New World Vikings: 800 AD

A combination of satellite imaging and extended study of the Eddas has enabled archeologists to discover an 800 AD Viking settlement in the New World—which reveals that the Norsemen had explored far more of North America than earlier believed.

Previously, the only known Viking site was in L’Anse aux Meadows, located on the northern tip of Newfoundland. That temporary settlement, dating from about 1000 AD, was abandoned after just a few years.

Point Rossee satellite

A satellite image of Point Rosee used by archaeologist Sarah Parcak in her search for Viking settlements. Dark straight lines indicate the remains of possible structures.

For decades, academics have scoffed at other evidence indicating that the Viking exploration was far more extensive that just L’Anse aux Meadows.

point-rosee-mapThese indicators have been Viking artifacts found in Indian trading settlement remains, the use of Viking-style longhouses by Indian tribes in the US Northwest, several iron smelting sites, and even rune stones.

Also, the lighter coloring of certain tribes of Indians, as noted by the Columbus-era European explorers, indicated a mixed racial ancestry.

But all of that was dismissed in the mania of “proving” so-called indigenous peoples’ rights to North America, and were generally swept under the historical carpet.

Now, however, as revealed in an extensive article in National Geographic, the new discoveries at Point Rosee—hundreds of miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows—indicate a “much longer period of Norse activity in the New World.”

The site was discovered by archaeologist Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Fellow dubbed a “space archaeologist” for her use of satellite imagery to locate lost Egyptian cities, temples, and tombs.

After many hours spent studying satellite images, Parcak identified the Point Rosee site and, in conjunction with National Geographic and the BBC, led a team of archaeologists to the area last summer to conduct a “test excavation.”

As the National Geographic report announced:

The treasure they discovered here—a stone hearth used for working iron—could rewrite the early history of North America and aid the search for lost Viking settlements described in Norse sagas centuries ago.

The archaeologists were careful not to nail their colors too high to the masts, saying that they don’t yet have enough evidence to confirm that Vikings built the hearth.

Other peoples lived in Newfoundland centuries ago, including Native Americans and Basque fisherman. But experts are cautiously optimistic.

A site like Point Rosee has the potential to reveal what that initial wave of Norse colonization looked like not only for Newfoundland but for the rest of the North Atlantic,” says Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist specializing in Norse settlements.

Parcak used the satellite images to search for the remains of buildings—or rather, the aftereffects of Viking buildings. As National Geographic explained:

Viking structures were hewn mostly from wood and earth. So when Parcak uses satellite imagery to search for signs of Norse settlers, she’s not looking for actual ruins. Instead, she’s scrutinizing the plant life.

The remnants of structures buried at Point Rosee alter the surrounding soil, changing the amount of moisture it retains. This, in turn, affects the vegetation growing directly over it. Using remote sensing, variations in plant growth form a spectral outline of what was there centuries earlier.

The archaeologists knew that most of the Viking’s iron was smelted from peat bogs, and, as Parcak had predicted, a magnetometer survey revealed a spot partially surrounded by straight lines indicating the possible ruins of a small structure. Excavation reveals the remains of what appear to be turf walls and an iron-working hearth.

The shallow pit inside this structure contained traces of charcoal and 28 pounds of slag—indicating that it was used for roasting ore.

As the National Geographic article continued:

The turf structure that partially surrounds the hearth is nothing like the shelters built by indigenous peoples who lived in Newfoundland at the time, nor by Basque fishermen and whalers who arrived in the 16th century.

And, while iron slag may be fairly generic, “there aren’t any known cultures—prehistoric or modern—that would have been mining and roasting bog iron ore in Newfoundland other than the Norse,” says Bolender.

test excavation

Archaeologists conducted a “test excavation” in Newfoundland—a small-scale dig to search for initial evidence that the site merits further study. They were successful.

* The discovery has vindicated Canadian archaeologist Patricia Sutherland, who found Viking ruins on Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle, which she claims were a trading outpost. She was sacked and dismissed for making her discoveries public, because of political correctness in Canada.

A documentary of the discoveries, The NOVA: Vikings Unearthed US broadcast premiere will take place on Wednesday, April 6 at 9 p.m. ET/8C on PBS.

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  1. Once the area is pointed out, the site of an 8’x25′ structure looks possible as a distinct rectangle when I look at Google Earth, but I’m quite colorblind, so I may ‘see things.’

  2. I’m glad for once that the archaeologist was American. At least then Canada can’t suppress its Viking history as it wrongly punished Patricia Sutherland for her similar discovery in the Canadian North. She should be reinstated. What a disgrace. I find it curious that the Viking settlements have been given French names,(L’Anse Meadows and Point Rosee) Couldn’t they have picked Norse ones in honour of those early settlers?

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