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The Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas by 471 years, study claims 

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It has long been argued that it was the Vikings who first ‘discovered’ North America, arriving in the New World centuries before Christopher Columbus.

But a new study now claims it has evidence showing exactly when this happened.

Tests of wooden artefacts show that Scandinavian warriors were already active on the continent exactly 1,000 years ago.

This suggests they were the earliest humans known to have crossed the Atlantic to the Americas, beating Columbus by 471 years.

Discovery: Tests of chopping wood at a Viking settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Canada, has shown that Scandinavian warriors were already active on the Americas 1,000 years ago

Discovery: Tests of chopping wood at a Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada, has shown that Scandinavian warriors were already active on the Americas 1,000 years ago

It wasn't until 1960 that the world woke up to the fact that the Vikings may well have reached the New World before any other Europeans. Archaeologists were convinced that a site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, L'Anse aux Meadows (pictured), was a Viking settlement

It wasn’t until 1960 that the world woke up to the fact that the Vikings may well have reached the New World before any other Europeans. Archaeologists were convinced that a site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, L’Anse aux Meadows (pictured), was a Viking settlement

L'Anse aux Meadows is located on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in Canada (pictured)

L’Anse aux Meadows is located on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in Canada (pictured)

WHAT IS CARBON DATING AND HOW IS IT USED? 

Carbon dating, also referred to as radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 dating, is a method that is used to determine the age of an object. 

Carbon-14 is a carbon isotope that is commonly used by archaeologists and historians to date ancient bones and artefacts.

The rate of decay of carbon-14 is constant and easily measured, making it ideal for providing age estimates for anything over 300 years old.  

It can only be used on objects containing organic material – that was once ‘alive’ and therefore contained carbon.  

Radiocarbon dating was first invented in the 1940s by an American physical chemist called Willard Libby. He won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery.

In 1492, the Italian explorer was the first European to set foot on what later became known as the Bahamas, and then the island named Hispaniola, now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  

Despite being widely credited for discovering America, there were millions of Indigenous people already living there and he never actually reached what became the United States. 

Not only that, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the world woke up to the fact that the Vikings may well have got to the New World before any other Europeans.

Archaeologists were convinced that a site on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in Canada, L’Anse aux Meadows, was a Viking settlement.

Now, 61 years later, an international team of scientists have discovered that the chopping of wood at L’Anse aux Meadows was dated to the year 1021 AD. 

The wood has been attributed to the Vikings because it showed evidence of cutting and slicing by blades made of metal — a material not produced by the Indigenous population.

Archaeologists were able to determine the exact year because of a massive solar storm which occurred in 992 AD and produced a distinct radiocarbon signal in tree rings from the following year.

‘The distinct uplift in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 AD has been detected in tree-ring archives from all over the world,’ said Professor Michael Dee, of the University of Groningen, who directed the research. 

Each of the three pieces of wood studied showed this signal 29 growth rings (years) before the bark edge.

The Vikings sailed great distances in their iconic longships. To the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland and eventually a base at L'Anse aux Meadows (pictured)

The Vikings sailed great distances in their iconic longships. To the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland and eventually a base at L’Anse aux Meadows (pictured)

That wood has been attributed to the Vikings because it showed evidence of cutting and slicing by blades made of metal — a material not produced by the indigenous population

That wood has been attributed to the Vikings because it showed evidence of cutting and slicing by blades made of metal — a material not produced by the indigenous population

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY

789 AD Vikings begin their attacks on England

840 AD Viking settlers found the city of Dublin in Ireland

844 AD Vikings raid Seville but are repulsed

860 AD Rus Vikings attack Constantinople

866 AD York is captured by a Viking army

870 AD Vikings colonise Iceland

981 AD Erik the Red discovers Greenland

986 AD Bjarni Herjolfsson sights North America after being blown off course

1002 AD Leif Ericsson, son of Erik the Red, explores the coast of North America, named them Karland, Helluland and Vinland

1492 AD Italian explorer Christopher Columbus lands in the New World when he stumbles across the islands now known as The Bahamas

‘Finding the signal from the solar storm 29 growth rings in from the bark allowed us to conclude that the cutting activity took place in the year 1021 AD,’ said author Dr Margot Kuitems, of the University of Groningen.

The number of Viking expeditions to the Americas, and the duration of their stay over the Atlantic, still remain unknown, however. 

Current data suggests the endeavour was shortlived, and the cultural and ecological legacy of this first European activity in the Americas is likely to have been small. 

The Vikings sailed great distances in their iconic longships. To the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland and eventually a base at L’Anse aux Meadows.

However, it was unclear when this first transatlantic activity took place until now.

Previous dates for the Viking presence in the Americas have relied on the Icelandic Sagas. 

But these began as oral histories and were only written down centuries after the events they describe. 

It is thought the Vikings first discovered America by accident in the autumn of 986AD, according to one historical source, the Saga of the Greenlanders.

It tells how Bjarni Herjolfsson stumbled across North America after being blown off course as he attempted to sail from Norway to Greenland, but he did not go ashore. 

Inspired by his tales, however, another Viking Leif Ericsson then mounted his own expedition and found North America in 1002. 

The Vikings (a still from the TV series Vikings is pictured) were feared warriors who raided coastal settlements but also were great sailors, making long arduous journeys over open water, using the stars and the sun to navigate

The Vikings (a still from the TV series Vikings is pictured) were feared warriors who raided coastal settlements but also were great sailors, making long arduous journeys over open water, using the stars and the sun to navigate

Christopher Columbus is widely credited with having 'discovered' the New World in his 1492 expedition (depicted in the painting pictured), but growing evidence suggests that the Vikings beat him to North America by several hundred years

Christopher Columbus is widely credited with having ‘discovered’ the New World in his 1492 expedition (depicted in the painting pictured), but growing evidence suggests that the Vikings beat him to North America by several hundred years

Finding it a fertile land, rich in grapes and berries, he named it Vinland.

Eriksson also named two further ‘lands’ on the North American coast — one with flat stones, which he called Helluland, and one that was flat and wooded, named Markland.

Whilst contradictory and at times fantastical, the Sagas also suggest encounters occurred, both violent and amiable, between the Europeans and the Indigenous people of the region. 

However, little archaeological evidence has been uncovered to support such exchanges. 

Other medieval accounts also exist, which imply prominent figures on the European mainland were made aware the Vikings had made landfall across the Atlantic.

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

DID THE VIKINGS DISCOVER NORTH AMERICA?

Some experts believe the Vikings may have discovered North America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his famous journey to the New World. 

L’Anse aux Meadows was the first Viking settlement believed to have been found in North America in the 1960s.

In 2016, scientists claimed to have uncovered another Viking settlement in Newfoundland that was built between 800 AD and 1300 AD.

Some experts believe the Vikings may have discovered North America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his famous journey to the New World

Some experts believe the Vikings may have discovered North America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his famous journey to the New World

The site, discovered in an area called Point Rosee in southern Newfoundland, is 400 miles (643km) south west of a Viking settlement found in L’Anse aux Meadows during the 1960s.

Now, one expert claims to have found a mysterious location known as ‘Hop’.

Based on Viking descriptions, three key things identify this mystical settlement – an abundance of grapes, salmon and canoes made from animal hide. 

An archaeologist claims the only place that matches this description is the Miramichi-Chaleur bay area in northeastern New Brunswick in Canada.

This would be the third Viking settlement claimed to have been found in North America, although it could be hard to ever prove it for once and for all.

It is thought the Vikings first discovered America by accident in the autumn of 986 AD, according to one historical source, the Saga of the Greenlanders.

It tells how Bjarni Herjolfsson stumbled across North America after being blown off course as he attempted to sail from Norway to Greenland, but he did not go ashore.

Inspired by his tales, however, another Viking Leif Ericsson then mounted his own expedition and found North America in 1002.

Finding it a fertile land, rich in grapes and berries, he named it Vinland.

Eriksson also named two further ‘lands’ on the North American coast – one with flat stones, which he called Helluland, and one that was flat and wooded, named Markland.



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