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Science&TechnologyArcheologyThe Vikings were 1,000 years ahead of Columbus

The Vikings were 1,000 years ahead of Columbus

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Wood from an ancient settlement on the Canadian island of Newfoundland testifies that long before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the Vikings were the first to reach the New World, Reuters and AFP reported, citing a publication in Nature magazine.

Exactly when the Vikings embarked on the journey and built the village of L’Ans-au-Meadows in Newfoundland has remained a mystery to science.

Scientists now report that a new type of dating technique using a long-standing solar storm as a starting point reveals that the settlement was inhabited in 1021 AD – exactly a millennium ago and 471 years before Columbus’ first voyage. The technique is applied on three pieces of wood cut for the village. They all point to the same year.

The journey of the Vikings marks important stages for humanity. The settlement offers the earliest known evidence of a transatlantic crossing. It also marks the point where the globe is finally orbited by people who crossed into North America thousands of years ago on the land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska.

“These Northern Europeans, the first human society to cross the Atlantic, have received a lot of praise,” said study leader Michael Dee of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

The Vikings were sailors from the Scandinavian countries with exceptional skills in boat construction and navigation and established settlements in Iceland and Greenland.

“Many archaeologists believe that their main motivation for looking for new territories was to find new sources of timber. It is generally believed that they left Greenland, where suitable wood for construction was extremely rare,” he added.

Simple radiocarbon dating, the determination of the age of organic materials by measuring their content of a specific radioactive isotope of carbon, has proved too inaccurate in determining the age of L’ans-o-Meadows. The settlement was discovered in 1960, although it is widely believed to date back to the 11th century.

The new dating method relies on the fact that solar storms produce a distinctive radiocarbon imprint in the tree’s annual rings.

It is known that there was a strong solar storm – a burst of high-energy cosmic rays from the Sun – in 992 AD.

In all three studied tree pieces – from three different trees, after the annual ring with evidence of the solar storm, 29 rings were formed, which means that they were cut down in 1021. Their felling is not the work of natives, as the wood bears traces of metal blades that they did not have, Dee explains.

How long the Vikings lived in the village remains unclear, but it is likely that their stay was short – 10 years or less. Up to a hundred ancient Scandinavians were present at any given time. Their buildings were similar to those in Greenland and Iceland.

The study’s authors note that they were the first to determine the exact date on which the Vikings settled in America. Previously, they only guessed the approximate period of settlement, based on various myths, sagas and legends.

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