Until recently, it was thought that Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas in 1492. However, a new study led by the University of Groningen has found that the Vikings got there centuries beforehand, and were already active in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1021 AD.
The Vikings sailed great distances in their longships, and established settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. Yet, the precise number of Viking expeditions to the Americas, and the duration of their stays over the Atlantic remain unknown.
Previous dates for the Viking presence in the Americas have relied heavily on the Icelandic Sagas that began as oral histories and were written down centuries after the events they describe. Although these Sagas often describe both violent and amiable encounters between the Vikings and indigenous American populations, little archaeological evidence has been uncovered to support such exchanges.
In this new study, published in the journal Nature, the chopping of wood by Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows was dated to the year 1021 AD. The scientists studied three pieces of wood from three different trees that displayed clear evidence of cutting and slicing by metal blades coming from contexts attributable to the Vikings. The precise dating of these operations was possible because a massive solar storm occurred in 992 AD which produced a distinct radiocarbon signal in tree rings from the following year.
“The distinct uplift in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 AD has been detected in tree-ring archives from all over the world” explained study senior author Michael Dee, an associate professor in the Energy and Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Groningen. “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,” added study lead author Margot Kuitems, a postdoctoral researcher in the same institute.
This date also marks the earliest known time at which the Atlantic had been crossed, and human migration had finally encircled the entire planet.