Latest of Vikings in North America

No hard evidence found but archaeologists not giving up.

A team of 14 international experts spent three weeks digging into the dirt of Point Rosee, in N.L.'s Codroy Valley, taking samples and searching for evidence of Vikings. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

A group of archaeologists and scientists have spent the summer of 2016 working of uncovering historical artifacts of the Vikings in Point Rosee, N.L.

“This is not a bad place to spend a couple weeks outside, playing in the dirt. It’s special here,” said Sarah Parcak, the co-director of the midsummer dig at Point Rosee, in the Codroy Valley, about 50 km north of Channel-Port-aux-Basques.

The only way into the area is a treacherous hike with steep cliffs directly into the rocky ocean below. The ATV ride is a terrifying one, you definitely need to be fearless like the Vikings to make the trip.

The area is a cold rainy one with beautiful landscapes. The archaeologists were tempted to keep digging in the area after turning up nine kilograms of bog iron that was roasted in a hearth.

The wastes product of smelting iron is called slag. It was found in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Vikings in the time were the only group in the area with knowledge of transforming bog iron into many different items such as nails.

In 2016, Parcak, a National Geographic fellow and archeologist based out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, came accompanied by 13 other specialists whose expertise ranged from Norse settlements, to surveying, to ancient pollen, all there to extensively sample the 2015 areas and turn up more turf for evidence.

A good chunk of their days was spent hunched over, sifting though the dirt in an attempt to confirm a long-held theory that the Viking settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows, more than 600 kilometres north of Point Rosee, isn’t the westernmost landing of Norse in North America.

Uncovered in the 1960s, L’Anse Aux Meadows — on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland — took years of digging to become the only proven Viking site on the continent, and remains so to the present day.

Travelling from L’Anse Aux Meadows

But material uncovered there points to explorations further south, most convincingly in the form of butternuts, a species not found anywhere north of New Brunswick.

Material from the Viking Sagas — tales that blend myth and history — also contain descriptions that align with a route down Newfoundland’s west coast.

“For sure, there are other Norse sites out there. L’Anse Aux Meadows was not it. I’m confident that, as we continue to refine our methods and our approaches within the next couple years with new images, new satellites, I think we’ve got a much better shot of finding it,” said Parcak.


Elusive Norse presence

“Looking for the Norse in North America is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Karen Milek, an archeologist specializing in the Norse, and a member of the 2016 dig.

But with the help of the remote images that haystack has become a lot smaller, and that needle a lot bigger. Parcak used such images to scour the Labrador coastline and then Newfoundland’s western edge, and at Point Rosee, one buried feature jumped out to her — what looked like a wall, 22 metres by seven metres, the exact same dimensions as a longhouse discovered at L’Anse Aux Meadows.

That, along with a 2014 site survey that pointed to signs of burning, were enough hints of man-made meddling with the landscape to lead to the 2015 dig, which expanded considerably in 2016 with equal parts hope and disappointment.

‘No doubt’ of Vikings … somewhere

Despite the odds, no one at Point Rosee is shutting the door on its possible Viking connections, or of the chance of a settlement nearby.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the Norse sailed around this coast, and probably stopped in many places,” said Wallace.

Parcak said it’s been invaluable to have so many Viking experts in the Codroy Valley at once. They were able to compare the landscape to their previous research and descriptions from the Sagas. As the team leader, she’s unfazed by any present uncertainty.