Did Vikings and their stowaway mice beat Portugal to the Azores?

They were originally from the land of the midnight sun and ice, but ended up in balmy places. Researchers have found evidence that supports the theory that Vikings settled in the Azores' clement shores several hundred years before the Portuguese arrived in the year 1427.
The claim is surprising, given that Vikings are often associated with the north frozen. However, the claim is supported by solid science according to a group international researchers who analysed lakebed sediments from the Azores archipelago in mid-Atlantic.

These samples were rich in organic compounds, which are also found in sheep and cow faeces. These samples also contained high levels of charcoal, but low levels of pollen from native tree species.

Researchers argue that such a mixture strongly suggests that early settlers burned trees to clear the land for their livestock. The real surprise was in the dating of the samples. Scientists discovered that the samples were deposited between AD700 & 850, which is several centuries earlier than the date of Portuguese arrival on the islands.

The reconstructions provide clear evidence for the preportuguese settlement of the Azores. This is according to the team led by Pedro Raposeiro, an ecologist from the University of the Azores.

Wind and weather conditions in northern Europe were favorable for settlers who came from higher latitudes. This made it easier for them to reach Azores. Researchers are adamant about the identity of these settlers. It states that these results indicate that the Norse are most likely to have been the first settlers of the islands.

Raposeiro's conclusions are supported by Cornell University evolutionary biologist Jeremy Searle, who also believes that Vikings made their way to the Azores. However, his research is based on a different biological source. It has mainly focused on the mouse.

Searle explained to the Observer that mice sneak aboard ships and are carried around the globe by humans. If you can find the origin of these mice, you will be able to identify where they came from.

Searles' studies revealed that Mus musculus house mice have distinct genetic signatures depending upon their location. He said that we can distinguish between mice from different regions of Europe by analysing mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through the female line.

The Azores were discovered by Norse mice remains. Photograph by GlobalP/Getty Images/iStockphoto

One distinct house mouse lineage can be found in the British Isles: Orkney, Caithness, the Isle of Man and the Hebrides.

These were all areas that Viking influence, and we discovered the same genetic signature in Norway when we looked at Norway.

Searle and his colleagues believe that they have identified the Viking mouse. They have searched for other signs and have found evidence of it in ancient mouse remains from Iceland, Greenland, and Greenland where the Vikings settled over 1,000 years ago.

Searle then looked at two locations further south, the Azores, and Madeira, and found that mice in both of these places had the same genetic signatures as the Viking mouse. They found few mice with genetic signatures similar to those found in Portugal's mouse populations. These mariners are also believed to have been the first to settle in these islands.

So Miguel island, Azores. The archipelago, a region in Portugal, is autonomous. Photograph: Sergey Dzyuba/Alamy

We believe these mice were accidental travelers who were spread by Vikings across the Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland, and Madeira. This shows how far the Vikings had traveled.

It is fascinating to think that the Vikings arrived in the Azores and Madeira prior to the Portuguese. These two locations were established by the Europeans who explored the world and colonized it in the Age of Discovery.

It seems that the Portuguese mariners followed only the Vikings' lead and their mice.