Nfld. & Labrador

Potential Viking site found in Newfoundland

Researchers in Newfoundland and Labrador are finding evidence that may give more answers to a millennium-old mystery — just how far the Vikings reached into North America.

Satellites help locate potential Norse site in island's southwest corner

2nd potential Viking site found in Nfld.

7 years ago
Duration 1:48
Satellites used to help locate potential Norse site in island's southwest corner, over 600 km south of the L'Anse aux Meadows Viking site

Researchers in Newfoundland and Labrador are finding evidence that may give more answers to a millennium-old mystery — just how far the Vikings reached into North America.

A second, more southern Viking site may have just been found in Newfoundland, according to research from an international team of archeologists working in the province.

Researcher Sarah Parcak told CBC News that her team has found evidence of a Norse-like hearth and eight kilograms of early bog iron in an area near the southwestern-most coast of Newfoundland.

Chase Childs, left, and Sarah Parcak, right, search for evidence of a Viking presence at Point Rosee in 2015. (Greg Mumford)

Parcak, a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, said the findings at Point Rosee on the island are highly suggestive of a Norse presence in the area.

"We did not find one single shred of any [contradictory] evidence, so that leaves two options," she said. "It's either a new culture that looks and presents exactly like Norse, or Norse."

"But obviously we have a lot of work left in front of us before we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is."

A potentially historic find

If the results are born out through further research, Point Rosee would become just the second verified Viking site in North America.
Researchers believe Point Rosee, about 600 kilometres south of L'Anse aux Meadows, may be the second Norse settlement discovered in Newfoundland. (Google Maps)

The first site is at L'Anse Aux Meadows, near the northern-most tip of Newfoundland, about 600 kilometres away.

Evidence of that thousand-year-old settlement was discovered in the 1960s and took years to verify.

Archeologists maintain that Vikings may have used their L'Anse aux Meadows settlement as a "base camp for expeditions further south."

It's not known how long that camp — now a popular tourist attraction that Parks Canada operates as a National Historic Site — was used before it was abandoned about a thousand years ago. 

At the very least, the researchers in Point Rosee have found evidence of another early iron-working site in the province.

The Norse were the only ones extracting iron from bogs 1,000 years ago.

Possible second Viking site?

7 years ago
Duration 2:19
Sarah Parcak with the University of Alabama in Birmingham says her team's findings in western Newfoundland are highly suggestive of a Norse presence in the area.

Satellite innovations

As part of their early research, Parcak said, the team used Google Maps satellite imagery to look for potential hot spots along the Atlantic Ocean.

Further high-resolution scans led them to send a team to Point Rosee and start to survey for artifacts.

Parcak won the 2016 TED Prize for her work using satellite imagery in archeology, a field the organization said she largely engineered.

"When we started the project, my hypothesis wasn't that we would find anything Norse, my hypothesis was that we would not," she said. 

Instead, after a survey in 2015, her team found signs of iron-working and evidence of a turf wall, like the ones the Norse are known to have used.

More research needed

There's just not enough evidence to go either way on it.- Newfoundland and Labrador archeologist Martha Drake

Newfoundland and Labrador government officials who worked alongside the searchers say more evidence, and more artifacts, are needed to be sure of a Viking presence on the island`s western coast.

"There's just not enough evidence to date to go either way on it," said Martha Drake, an archeologist with the provincial offices.

Birgitta Wallace, considered the foremost authority on the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, was equally unconvinced that the find was an authentic Norse site.

"The roasting of the ore could be accidental. All it would take is a camp fire on the ground where the soil is full of bog ore. Such areas are common in Newfoundland," she wrote in an email.

Wallace was part of the excavation team at L'Anse aux Meadows.

The researchers have found what they believe to be evidence of Norse turf walls at their dig site in Point Rosee in Newfoundland. (BBC)

She's not sure the supposed turf walls are an exact match, either.

"The results could be exciting, but until then I consider the case unsettled."

Parcak said she's looking for more evidence. She'd like to see more carbon-dating that coincides with the Viking era, further evidence of metal-working and maybe a Norse-specific object to put them over the top.

"I hate, as an archeologist … to say it's definitely Norse," she said. "We absolutely cannot say that right now."

"A lot of people in the press are calling this a Norse settlement. We absolutely cannot call it a settlement."

"If it is Norse, the most we can say right now is that it's a small farm or perhaps a temporary winter camp."

Documentary on work

Parcak has teamed up with PBS and BBC to produce a documentary about her work in Newfoundland.

The NOVA program Vikings Unearthed will air on BBC One at 5 p.m. NT on April 4, and will show on PBS at 10:30 p.m. NT on April 6.

Parcak is planning a return to Point Rosee this summer in hopes of finding definitive evidence of a Norse presence.

"We're beginning to get contacted by Norse specialists from different parts of the world," she said. "I think when we go back this summer and in future seasons, we'll have a very strong team of specialists from diverse areas."

"To really collect a lot more evidence and hopefully prove that the site is Norse."