Researchers have pinpointed exactly 1000 years ago as the date when Vikings arrived in Canada.
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It is well-known that the Vikings were among the first Europeans who made the long journey to Americas. They arrived in Canada at the beginning of the second millennium.
A new Nature journal article is the first to identify a date. It was 1021 exactly 1000 years ago, which beats the arrival of Christopher Columbus by almost 500 years.
This research is based on L'Anse aux Meadows, the only confirmed Norse archaeological site in Americas other than Greenland. It's located at the northernmost tip Newfoundland.
Margot Kuitems of the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Michael Dee of the University of Groningen, examined four pieces of wood from L'Anse aux Meadows. Although the samples were merely discarded tree trunks and sticks, each one had an important indicator of at least one straight edge that indicated it had been cut with a metal tool.
Researchers believe that the Norse made these items and the cuts. The Native inhabitants of the area didn't have any metal tools at the time.
These findings, which are the earliest evidence of Viking travel to North America, provide important context for the history of North America as well as European travels to that continent.
One Danish archeologist called the findings "incredible."
The report gives a precise, independently obtained date that is not dependent on any old texts.
Dee explained to NPR that it allowed them to examine historical evidence more closely with a fixed point in the past.
Tree rings contain centuries-old information
Kuitems, Dee and others didn't set out to find the date that Icelandic travelers arrived in North America.
Their research began almost four years ago, when they wanted to test their radiocarbon dating method that examines tree rings in search of rare solar storms.
Dee stated that the method was first, and the archaeological example second.
Unusual cosmic ray activity caused a global dip in atmospheric radiocarbon in the year 993. This can be seen in individual tree rings. This means that if a tree was alive in 993, carbon dating techniques can be used on its tree rings to determine the year it was cut. The carbon anomaly can be located and then counted outward.
They said that they knew the Viking voyage to North America was likely to have occurred around 993. They concluded that the Newfoundland settlement would provide a good starting point.
They took the mixed wood from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which housed the Norse artifacts with them, and they returned to the Netherlands to meticulously analyze each one.
Kuitems stated that the wood samples the researchers examined were not used for building houses or making tools by Vikings, but they were perfect for the analysis of the rings. The rings could be easily analyzed because they had not been altered externally.
They were able to identify 83 tree rings within the items. They then used carbon dating to determine the year that they were cut.
The researchers determined that 1021 was the only date that could be used to date the wood. This is especially significant given the "notable" and "unexpected" discovery that all three trees were cut in the same year.
They said that although the work was completed earlier in the year, their excitement never diminished.
Kuitems stated, "It was an exciting project from beginning to end."
According to the researchers, the international attention that their report has received has been both thrilling and overwhelming. They are optimistic that this attention will encourage other researchers to use their carbon dating method for other purposes.
Dee stated that "we are hoping that the radiocarbon dating community picks up this and apply it in other contexts". This includes historical, archaeological, and other sciences. We hope this will be widely used for all kinds of questions that require a precise date in a particular context.