A cosmic event recorded in ancient trees around the planet has made it possible to date exactly when the Vikings were in America. Researchers do not know when they arrived, or how long they were, but the wood rings of various objects show that the Norse had settled in what is now northern Canada in the year 1021, just a millennium ago.
Beyond the Icelandic sagas, part of the oral history of the Nordic peoples, there are not many references to the Viking presence in America. The most consistent evidence is the archaeological site of L’Anse aux Meadows (in Spanish, The Cove of the Jellyfish), located on the island of Newfoundland, in the extreme northeast of Canada. Excavated in the 1960s, evidence was found that those houses had been erected by the Vikings. One of them is the angular and precise cut in the woods, something that could only have been done with axes or other metal tools. And the original inhabitants of the region were unaware of metallurgy. Due to the oral tradition and the architectural style of the buildings, historians believe that L’Anse aux Meadows was built around the end of the first millennium. But the exact date was unknown, until now.
Taking advantage of a solar storm that reached Earth in 992, a group of scientists has been able to date not when the Vikings arrived in America, but when they already were. The new and original way of knowing it is explained by the researcher at the University of Groningen (Netherlands) and research director Michael Dee: “Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere and incorporate it into their rings in their growth,” says this professor. of chronology by isotopes. This discipline is supported by the fact that various elements of the periodic table vary their atomic composition (isotopes) by radiation at a known rate. “Part of that carbon is radiocarbon,” says Dee. And that year, the levels skyrocketed.
Details of the investigation appear in the latest issue of Magazine Nature. “There are records of rings around the world formed by the wood of ancient trees or that preserved in swamps or bogs in which the year of growth of each ring is known exactly,” explains Dee. This is the basis of a science known as dendrochronology, which uses rings as time markers. With this, not only is the age of a tree known. By trapping the environmental conditions, the logs can tell stories about past ice ages, volcanic eruptions, when the magnetic poles were reversed or what is happening with climate change. Recently, says Dee, “a peak in the concentration of radiocarbons in the ring was discovered in these records that corresponds to the year 993”, that is, the year after the solar storm, whose cosmic rays would have raised the concentration of carbon 14 in the atmosphere.
What they have done in their Isotope Research Center was analyze three pieces of cut wood found in L’Anse aux Meadows. All three come from different trees (a Christmas fir, a juniper and yours) and all three have the anomaly of 993 engraved. “By measuring the radiocarbon concentration in the rings of Viking wood, we were able to find that same peak and know hence that ring is from 993. Now we only had to count towards the edge of the bark to determine when the last ring was formed, that is, when the tree was felled. We applied the same method to the three different pieces of wood from three different trees and they all returned the cut-off date of 1021 ″, explains the Dutch scientist.
The dendrochronologist from the Pablo de Olavide University Raúl Sánchez-Salguero recalls that several isotopes of carbon coexist in the atmosphere (carbon 12, carbon 13, carbon 14). “Solar storms disrupt the earth’s magnetism, modifying the atmospheric composition, disrupting the ratio between 12 and 14, for example. During the photosynthesis process, the trees catch these variations ”, he explains. “The year 992, like that of 773, were brutal cosmic events that recorded the trees of the entire planet, hence the precision of the dating of the wood of the Vikings,” he adds.
Although the Vikings arrived in America almost 500 years before Columbus, their presence there did not go much beyond the cove of the jellyfish, not even in time. The Dutch researcher sums it up: “Scientifically we cannot say much more about the time they were there. They could spend a year or several times on short stays. Or maybe they stayed a little longer, maybe a decade. All the archaeological evidence suggests that their stay was relatively short. “
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