A potential Viking settlement discovered in southern Newfoundland may reveal that the pioneering seafarers travelled further into North America than previously thought, but experts caution there’s still lots of work to be done to verify the find.
Douglas Bolender, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was part of a research team that made the potential discovery last June in the Point Rosee region of the province’s southwest corner.
Bolender said high-resolution satellite data taken 600 kilometres above Earth brought American archeologist and National Geographic fellow Sarah Parcak to the area, where excavations were carried out.
Bolender said the research team has found a Viking-style structure and evidence of someone collecting bog iron, a type of iron found in bogs, lakes, and rivers that is easily processed. Carbon residue scraped from a rock near the bog iron was radiocarbon dated to around 800 AD and 1200 AD, he said.
“We’re right at this tantalizing cusp where the archeology is very suggestive of Norse activity,” said Bolender in a phone interview on Friday.
“It’s a series of things that look Norse but we don’t have a full-fledged settlement or a bunch of very clear Norse artifacts at this point. It’s right on the teeter-totter.”
The expedition was documented by the PBS show NOVA in partnership with the BBC. The two-hour documentary, titled Vikings Unearthed, will air on PBS next Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
It could be the first such site to be discovered in North America in over 50 years.
L’Anse aux Meadows, a Viking settlement on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula discovered in the late 1960s, is currently the first known evidence of European presence in the Americas.
But Bolender warned that a bounty of evidence needs to be uncovered before the new site can be confirmed as a Viking settlement. Researchers plan to return to Point Rosee this summer to conduct further excavations.
“What we’re really going to be looking for is an overwhelming amount of evidence that will include additional, very clear Norse-style architecture and ideally, distinctive Norse artifacts,” said Bolender.
“This is the kind of thing where experts in the field, myself included… come with a huge amount of skepticism, and very appropriate skepticism. There are always claims about these sites in North America. Most of them do not pan out.”
Michael Deal, a professor of archeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., shared that skepticism.
“This sounds kind of sensational. My first thought was ‘Oh yeah’,” said Deal on Friday. “We have people coming over from Europe all the time thinking they know where are Norse sites and they never find them.”
Bolender said if the Point Rosee site proves to be Norse, it could help researchers understand why they were in the region, which is more than 600 kilometres from Newfoundland’s other Viking settlement.
— With files from Alison Auld in Halifax.