Clues embedded into ancient Norse sagas have led a team of archeologists to discover a long-lost stone hearth in a remote peninsula in Newfoundland, Canada, which could have been used by Viking explorers who came to North America centuries ago.
The scientists believe that if the site proves to be the work of Norse people from an earlier time than previous discoveries, it could mean that the Vikings had a far longer period of activity in the New World than what was initially thought.
Sarah Parcak, an archeologist and National Geographic Fellow, led a team of researchers in finding an ancient Viking settlement in secluded peninsula in Newfoundland called Point Rosee.
Guided by long-form stories known as sagas, which include information about the history of Norse people, Parcak and her team were able to locate a stone hearth, which is used by early people to cast iron. It is surrounded by what appears to be a wall made of turf.
While the researchers still don't have enough evidence to prove that the hearth was built by Vikings since there were also other ancient people that lived in the region at the time, some experts remain optimistic that it could indeed be the work of Norse people.
Douglas Bolender, an expert in Norse settlements, explained that the Point Rosee site could provide more information about the first attempts of Vikings in colonizing not just Newfoundland but the entire North Atlantic region as well.
Location Of Point Rosee
Parcak pointed out that the location of the Point Rosee site offers several clues as to why it would have made an ideal outpost for Vikings.
She said that the Vikings were always worried about their safety as well as the threat posed by indigenous people. Point Rosee not only provided them with an excellent vantage point, but it also gave them access to the beaches. They could easily see what lies in the north, south and west of their location.
Even the surrounding areas of Point Rosee had characteristics that were appealing to the Vikings. Land surveys of the region revealed that the peninsula's southern coastline only had a few submerged rocks, making it ideal for beaching or anchoring ships.
The region also had a number of ideal fishing spots along the coast and plentiful game animals, which the Vikings could have hunted. The soil and climate in the area were also suitable for growing various crops.
One of the most compelling evidence of possible Norse activity in Point Rosee is the presence of peat bogs.
Vikings relied heavily on iron for different uses, including nails and other parts for shipbuilding. However, they are not known to be proficient miners. This is why they had to have access to peat bogs so that they can have enough bog iron for their needs.
Historians believe that this was the case for the first confirmed Norse settlement in North America, L'Anse aux Meadows. Located hundreds of miles north of Point Rosee, L'Anse aux Meadows served as a center for iron production.
Finding The Site Using Satellite Images
Compared to ancient Egyptians, who left behind many stone edifices, Vikings mostly built structures made from earth and wood. This made it difficult to identify Norse ruins using satellite imaging.
To overcome this challenge, Parcak studied plant life instead of looking for stone ruins. She examined the impact of remnants from ancient structures on the vegetation in Point Rosee. This allowed her to create a spectral outline of what could have stood in the area hundreds of years ago.
A magnetometer survey of Point Rosee showed one particular area that was partially surrounded by various straight lines, which suggest that a small structure could have stood there before. When Parcak and her team conducted excavations in the site, they unearthed the iron-working hearth that was enclosed in turf walls.
The presence of the turf walls provides the researchers with another convincing proof that the site could very well be a Norse settlement. The structure does not match any known shelters made by other ancient peoples that lived in Newfoundland at the time.
Bolender said that there are no other ancient people known to mine and roast bog iron ore in the region other than the Vikings.
A prevailing theory about the potential presence of Norse settlements in Point Rosee is that the Vikings could have used the site as an outpost for exploration and collecting various resources.
However, Bolender said that it is more likely that Point Rosee was part of a larger settlement located somewhere in the region.
He said that the ancient Norse sagas could offer more clues about where this Viking site could be much like how the stories helped researchers in finding L'Anse aux Meadows. There is no guarantee, however, that the sagas are always reliable, according to Bolender.
Photo: Daniel Dionne | Flickr