Exactly One Thousand Years Ago

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L'Anse aux Meadows - Evidence for Vikings in Canada

Exciting new research has proven that Norse explorers were cutting timber in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, in the year 1021, exactly one thousand years ago.

Since the settlers’ village was discovered in the 1960s, it has been known that Norse sailors reached the continent around the turn of the first millennium, and the date of 1000 AD is often used as a reasonable estimate. However, a new technique of tree-ring counting has provided a precise date of 1021 for at least three pieces of felled timber at the site.

The new method uses evidence of a solar flare that occurred in 993; a flare that has been found to have affected tree rings all over the world. Counting out from that date to the bark left on the discarded wood provides the exact date on which it was cut — 1021 AD. Other marks on the wood show that they were cut with metal tools, which local indigenous peoples did not have at that date.

“It adds some intrigue,” says John Steinberg, an anthropologist at the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “If the Vikings left Greenland around 1000, as the sagas suggest, L’Anse aux Meadows was occupied at least sporadically for perhaps 20 years, rather than just three years as has been assumed. On the other hand, it may be that it was only occupied for three years but those years were 15 years later than we thought.” Steinberg raises another possibility as well—that the Vikings went back and forth between Greenland and Vinland more commonly than has been believed.”

For historians studying an event that is best known from old sagas and legendary tales, achieving such precision in dating is a grand achievement.

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