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Vikings may have been the first to bring Christianity to the New World, study finds



Zelda Caldwell - published on 10/21/21

Testing of fragments of wood from a settlement in Newfoundland proves that Vikings were in North America as far back as 1021.

Radiocarbon dating of wooden artifacts found at the ruins of a settlement in Newfoundland proves that Vikings were in North America as early as 1021.

This groundbreaking finding was part of a new study, published in the journal Nature, that provides evidence that Vikings were the first Europeans to land in the Americas — 500 years before Columbus’ landing in the “New World.” 

Artifiacts from a Viking settlement in Newfoundland

Conducted by researchers at the Centre for Isotope Research, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands, the research project examined artificats from the only confirmed Norse site in the Americas, L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. 

Discovered in 1960, the site consisted of peat-covered timber-framed structures, that researchers determined bore all of the characteristics of Norse design. Since then researchers have suggested that Vikings probably inhabited the area around the end of the first millennium. These new findings nail down the date at 1021.

Researchers used radiocarbon testing techniques on a tree stump, a branch, and a block of timber found at the site of the Norse settlement. All three artifacts were modified with a metal implement, such as an axe. According to the study such implements were not used by Indigenous inhabitants in the area at the time.

Using advanced techniques in radiocarbon dating, researchers were able to pinpoint the year when the pieces of wood were cut down at 1021. The study of the wooden artifacts detected an unusual increase in radioactive isotopes. That increase matched up with a rare cosmic radiation event that was known to have taken place in 993 AD. Researchers then simply counted the rings in the wood, to determine that the tree from which they were taken was cut down in 1021.

The first church in the New World?

Now that it has been determined that the Vikings were the first to reach the New World, could they have also been the first to bring Christianity to the New World? It’s possible.

Visitors to the L’Anse au Meadows National Historic Site, will see peat-covered reconstructions of Viking buildings. The actual structures that were discovered in 1960 have been reburied to protect them from deterioration. According to UNESCO, which named the ruins World Heritage Site in 1978, the eight timber-framed turf structures discovered were determined to be “three dwellings, one forge and four workshops.” 

It is possible that one of these buildings served the purpose of a church as the Vikings who voyaged to the New World were likely Christian at the time. Shortly before 1000, Leif Erickson sailed from Greenland to Norway where he lived for the winter in the house of King Olaf Tryggvason, a Christian. Erikson converted to Christianity and then brought his faith back to Greenland’s settlers, who converted as well. 

Shortly after his return to Greenland, Erikson and a crew of 35 Vikings sailed to what is now northern Canada. According to the Iceland sagas, they settled in an area Erikson called Vinland. L’Anse aux Meadows is believed to be the settlement known as Straumfjord, which was mentioned in the Vinland Sagas.

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