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A Space Archaeologist May Have Found a Second Viking Settlement In Canada

Maybe they heard about donairs?
Image: Flickr/Hans Splinter

A thousand years before East Coast hosers went for the first rip in history, vikings may have walked the same land in Newfoundland.

This discovery comes courtesy of "space archaeologist" Sarah Parcak, who used satellite imagery taken from space to pick out possible man-made shapes in Newfoundland, south of L'Anse aux Meadows. Parcak's team, which includes Canadians, did some digging and found evidence of iron-working, which suggests that vikings might have made it all the way to the land of the donair.


It's not a sure thing, but if it's true, then the Newfoundland site will be the second confirmed viking settlement in Canada, and in all of North America.

Processed satellite imagery of the site. Image courtesy of a PBS documentary, "NOVA: Vikings Unearthed," premiering online on Monday, April 4, at 3:30 EST, and will be broadcast on Wednesday at 9 PM EST on PBS.

"We do have what appears to be evidence of metalworking that we would not associate with any of the indigenous inhabitants of Southwestern Newfoundland," said Frederick Schwarz, a Canadian archaeologist tasked with determining whether any artifacts could be attributed to pre-contact indigenous people.

"The radiocarbon dates range pretty wildly," Schwarz added as a caveat. The New York Times reported that the team found seeds that testing revealed to have been placed there at least 700 years after the vikings. "It's intriguing and difficult to attribute to any other group," Schwarz said, "but beyond that we definitely need to collect more evidence."

The full extent of viking settlement in North America is currently unknown. With only one confirmed Norse site in Canada, it may be that vikings only came to North America in rare visits, or even accidentally. A second Norse site might suggest that viking activity in Canada was more widespread and organized than previously thought, however.

Doug Bolender, Dan Snow, and Sarah Parcak. Image courtesy of a PBS documentary, "NOVA: Vikings Unearthed," premiering Monday, April 4, at 3:30 EST.

"It would raise the possibility of verifying that there was a bit more systematic Norse activity in North America," Schwarz said.

More confirmed Norse sites would also enable historians to verify and confirm the ancient Norse sagas—grand tales of red-haired adventurers sailing off to foreign lands, such as "Vinland," which may actually be the East Coast of Canada.

"It's potentially very exciting," Schwarz said of the discovery, "but I have to keep a level head about it and evaluate the evidence critically."

The team will head out to the site in Newfoundland again in the summer for another season's work—and another round of trying to prove that Newfoundland once had visitors that were somehow even wilder than the people who live there now.