The study examined wooden objects from an earlier undated Viking settlement in Newfoundland, which provide the earliest known records of people crossing the Atlantic to reach America.
The site, known as L’Anse aux Meadows, is located on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.
The researchers reached a final date thanks to two impossible sources: chopped wood and a solar storm that occurred more than a thousand years ago.
When the Vikings reached L’Anse aux Meadows, they cut down trees using metal edges, which were not produced by the indigenous population living in the area at the time. The pieces of wood, left behind in the settlement, came from three different trees.
Inside those parts were tree rings – including a clear marker for the year 993. A year ago, scientists knew a massive solar storm occurred, releasing a stream of cosmic rays, or very energetic particles, from the sun at near speed to light.
This left behind a visible and distinctive signature on the tree rings for the year 993.
“The remarkable rise in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 AD has been discovered in the archives of tree rings from around the world,” said Michael Dee, lead author of the study and associate professor of isotopic chronology at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands With
The three wooden objects show the same signal from the solar storm exactly 29 growth rings before they meet the edge of the bark.
“Finding the signal from the solar storm 29 rings rising from the bark allowed us to conclude that the cutting activity took place in 1021 AD,” said Margot Kuitems, co-author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Groningen.
The provision of this date suggests that this is the earliest European presence in America before Christopher Columbus, as well as the earliest evidence in all human migration and exploration that the Atlantic had crossed, Dee said.
The Vikings also established a presence in Iceland and Greenland in the west before arriving at L’Anse aux Meadows.
“It is thought that the Vikings headed west to find new raw materials, mostly wood,” Dee said. “Traveling across continents for such materials has been described as the first step in globalization.”
While the exact number of trips to America, or how long they stayed there, is unclear, current evidence suggests it was likely to be a short-lived stay for the Vikings. But there is evidence at L’Anse aux Meadows that the Vikings explored areas south of Newfoundland while in America.
Previous attempts to understand when the Vikings arrived in America were rooted in the Icelandic sagas, but these were once oral histories written centuries after they actually occurred. The sagas are full of fantastic notes, but they also point to possible encounters between the Vikings and the indigenous population of America. Some of these events were described as friendly, and others violent.
Drawing the footsteps of the Vikings
But finding archaeological evidence to support the stories in Sagas is much more difficult.
“This date acts as an anchor point for the Icelandic Sagas,” Dee said. “Somewhat is somewhat consistent with date estimates based on these Sagas, and therefore adds a credibility to the stories they contain of exploring America and interacting with indigenous peoples. In other ways, it ‘s later than they would have expected most of the Saga experts. “
Previously, scholars believed that the Vikings were in America from the late 990s or early 1000s.
“It either means the Vikings were there a little later in time, or they came and went for a longer period of time, or they stayed in place longer than most would expect,” Dee said.
The use of cosmic ray events can help researchers study and date other historical sites thought to be of Viking or medieval origin, as there are at least two events that occurred during this period, in 775 and 993. Researchers are also trying to trace other solar storms, and so far, they have confirmed another that occurred in 660 BC.
Looking ahead, Dee and his colleagues want to dig deeper into the history of Scandinavian exploration of the North Atlantic, he said. They are already using their meeting method in other “chronological questions” around the world.
“Over time, it is hoped that such research will provide new and explanatory insights into the history of the human past,” Dee said.
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