By Miguel Fernández
Who arrived first in America? One of the great questions of all time seems to finally have an answer. Although many of us learned that Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World on October 12, 1492, scientists have confirmed something that many of us had long suspected. Ever since we were little, at some point, we heard that rumor that the Vikings, and that legend called Eric the Red, might have reached the American continent before anyone else. Now we have the answer!
Vikings or Christopher Columbus?
The Vikings traveled great distances in their emblematic ships, but the date of their first transatlantic adventure was not clear. Now, a team of scientists has confirmed that these Europeans were already active on the American continent at least as early as 1021. This date marks the earliest known time in which the Atlantic was crossed and, therefore, Christopher Columbus was not the first European to reach America, following a study by the University of Groningen (Netherlands), responsible for this work published in the journal Nature.
The study explains that the Vikings traveled great distances; to the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and, finally, a base in L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada). In this work, the scientists, led by Margot Kuitems, demonstrate that Europeans were present on the American continent a thousand years ago. The team has drawn its conclusions thanks to the radiocarbon dating of wooden objects discovered at an archaeological site in Newfoundland, which could be the first known record of humans crossing from Europe to America.
A historic find
Specifically, they analyzed three pieces of wood, from three different trees, which, according to the scientists, came from contexts archaeologically attributable to the Vikings. “Each of them showed clear evidence of cutting and slicing with metal blades, a material that was not produced by the indigenous population,” the University of Groningen statement said. The exact date – 1021 – could be determined because a huge solar storm occurred in 992 that caused a clear radiocarbon signal in the tree rings of the following year.
“The increase in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 has been detected in tree ring records from around the world,” says Michael Dee, director of the research. The number of Viking expeditions to the Americas and the duration of their stay over the Atlantic remain unknown. All current data suggest that this endeavor was short-lived and the cultural and ecological legacy of this early European activity in the Americas is likely to have been small. However, botanical evidence from L’Anse aux Meadows has confirmed that the Vikings explored lands further south than Newfoundland.
The year 1021 is the earliest year for which a European presence in the Americas can be scientifically demonstrated, stresses the university, for which earlier dates of Viking presence in the Americas have been largely based on Icelandic sagas. These began, it adds, as oral histories and were only written centuries after the events they describe. Although contradictory and sometimes fanciful, the sagas also suggest that there were encounters, both violent and friendly, between Europeans and the indigenous people of the region. However, little archaeological evidence has been found to confirm these exchanges, the university notes.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards