More than a thousand years ago, a group of Vikings became the first European explorers to settle North America. It wasn't until the 1960's when archaeologists discovered the remains of this Viking colony in northern Newfoundland. And ever since, they've searched in vain for other signs of communities the Vikings may have left behind. Now, thanks to satellite imagery archaeologists may have finally found a second Viking settlement, as showcased on NOVA’s upcoming documentary, Vikings Unearthed.
The new site was discovered last summer, when “space archaeologists” noticed evidence of man-made structures in infrared satellite photos. While the scientists identified several sites that could be possible settlement, archaeologist Sarah Parcak narrowed it down to one site called Point Rosee on the southern tip of Newfoundland that showed signs of buried buildings, Ralph Blumenthal reports for the New York Times.
“It screams, ‘Please excavate me!,’” Parcak tells Blumenthal.
Point Rosee is thousands of miles away from Parcak’s usual haunts in Egypt. For several years, she has used satellites to uncover new archaeological sites and protect others from thieves and tomb raiders. But while ancient Egyptian builders left behind heavy stone blocks, the Vikings made most of their buildings out of wood and earth, making it harder to pick out potential buildings in satellite photos, Mark Strauss reports for National Geographic. However, by examining the plant life in the area, Parcak can see where the foundations of ancient buildings may have once stood.
When Parcak and her colleagues finally traveled to the Point Rosee site in person, they uncovered more possible signs of a Viking settlement: signs of early ironwork, including heightened levels of iron deposits and what could be the remains of a hearth designed for purifying iron ore gathered from a nearby bog, the BBC reports.
“There aren’t any known cultures—prehistoric or modern—that would have been mining and roasting bog iron ore in Newfoundland other than the Norse,” archaeologist and Viking historian Douglas Bolender tells Strauss.
Archaeologists have occasionally found scattered specimens of Viking artifacts from Newfoundland to Maine. However, most of the evidence of their short and failed foothold in North America come from the sagas, oral histories passed down through the generations. But even though the sagas helped point archaeologists to the first North American Viking settlement found at L’Anse aux Meadows, it’s still unclear how factual the accounts are, Strauss reports.
“For a long time, serious North Atlantic archaeologists have largely ignored the idea of looking for Norse sites in coastal Canada because there was no real method for doing so,” Bolender tells Strauss. “If Sarah Parcak can find one Norse site using satellites, then there’s a reasonable chance that you can use the same method to find more, if they exist. If Point Rosee is Norse, it may open up coastal Canada to a whole new era of research.”
While the find at Point Rosee is promising, there’s no proof yet that it was a Viking settlement – the evidence uncovered at the site is circumstantial, though it is intriguing. More research at the site must be done to see if there are other artifacts to uncover, but it has the potential to change what historians know about the Vikings in North America.
Vikings Unearthed will premier online at 3:30 P.M. EST on Monday, April 4 and airs on Wednesday, April 6 on PBS.