Three pieces of wood, discarded branches and stumps from trees found in Newfoundland by the Vikings after their brief stay there, have been discovered to be the most important evidence of the Norse presence in North America. These sections of fir, juniper still bear the scars left behind by iron blades after more than 1000 years. These scraps were cut off by Leif Eriksson, the Viking explorer? Could it have been Thorfinn Karlsefni, or Gudrid, one of the lesser-known Viking explorers who tossed these scraps aside. While many questions will never be answered, researchers now know the exact date when Norse hands or blades were used in the New World.
Newfoundland's L'Anse aux Meadows site has been the subject of a new study that reveals that Vikings lived and cut trees on North American soil precisely 1,000 years ago. This was in the year 1021 C.E. Nature published the evidence today. It shows that the Norse seafarers crossed the Atlantic from Europe to Americas in the earliest known crossing. A new method was used to date the wood with such precision. It examined the growth rings of a cosmic-ray event that hurled high-energy particles at Earth in 993 C.E. Scientists were able to identify the distinctive spike in the tree rings and count the rings beyond that mark to determine the year that Vikings cut firs and junipers here. This was how they lived and explored at the continent's edge.
Thomas McGovern, an archaeologist from Hunter College in New York City, said that he was impressed by the findings. "The site continues providing data even after all these years. The date seems plausible to me and matches Birgitta Wallace’s original idea of a short period, around 1000 [C.E.]. McGovern, who spent more than two decades researching the decline of Norse settlements on Greenland, adds that settlement event. Wallace, an archaeologist from Parks Canada and co-author of this research, spent many decades at the L'Anse aux Meadows location.
A few thousand Vikings travelled across the North Atlantic in legendary longships. They settled Greenland for nearly 500 years. They built churches, communities, kept records, and maintained ties with Europe. Then, they mysteriously vanished for unknown reasons. Scientists are still trying to piece together their story using clues such as bones, artifacts and cloth. In the Icelandic sagas of Vikings, they described their brave voyagers who traveled further than Greenland to reach a mysterious location called Vinland. This place was detailed in detail. The sagas inspired researchers to search for evidence of Vikings in North America for many years. However, it wasn't until 1960s that L'Anse aux Meadows finally proved that the Norse tales about North America were real.
Eight timber and sod buildings, as well as workshop spaces and an iron tool forging machine were discovered. Experts believe L'Anse aux Meadows is a base for further explorations. It was a place where Norse could overwinter, repair or stockpile provisions or trade goods. These sites are described as key points in the Vinland adventures by explorers Eriksson in the sagas. Michael Dee, a co-author and specialist in isotope chronology research at the University of Groningen, says that "Here we fix in time these somewhat legendary [Norse] stories." "We are providing scientific evidence to show that this actually happened at this precise moment in time. This further actualizes them."
The Norse of Newfoundland relied on timber for their livelihood. Wood was used to heat and cook, and also as a material for timber and sod building constructions and the famous Viking longships. The workshops at L'Anse aux Meadows have yielded hundreds of wood chips, shavings, and other discarded materials. Margot Kuitems (also from the University of Groningen) sorted through the wood scraps found at L'Anse aux Meadows to find the storage facility in Dartmouth Nova Scotia where the archaeological remains of the excavation were stored. Because they were located in the context of the excavation, and because they had clear markings indicating that they had been cut and shaped using metal tools, she chose three wood artifacts.
Kuitems was not looking for exceptional examples of Norse woodworking skills. She says that the wood she used was "basically rubbish" and it was useful for research as we were trying to find pieces of wood with bark edges. Sometimes the outer layers of an artifact, or even a beam of construction are removed." This would make it possible to use the bark as part our clever dating strategy.
The evidence from dendrochronological archives in Japan, Arizona, Germany and Ireland shows that in 993, there was a massive spike in atmospheric carbon levels. This can be clearly seen in tree rings samples. Dee states that there are rare instances when these blips occur, usually once or twice per millenium. This is likely to be due to solar storms that caused a sudden spike in radiocarbon that was absorbed by the tree ring.
It was easy to identify the 993 anomaly within the tree ring history for each artifact of the Viking settlement. Then it was simple to count each year’s growth ring up to the critical bark layer that is still clinging onto the wood. The team discovered that each of three trees used in the production of the wooden artifacts were felled 28 years after the big cosmic-ray spike. This was in 1021, which was a busy year for woodcutting in North America. The group was able to determine the season in which each tree was felled by examining the bark edges.
The Icelandic Vikings documented their journeys to Vinland, which they called Vinland. Two epics of Norse literature are the Saga of Erik the Red (and possibly the United States), which chronicle Iceland's Vikings' travels to Vinland (i.e. These stories are filled with tales of triumph, tragedy, heroism and treachery. They also include colorful myths that combine historical figures and events with vivid myths. The Icelandic stories from this era have their fair share of trolls and witches. They were likely to be older oral histories that have been embellished by retellings over the years.
Although the sagas are not complete, they do tell how Vikings discovered unknown North American locations after being blown off their course while traveling from Iceland to Greenland. Under the leadership of Eriksson, Gudrid, and later Karlsefni, they traveled from Greenland to explore these far-flung coasts.
According to the sagas the Norse discovered plenty of fish, game, timber and pastureland in their explorations of Vinland. They claimed that they established several bases camps, L'Anse aux Meadows seems to be one of them. This allowed them to explore these unusual shorelines. The site contains butternuts and fragments of butternut trees. However, it is not clear how far they traveled. Thorfinn's and Gudrids son Snorri became the first European-born baby to be born in the Americas.
The Norse did not settle in North America beyond Greenland for reasons still being debated. One reason could have been the relationship with Native Americans whom the Norse considered "wretched people." There are sagas that tell of trade between them, as well as bad blood and violence. The Norse might not have been able to establish sustainable settlements in Newfoundland, as they would have needed too many people and resources from Greenland's small Norse population.
Although the new study confirms that the travels described in the sagas did indeed take place, it cannot solve the historical mysteries. Dee says that all we can say is that they were there in that year.
Strong evidence from other locations has helped to make Viking chronologies fairly well-known. For example, Icelandic sites often have precise dates due to volcanic activity on the island, which leaves behind layers of ash, debris, and tephra that can be matched with known eruption times. These clues and the stories of the sagas have created a picture of Norse exploration, voyaging, and travel between Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland that matches the L'Anse aux Meilles dates very well.
Dee states that "on the one hand, it fits well with what was anticipated from the sagas. It's very close to what people believed." "But I believe most of the saga specialists would have been looking to find a date in either the 990s, or around 1000. So at the same I think it will surprise them.
Although it is only 20 years later than was originally thought, this date could have some intriguing implications.
John Steinberg, an Anthropologist at the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at University of Massachusetts Boston, says that "it adds some intrigue." L'Anse aux Meadows may have been occupied for at least three years if the Vikings had left Greenland in 1000. It could be, however, that the building was occupied for only three years. However, those years are 15 years later than we think.
Steinberg also suggests another possibility: that the Vikings traveled more frequently between Vinland and Greenland than previously believed. There are some hints in the sagas. It's been difficult to flesh that out because these are only hints.
This is possible from a seafaring perspective. The Vikings were both traders and raiders, so it's no surprise that such travel was possible. The Vikings were undoubtedly well-versed in their region and traveled extensively from 793 to 1066. The Norse set sail from Scandinavia to the British Isles, arrived in Iceland at 874 and then continued to explore until they were the first to cross the Atlantic. They also traveled the rivers valleys of Russia eastward. Some Norse people left runes in Istanbul (Turkey) and Athens (Greece), among other places.
Historical records are lacking evidence of cosmic ray events such as the 993 Burst. Because they are so widespread, the telltale signs of these events can be found in trees all over the globe. This means that the new dating method Kuitemss and Dee developed will be used at many archaeological sites.
Dee says that the possibility of obtaining exact year results from any scientific dating method is very new. "This method is just beginning in terms of what they're going to be able to do."