L’Anse aux Meadows, reconstruction. Credit: University of Groningen

Viking Presence in North America Dated to AD 1021, Centuries Before Columbus

Mike Schuler
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October 21, 2021

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue – more than 470 years after the Vikings, according to new science.

Research published this week in the scientific journal “Nature” shows the Viking’s were active on the North American continent in the year AD 1021, which now represents the earliest (and only) known date in which Europeans were definitively present in the Americas prior to Columbus’ arrival centuries later.

While it’s long been known that Vikings were the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic on their famous ocean-going longships, the exact date of their presence in The New World has remained a mystery. Physical evidence for early European presence in the Americas can be found in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, which served as a base camp for exploration to regions further south. However, the precise age of the site has never been scientifically established… until now.

Using radiocarbon dating, researchers have now determined that the Vikings, aka Norse, were active at the site in the year 1021 – exactly 1,000 years ago.

“This date offers a secure juncture for late Viking chronology. More importantly, it acts as a new point-of-reference for European cognisance of the Americas, and the earliest known year by which human migration had encircled the planet,” the researchers conclude in the paper.

The researchers took samples from 83 individual tree rings from 4 wooden items recovered from the Norse site that had been modified, or cut, by metal tools that could have only belonged to the Vikings, rather than Indigenous inhabitants of the area at the time.

The exact year – AD 1021 – was able to be determined because a massive solar storm in 992 AD that produced a distinct radiocarbon signal in tree rings, allowing researchers to count the rings back and calculate the date with certainty.

“Finding the signal from the solar storm 29 growth rings in from the bark allowed us to conclude that the cutting activity took place in the year 1021 AD,” said Margot Kuitems, one of the paper’s authors and researcher with the Energy and Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Groningen.

Using the new date as a marker for European presence of the Americas, others can now use it for future research into the initial consequences of transatlantic activity, such as “the transference of knowledge, and the potential exchange of genetic information, biota and pathologies.”

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