This sumptuous and lavishly illustrated volume of 432 large pages, was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 2000 to coincide with the thousandth year, as close as we can reckon, of Leif Erikson's pioneering voyage to North America where he founded an outpost in "Vinland" that was used by subsequent expeditions until finally being abandoned after several skirmishes with the native inhabitants -- this according to the two pertinent surviving sagas.
The book is an impressive compendium of scholarship by 40 writers in 32 different articles, naturally from often different viewpoints. It gets a five-star rating not because I don't have disagreements with certain conclusions of a number of articles, but because of the wealth of information it contains on Viking/Norse life and legacies for anyone seriously interested in the topic. It's divided into seven sections, titled Viking Homelands, Viking Raiders (in Europe), Vikings in the North Atlantic (including Iceland), Viking America, Norse Greenland, and Viking Legacy. (The term "Viking" is ill-used as applied to Iceland and the farther lands -- or for that matter in Europe after about 1100 -- but the label seems irresistible to publishers in titles, even to the Smithsonian. At least Greenland gets a proper "Norse" label.)
Obviously it's not a work to be read cover to cover in one gulp. Since there are too many topics and regions covered in detail to look at closely in a review of any reasonable length, I'll focus briefly here on "Viking America," which presents eight major articles. Their topics range from Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic where Norse artifacts have been found, to, of course, Vinland in the far south (just how far south a matter of complex disputes often passionately held.) Too, it explores what the lore and the sagas tell us on one hand, to hard archeological digs on the other, both subject to interpretation. An interesting wrap-up article in this section is intriguingly titled "Unanswered Questions." The Canadian archeologist Birgitta Linderoth Wallace, who wrote two articles and collaborated on another, has been in charge of the famous L'Anse aux Meadows site at the northern tip of Newfoundland since its discoverers Helge and Anne Ingstad finished their work there in the late 1960s. With the Ingstads she believes the site is in fact the remains of Leif's settlement of Leifsbudir -- although others, including Carl Sauer, Erik Wahlgren and myself, have strong doubts on that score. But even if we're right, this in no way diminishes the importance of the site, as this is the first thoroughly, physically confirmed site of Norse occupation found in America. If I may register a guess, it might have been a strategically placed "way station" occupied for a few years by some other unrecorded Norse voyagers presumably from Greenland, which would open other intriguing questions. There's a good possibility that we'll never know.
Another engrossing article deals with the native peoples of these regions: the Innu, Dorset, and Thule Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland (it was the Thule "Eskimos" who remained after the Dorset and Norse were gone), plus the now-extinct Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland; a panel of four maps shows their respective areas of occupancy from AD 900 to 1500. Several articles in the America and Greenland sections look at contacts and relations between the Norse and "natives" (remembering that the Norse Greenlanders were no less "native" than the Thule, having lived in southwest Greenland for over 300 years before the Thule ever arrived in that region). One article includes a recounting of an Inuit folk tale as told to the Danish Greenland official H.J. Rink in 1858, of a bloody incident and reprisals between a group of Inuit and Norse hundreds of years before, complete with color illustrations drawn for Rink by an Inuit artist.
The above comments scarcely touch the surface of the riches to be found in this volume. The general tone is scholarly and carefully conservative in most respects (sometimes too conservative and one-sided in my view, as if the writers/editors were reluctant to delve much into matters subject to heated controversies except to dispose of them as quickly as possible). Nevertheless, all in all it's a most impressive compendium of fascinating information not obtainable elsewhere, and the editors and writers are to be congratulated for that.