The Norse Lived in North America by 1021 AD

Archaeology History
Parks Canada has recreated the Norse village at L'Anse aux Meadows, on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

Just this week, Danish researchers discovered evidence that supports a decades-long theory that the Norse established the first European settlement in North America.

Anne Ingstad discovered the Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960.

Back in the 1960s, archaeologist Anne Ingstad and her husband Helge discovered a Norse village on the northern tip of Newfoundland called L’Anse aux Meadows. It is the only certain Norse settlement ever discovered in North America. Scientists had some idea of its date of occupation but it was never precise.

The new findings, published in Nature on October 20, 2021, provided the first concrete evidence that the Norse clan that settled L’Anse aux Meadows came from the Netherlands and they were there exactly 1,000 years ago.

Norse vs Vikings

These days, the terms Norse and Viking are used interchangeably, but although they were the same people, the Norse were traders and the Vikings were warriors.

Using accelerated radiocarbon dating technology, geoscientist Michael Dee and his lab at the University of Groningen analyzed wood samples from the settlement. By chance, a mass solar storm that occurred in 993 AD created a substantial spike in carbon isotopes. That spike caused a type of marker in the biomass living at the time of the storm. And that marker is specifically detectable in the wood samples that Dee and his lab pulled from L’Anse aux Meadows.

In fact, today’s technology is so accurate that, coupled with analysis of the chop marks on the samples (characteristic of the metal tools that only the Norse had access to), Dee was able to date the wood samples down to a single year: 1021 AD.

It’s now the earliest date that we know of for Europeans to have settled the New World.

Birgitta Wallace was part of an archaeological crew for Parks Canada in the 1970s and played a role in L’Anse aux Meadows’ excavation. During that time, scientists unearthed the Nordic-style wooden samples on which Dee’s team applied modern dating methods. Wallace had the foresight to preserve a few untouched wooden scraps nonchemically, by stowing them in a freezer.

“We thought that in the future, there would be methods which we couldn’t even think about at the time,” said Wallace, who is now retired. “The exciting part, in a way, is not the excavation. It’s when you analyze everything afterward and see what information you get out of it — what it leads to.”

The actual site of one of the former structures at L’Anse aux Meadows. Photo: Clinton Pierce

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About the Author

Jilli Cluff

Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college.
After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life.
She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network.
She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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