A recreation of Viking structures at L’Anse aux Meadows
Dylan Kereluk via Wikimedia Commons under CC by 2.0
Three rough pieces of wood—discarded sections of branches and tree stumps found among the refuse Vikings left behind after their short sojourn in Newfoundland—have turned out to be some of the more important evidence of the Norse in North America. The scars left by iron blades on these sections of fir and juniper can still be seen after more than 1,000 years. Was it the legendary Viking explorer Leif Eriksson himself whose blade chopped off these unwanted scraps? Might it have been Thorfinn Karlsefni or his wife, Gudrid, the lesser-known explorers of a different Viking saga who tossed these useless scraps aside? Many questions may never be answered, but researchers now have an extraordinarily precise date for when Norse hands and blades worked in the New World.
A new study of wooden artifacts found at Newfoundland’s famed L’Anse aux Meadows site shows that Vikings lived, and felled trees, on North American soil exactly 1,000 years ago—during the year 1021 C.E. The evidence, published today in Nature, means that these Norse seafarers accomplished the earliest known crossing of the Atlantic from Europe to the Americas. Such incredibly precise dating of the wood was possible thanks to an intriguing new method that examined growth rings for a once-in-a-millennium cosmic-ray event that showered Earth with high energy particles in 993 C.E. Finding that telltale spike in the tree rings allowed scientists to count additional rings outside that mark to pinpoint the exact year the Vikings cut fir and juniper trees here, as they lived and explored on the edge of the continent.
“I am impressed by the results,” says Thomas McGovern, an archaeologist at Hunter College in New York City who was not involved in the research. “The site continues to provide data after all these years. I think the date is totally plausible and fits with Birgitta Wallace’s original idea of a fairly short, circa 1000 [C.E.] settlement event,” adds McGovern, who has spent some two decades studying the demise of Norse settlements in Greenland. Wallace, a former Parks Canada archaeologist and co-author of the research, spent many years working at the L’Anse aux Meadows site.
Moving across the frigid waters of the North Atlantic in their legendary longships, a few thousand Vikings colonized Greenland for almost 500 years, building churches and communities, keeping records, and maintaining ties with Europe before mysteriously vanishing for reasons that still stir debate. They left …….