Archaeologists taken aback by evidence of Vikings in Americas

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Analysing wood from five Norse sites in western Greenland that were occupied between 1000 and 1400, archaeologists concluded that Vikings had already visited the Americas long before the Italian explorer.

Determining the tree species that many of the samples originated from, the team from the University of Iceland were able to reveal that some had been imported from the Americas and Europe.

Hemlock and Jack Pine in particular were not grown in Northern Europe during the second millennium, meaning that wood from those trees must have been transported from the Americas and introduced to Europe.

It supports some previous theories and stories passed down through Viking ancestry that state that Vikings once exported timber from a land known as Vinland, thought to be along the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Jack Pine grows naturally around the Mackenzie River, Nova Scotia and New England, while Hemlock grows near Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

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Writing for a study published in the science journal Antiquity, the team said: “These findings highlight the fact that Norse Greenlanders had the means, knowledge and appropriate vessels to cross the Davis Strait to the east coast of North America, at least up until the fourteenth century.

“As such, journeys were being made from Greenland to North America throughout the entirety of the period of Norse settlement in Greenland, and resources were being acquired by the Norse from North America for far longer than previously thought.”

Historical records suggest that Vikings living in Greenland between 985 and 1450 relied on materials like iron and wood to be imported.

They used these things for infrastructure projects, shipbuilding, as well as creating artefacts that local trees could not be used for.

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Archaeologists wanted to find out the proportion of foreign wood used by Vikings and where it came from.

Collecting samples from wood assemblages in four medium-sized elite elite farms and a bishop’s manor — sites known to have been occupied in the first half of the second millennium by Vikings — the team examined the cellular structure of the wood using microscopes to identify the tree species they came from.

Their analysis revealed that 0.27 per cent of the samples came form imported species either from North America or Northern Europe.

Tree species that fell into the latter included oak, beech, and scots pine, which may have been old shop timber or parts of artefacts.

The analysis also found that as much as a quarter of the samples were either imported or arrived in Greenland as driftwood.

And, driftwood, including timber from local woodlands, was used as fuel and for domestic purposes.

These results, the team said, confirm that Vikings had already established several trading routes across the northwestern Atlantic Ocean by the time Columbus came along.

They also corroborate stories passed down through Viking heritage that explorers like Leif Erikson did make daring journeys outside the known world.

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