Goodbye, Christopher Columbus: Vikings were in America exactly 1,000 years ago, study confirms

A group of scientists accurately dated, specifically in the year 1021, the presence of Vikings in North America, thanks to a cosmic radiation that left traces on fragments of wood from that time. Historians have known for decades that the legendary Scandinavian sailors were the first Europeans to arrive on the American continent, around the year 1000, almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

So far the only known site with traces of its presence is Anse aux Meadows, in the extreme north of the island of Newfoundland (Canada), a small bay in which the sites of eight buildings subsist. The carbon 14 dating of these remains in the 20th century was very imprecise, with a time span of about 250 years, explains a study published this Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Vikings didn’t stay long

Everything indicates that the occupation of this site was brief and sporadic, thanks to archaeological exploration and the testimony of the “Sagas”, the legendary texts that narrate the epics of the vikings. The team led by Michael Dee and Margot Kuitems of the Center for Isotopic Research at the Dutch University of Groningen found an original method to get around this problem.

The Earth constantly suffers from the arrival of cosmic radiation, most of which are rejected by its magnetic field. These phenomena are sometimes so important that they cause an increase in the presence of the carbon-14 isotope in the atmosphere.

A Japanese study detected two of these phenomena of cosmic origin, one in the year 775 and another in the year 993. However, this sudden rise in carbon 14 leaves a mark on trees, known for their ability to absorb carbon. The scientists searched, with the help of a mass spectrometer, for traces of cosmic rays in three tree fragments that were located at the Viking camp in Newfoundland.

Those fragments had been in contact with iron tools, according to previous studies. Traditional carbon 14 dating ruled that their age ranged from the years 1019 to 1024. The rings of these fragments were then examined, and they detected which ring showed an excess of carbon 14.

The ring count allows the age of the tree to be determined with great accuracy

The technique revealed that the ring with the most carbon “charge” 14 corresponded to the year 993. And by counting the remaining rings down to the bark, it was possible to determine in which year the tree was felled, the scientist explained to AFP. Result: the year 1021. The cosmic ray tracing method is a technique with great potential, believes Kuitems, which he believes can serve “to solve historical questions.”

The Isotopic Research Center was already able to establish in 2020 the age of an archaeological structure in southern Siberia thanks to this technique, which detected traces of cosmic radiation which affected Earth in 775.


Between Christopher Columbus and Leif Erikson


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