The Vikings had a settlement in North America exactly a millennium ago, a new study has confirmed.
According to analysis of tree rings, the Nordic warriors had established a settlement in Newfoundland, Canada, in the year AD 1021 – 471 years before the voyage of Columbus.
This settlement was at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland.
Discovered in 1960 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the first and only base established by the Vikings in North America and also constitutes the earliest evidence of European settlement in North America.
The new study, published in the journal Nature in late October, is based on evidence from radiocarbon dating, a technique that measures the residual concentrations of a radioactive isotope of carbon (carbon-14) present in an object.
As carbon-14 decays over time, measuring how much is left within an object tells the age of the sample.
Previous radiocarbon dating on evidence from the Viking site proved imprecise. However, a new technique has recently been developed using evidence from a solar storm, radiation from the sun that hits the earth.
One such storm is known to have taken place in the year AD 993 and the atmospheric radiocarbon signal left by it was used as a reference point by scientists to pinpoint the ‘exact felling year of the tree’.
Three pieces of wood from the site were examined, each from different trees. Within each, 28 rings were formed after the one that bore the evidence of the solar storm, meaning the wood was cut 28 years after it – in AD 1021. The wood was not cut by local indigenous people because there is also evidence of metal blades, which they did not possess.
‘I think it is fair to describe the trip as both a voyage of discovery and a search for new sources of raw materials,’ said geoscientist Michael Dee of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who led the study.
The length of the occupation is unclear, although it may have been a decade or less, with around 100 Vikings present at any given time.