New Research Confirms That the Vikings Landed in North America 471 Years Before Columbus & Exactly 1,000 Years Ago

“We have to cel­e­brate Colum­bus because he dis­cov­ered Amer­i­ca.”
“No he didn’t. Leif Erik­son got there first.”


I para­phrase here from the halls of my ele­men­tary school cir­ca some­time in the late 20th cen­tu­ry, when many of us were con­vinced the first Euro­peans to set foot on the con­ti­nent were not the Span­ish and their bloody-mind­ed, trea­sure-seek­ing Ital­ian cap­tain, but what we thought of as bloody-mind­ed, trea­sure-seek­ing Vikings. Which side was right?

Our grade-school objec­tions to Colum­bus were not nec­es­sar­i­ly moral or intel­lec­tu­al. Most of us chose team Viking for the hel­mets (more on that lat­er). But evi­dence that Vikings land­ed in North Amer­i­ca dates back hun­dreds of years to his­tor­i­cal accounts and sagas about Leif’s father, Erik the Red. These accounts tell of a place called Vin­land, iden­ti­fied as lying some­where along the North­east­ern coast­line where the Norse found wild grapes.

In the 20th cen­tu­ry came the sug­ges­tion that Vin­land might have been locat­ed in Cana­da, at a site called L’Anse aux Mead­ows in what is now New­found­land. Between 1960 and 1968, an exca­va­tion by Nor­we­gian archae­ol­o­gist Anne Stine Ingstad and her hus­band, explor­er Helge Ingstad, found the remains of the “only con­clu­sive­ly iden­ti­fied Viking site in the Amer­i­c­as out­side of Green­land,” writes Kather­ine Kornei at The New York Times.

Eight tim­ber-framed build­ings at the site look very much like sim­i­lar struc­tures in Green­land built for Erik the Red. And yet, exact­ly when the set­tle­ment arose has been a mys­tery; “radio­car­bon mea­sure­ments of arti­facts from L’Anse aux Mead­ows span the entire Viking Age, from the late eighth through the 11th cen­turies.” That is, until new results just pub­lished in Nature which claim to have “deci­sive­ly pinned down when the Norse explor­ers were in New­found­land: the year A.D. 1021, or exact­ly 1,000 years ago.”

Sci­en­tists obtained this date from three pieces of wood late­ly unearthed from what is known as the site’s “Viking lay­er” — a stump, a log, and a branch. “These arti­facts were sig­nif­i­cant finds for two rea­sons,” notes the CBC. “One is that they showed cut marks made by met­al blades, spe­cif­ic to Vikings, not Indige­nous stone blades. The sec­ond rea­son is that all three arti­facts still had the out­er­most lay­er of the tree intact,” allow­ing archae­ol­o­gists to con­clu­sive­ly tell their age.

A host of unan­swered ques­tions remain. We can­not say for cer­tain this new data con­firms the ancient sto­ries of Vin­land or Leif Erik­son. Although the struc­tures, tools, and oth­er arti­facts at the site are unques­tion­ably Norse, researchers don’t know who, pre­cise­ly, set­tled at L’Anse aux Mead­ows, or whether it was a long-term set­tle­ment or a tem­po­rary out­post. (Evi­dence pub­lished in 2019 sug­gests that “Norse activ­i­ty at LAM may have endured for a cen­tu­ry.”)

At the top of the post, see a short explain­er from Nature show­ing not only how arche­ol­o­gists con­firmed that Vikings land­ed in North Amer­i­ca, but also how they learned exact­ly when — 471 years before Colum­bus. As for why there’s no Leif Erik­son day in the U.S.…  well, there is, it turns out — Octo­ber 9th — though no one gets a hol­i­day. And about those hel­mets? Stereo­types that first appeared in Wag­ner­ian opera.

As even video games rec­og­nize these days, the Vikings may be some of the most mis­un­der­stood peo­ples in ancient his­to­ry. Learn more about their time in New­found­land, and maybe points fur­ther south, in the episode of Amer­i­ca Unearthed from the His­to­ry Chan­nel, above, and read the Nature arti­cle on the most recent arti­facts here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Sis­tine Chapel of the Ancients: Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er 8 Miles of Art Paint­ed on Rock Walls in the Ama­zon

Archae­ol­o­gists Find the Ear­li­est Work of “Abstract Art,” Dat­ing Back 73,000 Years

A 16th Cen­tu­ry “Data­base” of Every Book in the World Gets Unearthed: Dis­cov­er the Libro de los Epí­tomes Assem­bled by Christo­pher Colum­bus’ Son

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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    The sec­ond video is unavail­able. The uploader did not freed it glob­al­ly. It is unac­ces­si­ble from my coun­try, for exam­ple. I live in Brazil.

    Is it pos­si­ble still to free it?

  • Wildflower says:

    Us Native Indi­ans here 15,000 — 25,000 first on this land. Cana­da, USA, Mex­i­co, Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, South Amer­i­ca. We trav­eled here by foot Ice Age before oth­ers exist­ed, before coun­tries had names, back when the whole world pop­u­la­tion was low, not like the bil­lions it is now. I would know mine and all there’s were here way before Colum­bus and the Vikings came here. Ignore my last name not mine. Mar­ried name. Mine all died dur­ing the Mys­tic Mas­sacre 1637, Chief, Great Great Great Grand­par­ents. All were over 100 years old that 1637. Their fam­i­lies died pre­vi­ous­ly at old ages also. From Orig­i­nal Tribe when noone else was here. Wild­flower!

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