It has been long established that Vikings were living in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland somewhere around 1000 A.D. Extensive archaeological digs in the area have firmly established there was a settlement there.
Research is also indicated this was a base for further exploration in the area.
Three researchers have looked at trees used in construction on the site and conclusively established four separate logs were harvested in 1021 A.D.
The research was published at Nature on 10/20/21: Evidence for European presence in the Americas in A.D. 1021.
The research gained wide coverage. For example, you can check out the Wall Street Journal on 10/20/21: Viking Artifacts Give Precise Date for Europeans’ Earliest Presence in North America.
Radiation from the sun generates a certain amount of carbon 14 that is absorbed into trees. Apparently, the amount of carbon 14 varies by less than 2% a year, normally.
In the year 775 A.D. and 993 A.D. there was an unusually large amount of radiation hitting the earth. This resulted in a 12% fluctuation in the amount of carbon 14 absorbed into trees. If researchers look at a tree that was alive in 993 they can identify them by the very high amount of carbon-14 absorbed in that year.
This phenomenon has been noticed in dendrochronological records all across the planet. In other words, tree rings studied everywhere on earth show this anomaly in the year 993. (Oh, I finally got to use the word dendrochronological – how cool.)
The researchers took many samples from five logs used in the construction (had to throw away one because of inconclusive results). They were able to identify the ring that had unusually high carbon-14. That was the ring produced in 993. They then counted back to there from the edge of the trunk to determine what year the tree was harvested.
After counting out the rings, ,they concluded the trees were cut down in 1021.
The trees were harvested by Vikings, and not the indigenous people. How could they tell? The trees are cut with a sharp metal instrument (i.e. an axe), which indigenous tribes did not have at that time.
The article at Nature has extensive explanation of the methodology used. Although their explanations make sense to this non-arborist, non-archaeologist, the discussion was way over my head.
I also note the authors published all the raw data, all their research work, and gave extensive credits to everyone who participated and assisted. This is also over my head – seems like a fantastic way to publish your research. Other researchers can double check their work.
Future historians and archaeologists and sociologists can go back and build on this research. Very cool.
What do I learn from this research?
Scandinavians, or Norse, or Vikings, take your pick, were living in the Americas several centuries before Columbus ‘sailed the ocean blue.’
The Vikings were here before him. In 1021 A.D., to be precise.