel. Regarding the circular enclosure at Brattahlíð, it is true that there are no remains of a circular enclosure at the original church site, but I saw other examples of chapel ruins in Greenland where the ruins of a circular stone enclosure are still visible, perhaps demonstrating an architectural trend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I should again note that these reconstructions are merely interpretations.
      I would love to know more about the excavation of the church at Stöng, especially from the person who performed the excavation!

  2. Arnþórr Ørnström says:

    Reblogged this on Dreams from the North and commented:
    Times and places sure do change. It doesn’t exactly look like the first ever successful colony in Greenland anymore, now does it?

    Or maybe it does. I have no real idea of what such a colony would look like in reality.

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