Vikings crossed the Atlantic almost 500 years before Columbus, new evidence shows

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Long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic, eight timber-framed buildings covered in sod stood on a terrace above a peat bog and stream on the northern tip of the Canadian island of Newfoundland, evidence that the Vikings first reached the New World. had arrived in

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But precisely when the Vikings traveled to establish the L’Anse aux Meadows settlement has remained unclear – until now.

Scientists said Wednesday that a new type of dating technique using a long-standing first solar storm as a reference point has revealed a settlement in 1021 AD, exactly a millennium ago and 471 years before Columbus’ first voyage. was occupied. The technique was used on three pieces of wood for the settlement, which all pointed to the same year.

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The Viking journey represents many milestones for mankind. The settlement provides the oldest known evidence of a transatlantic crossing. It also marks the spot where the world was finally besieged by humans, who trekked thousands of years ago across North America over a land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

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“Great kudos to these northern Europeans for being the first human society to cross the Atlantic,” said Michael Dee, a geoscientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who led the study, published in the journal Nature.

The Vikings, or Norse people, were sailors with a Scandinavian homeland: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They ventured through Europe, sometimes colonizing and at other times trading or raiding. They had exceptional boat-building and navigation skills and established settlements on Iceland and Greenland.

“I think it is appropriate to describe the journey as both a journey of discovery and the discovery of new sources of raw materials,” De said. “Many archaeologists believe that the main motivation for them to explore these new areas was to uncover new sources of wood, in particular. It is generally believed that they migrated from Greenland, where Wood suitable for construction is extremely rare.

Their wooden vessels, called longboats, were powered by sails and paddles. A surviving example, called the Oseberg ship, is about 21.6 meters long.

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The Viking Age is traditionally defined as AD 793–1066, which presents a wide range for the times of the transatlantic crossing. Simple radiocarbon dating – the determination of the age of organic substances by measuring their content of a particular radioactive isotope of carbon – proved too accurate to date L’Anse aux Meadows, which was discovered in 1960, although there was a general belief that it was the 11th century. .

The new dating method relies on the fact that solar storms generate a specific radiocarbon signal in a tree’s annual growth rings. It was known that there was a significant solar storm – a burst of high-energy cosmic rays from the Sun – in AD 992.

In all three pieces of wood, from three different trees, 29 growth rings were formed after evidence of a solar storm, said University of Groningen archaeologist Margot Kuitmes, first author of the study, meaning the wood was harvested in 1021. .

Dee said it was not the local indigenous people who cut the wood as there is evidence of metal blades, which they did not have.

The length of the occupation is unclear, although it may have been a decade or less, and there were probably as many as 100 Norse people present at any one time, De said. Their structures were similar to those of Norse buildings on Greenland and Iceland.

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The oral history called Icelandic sagas indicates a Viking presence in the Americas. Written centuries later, they describe a leader named Leif Eriksson and a settlement called Vinland, as well as violent and peaceful interactions with the local people, including the capture of slaves.

The date of 1021 roughly corresponds to the saga accounts, Dee said, “thus begging the question, how true are the rest of the saga adventures?”

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