• An Oxford Historian

Vikings in the Americas in AD1021, study finds

Updated: Oct 21

The presence of the Vikings in the Americas has always been a long-contested topic. Although Saga and archaeological evidence suggest Leif Erikson beat Columbus to 'discovering' (/genociding) the Americas, actual concrete proof has always been incredibly limited, and imprecise. Well, a new paper published in Nature claims to have put a definitive date on the only known site of Viking occupation in the Americas - AD1021.


L'Anse aux Meadows

Despite suggestion in the Sagas, the only real concrete evidence of Viking occupation in the Americas is found at L'Anse aux Meadows in modern-day Canada (note, NOT 'America', as many would suggest). Here, the remains of eight wooden buildings have been found, several of which appear to have functioned as workshops of smithies.

Vikings travelling far and wide is no surprise to us - we know they settled England and Iceland, getting as far as the Islamic Caliphate and Greenland, but did when did they make it to the Americas? Despite excavation since the 1960s, questions have rightly been asked about when the site was occupied - traditionally, the settlement has been dated to the rather broad 'early 1000s', although previous broadly inaccurate carbon dating have suggested a date range of several hundred years.


Cosmic Radiation

This uncertainty in dating has been recently addressed by an advancement in radiocarbon dating, through understanding historic variation in 14C as a result of cosmic radiation events. There's a lot of confusing science-y stuff here that I certainly wouldn't claim to be an expert on but, in summary, the researchers were able to take samples of wooden artefacts shaped by metal tools found on the site and, with a better understanding of how Carbon 14 isotopes vary with age, provide a more accurate estimation of age.


As a result, the researchers suggest that the wooden artefacts were made from trees felled in the year AD1021. This opens up a huge amount of possible future research in the Americas - can we verify the narratives from the Sagas? It's also a substantial methodological success and holds great potential future archaeological investigations of all periods. A precise success for scientific archaeology and dating, hopefully this also represents all the more evidence to dissuade the crazy conspiracy theorists of the New Chronology.


  • Interested in archaeology, and keen to access more information and resources? I have recently released a set of free, online notes for the archaeology of 'Anglo-Saxon' England - this is available here.

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  • Check out my previous articles on my own personal PhD research on Anglo-Saxon (here), Viking (here) and obscene (here) nicknames.

  • A new Deep-Dive article on the so-called 'New Chronology' historiographical conspiracy theory can be found here. It's received some glowingly hateful comments by conspiracy theorists...

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