Vikings came to America hundreds of years before Columbus

The Vikings traveled great distances in their iconic ships, but the date on which they starred in their first transatlantic adventure was unclear. Now, a team of scientists confirms that these Europeans were already active in the American continent in the year 1021.

According to the University of Groningen (Netherlands), responsible for this work published in the journal Nature, this date marks the oldest known moment in which the Atlantic was crossed; so Columbus was not the first European to arrive in America.

The center explains that the Vikings traveled great distances; to the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and eventually a base at L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada). In this work, the scientists, led by Margot Kuitems, show that Europeans were present on the American continent a thousand years ago.

The team has drawn their conclusions from radiocarbon dating of wooden objects discovered at an archaeological site in Newfoundland, which could be the first known record of humans crossing from Europe to America.

Specifically, they analyzed three pieces of wood, from three different trees, which, according to the scientists, came from archaeologically attributable contexts to the Vikings. “Each one of them presented clear evidence of cutting and slicing with metal blades, a material that the indigenous population did not produce,” says the statement from the University of Groningen.

The exact date -1021- could be determined because in the year 992 there was a huge solar storm that caused a clear radiocarbon signal in the tree rings of the following year. “The increase in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 has been detected in tree ring records around the world,” says Michael Dee, director of the research.

The number of Viking expeditions to America and the length of their stay over the Atlantic remain unknown. All current data suggest that this endeavor was short-lived and it is likely that the cultural and ecological legacy of this early European activity in the Americas was small.

However, botanical tests at L’Anse aux Meadows have confirmed that the Vikings explored lands further south of Newfoundland.

The year 1021 is the oldest year in which the European presence in America can be scientifically demonstrated, the university emphasizes, for which the previous dates of the Viking presence in America have been based largely on the Icelandic sagas. These began, he adds, as oral histories and were only written centuries after the events they describe.

Though contradictory and sometimes fanciful, the sagas also suggest that encounters, both violent and friendly, occurred between Europeans and indigenous people in the region. However, little archaeological evidence has been found to confirm these exchanges, the university notes.


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