Researchers date Vikings’ arrival in Canada: exactly 1,000 years ago

It has long been known that the Vikings were the first Europeans to make the long journey to the Americas, arriving in what is now Canada towards the end of the first millennium.

But a new article in the newspaper Nature is the first to identify a specific date: 1021, exactly 1,000 years ago, beating the arrival of Christopher Columbus by nearly 500 years.

The research comes from the only confirmed Nordic archaeological site in the Americas outside of Greenland, a settlement at the northern tip of Newfoundland called L’Anse aux Meadows.

A team of scientists, led by Margot Kuitems and Michael Dee from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, examined four pieces of wood recovered at L’Anse aux Meadows. The samples were nothing more than discarded sticks and tree trunks, but each had a prominent marker of at least one clean edge, indicating that it had been cut by a metal tool.

Researchers know that these objects and the cups belonged to the Scandinavians, as the native inhabitants of this region at the time did not have metal tools.

The finds, the earliest evidence of this type of Viking voyage to North America, provide important context in the history of North America and European voyages to the continent.

A Danish archaeologist called their findings “unbelievable. “

The report provides a specific date, independently obtained, a date that does not rely on old texts for verification.

“It allows us to take a closer look at the historical evidence with that exact moment in mind,” Dee told NPR.

Tree rings contain centuries of information

Kuitems and Dee did not originally aim to definitively find the official date of arrival of Icelandic travelers to North America.

Their research all began nearly four years ago, when the two wanted to test their new radiocarbon dating method, which examines tree rings for rare solar storms.

“The method sort of came first and the archaeological example came second,” Dee said.

In the year 993, unusual cosmic ray activities caused a worldwide decline in atmospheric radiocarbon which can be observed in the rings of individual trees. In other words, if a tree was alive in A.D. 993, the use of carbon dating techniques on its tree rings – even long after the tree died – can reveal exactly what year it was. cut by locating the ring with the carbon anomaly, then simply counting outward.

The two said they had an idea that the Viking trip to North America probably happened around 993. They deduced that the items collected in the colony of Newfoundland would be a good place to start.

With the hodgepodge of wood collected from the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia storage facility that housed the Scandinavian artifacts, they returned to their laboratory in the Netherlands to thoroughly analyze each of the wooden artifacts.

The wood scraps the researchers studied were not used by the Vikings to build houses or create tools, but it was perfect for their analysis of the rings, Kuitems said. Because they were not externally altered, the rings were in perfect condition for analysis.

Collectively, they were able to identify 83 individual tree rings in the articles. From there, they used their carbon dating technique to determine the year they were cut.

When the researchers dated the wood, they discovered that 1021 was “the only sure calendar date” for the presence of Europeans across the Atlantic – especially given the “notable and unexpected” discovery that the three trees appear to have been. slaughtered in the same year.

That job didn’t end until earlier this year, they said, but their enthusiasm never wavered.

Kuitems said: “It was an exciting project from start to finish.”

The two researchers said the global attention their report has received has been both exciting and a little overwhelming. But they hope this attention may motivate other researchers to use their carbon dating method for other purposes.

“We kind of hope our carbon radio dating community will realize this and apply it to other contexts,” including historical, archaeological and other sciences, Dee said. “We hope this will be widely used for all kinds of issues where you need to get a specific date for a specific context.”

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