The Vikings (or Norse) were the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic, confirms a new study published in the journal Nature.
Kuitems et al. provide evidence that the Norse were active on the North American continent in the year 1021 CE. Image credit: Oscar C.R.
“The only confirmed Norse site in the Americas is L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada,” said senior author Dr. Michael Dee from the Centre for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen and colleagues.
“Extensive field campaigns have been conducted at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and much knowledge has been gained about the settlement and its contemporary environment.”
“Evidence has also revealed that L’Anse aux Meadows was a base camp from which other locations, including regions further south, were explored.”
“The received paradigm is that the Norse settlement dates to the close of the first millennium. However, the precise age of the site has never been scientifically established.”
The researchers analyzed individual tree rings from wooden items found at the site of L’Anse aux Meadows.
“The three pieces of wood studied, from three different trees, all came from contexts archaeologically attributable to the Vikings,” they said.
“Each one also displayed clear evidence of cutting and slicing by blades made of metal — a material not produced by the indigenous population.”
“The exact year was determinable because a massive solar storm occurred in 992 CE that produced a distinct radiocarbon signal in tree rings from the following year.”
Pictures of the wood items from the site of L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada. White X indicates the location from where samples were taken. Scale bars – 5 cm. Image credit: M. Kuitems.
“The distinct uplift in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 CE has been detected in tree-ring archives from all over the world,” Dr. Dee said.
“Each of the three wooden objects exhibited this signal 29 growth rings (years) before the bark edge.”
“Finding the signal from the solar storm 29 growth rings in from the bark allowed us to conclude that the cutting activity took place in the year 1021 CE,” added Dr. Margot Kuitems, a researcher in the Centre for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen.
The date lays down a marker for European cognizance of the Americas, and represents the first known point at which humans encircled the globe.
“The number of Viking expeditions to the Americas, and the duration of their stay over the Atlantic, remain unknown,” the authors said.
“All current data suggest that the whole endeavor was somewhat short lived, and the cultural and ecological legacy of this first European activity in the Americas is likely to have been small.”
“Nonetheless, botanical evidence from L’Anse aux Meadows has confirmed that the Vikings did explore lands further south than Newfoundland.”
M. Kuitems et al. Evidence for European presence in the Americas in AD 1021. Nature, published online October 20, 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03972-8