Evidence for Vikings in Canada Grows with Surprising Find of Ironworking Site in Newfoundland

Evidence for Vikings in Canada Grows with Surprising Find of Ironworking Site in Newfoundland

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Experts are “cautiously optimistic” that a hearth where people worked iron about 1,000 years ago in Newfoundland, Northeast Canada, was the site of a Viking settlement, says National Geographic.

This site, at Point Rosee, is the second where there is strong evidence of Viking settlements in the New World. The first, at L’Anse aux Meadows, also in Newfoundland but hundreds of miles north of Point Rosee, was discovered in 1960.

The hearth at Point Rosee is surrounded by the remnants of a rectangular turf wall, says the National Geographic article announcing the find. The hearth itself is just a boulder with a depression in front of it, surrounded by smaller rocks.

But in the hearth’s shallow pit archaeologists found 28 pounds of slag—a byproduct of iron roasting, the step in the ironworking process before smelting and forging. The smith burns and dries the ore in the fire so it doesn’t explode in the forge.

A blackened rock said to be the hearth. Slag was found around the boulder.

A blackened rock said to be the hearth. Slag was found around the boulder. (Dan Snow)

Scholars do not believe natives of this area in the 11th century were working with iron, though there was metalworking in the New World before Europeans arrived.

The Point Rosee Viking site is the southernmost and westernmost location where evidence of ironworking has been discovered in the Americas before Columbus arrived.

The method of the discovery is noteworthy, too. “Space archaeologist” and National Geographic fellow Sarah Parcak, working with a $1 million TED prize, used satellite imagery to find evidence of human activity in the landscape.

She usually studies satellite imagery of Egypt to find signs of ancient human activity there but recently expanded her horizons.

At Point Rosee, she saw a faint difference in the vegetation in the form of a rectangle—possibly a structure. Investigations on-site showed the turf walls and hearth.

The site has bog iron, natural deposits of the metal that would have been very attractive to Vikings. It has other features, too, that may have attracted the wandering Norsemen.

The southern coast of the Point Rosee peninsula has few submerged rocks, allowing beaching of ships or anchoring in shallow water.

There was good farm land, plenty of good fishing and a lot of game they could have hunted, National Geographic says. Other things that may have attracted the Vikings include turf for constructing houses and chert for making stone tools.

The researchers found what they believe to be evidence of Norse grass walls at their dig site in Point Rosee in Newfoundland.

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

Parcak told The Washington Post that there is nothing that “absolutely confirms the site as Norse.” She said: “This is going to take years of careful excavation, and it’s going to be controversial. It raises a lot more questions than it answers. But, that’s what any new discovery is supposed to do.”

National Geographic says the most valuable resource for the site was the iron, which formed as rivers carried ore from the mountains into wetlands, where bacteria leached iron from water and left behind the metal.

A lump of what the researchers say is bog iron ore. It is one of the samples being tested from the possible Viking site at Point Rosee.

A lump of what the researchers say is bog iron ore. It is one of the samples being tested from the possible Viking site at Point Rosee. (Greg Mumford)

Instead of mining, the Vikings usually harvested iron from peat bogs, and they needed a lot of it for the nails they used to construct the ships they roamed much of the world in. One reconstructed Norse longship needed 7,000 nails—880 pounds (400 kilograms) of iron, which would have required a blacksmith to heat and smelt 30 tons of raw iron ore.

Archaeologists say the structure found at Point Rosee is unlike native construction and also unlike the construction of Basque fishermen and whalers who visited 16th century Newfoundland. And the only people who would have been working with bog iron were the Vikings, Doug Bolender, an archaeologist and expert in Viking settlements, told National Geographic.

Bolender says there is documentary evidence for the Norse in North America:

“The sagas suggest a short period of activity and a very brief and failed colonization attempt. L’Anse aux Meadows fits well with that story but is only one site. Point Rosee could reinforce that story or completely change it if the dating is different from L’Anse aux Meadows. We could end up with a much longer period of Norse activity in the New World. A site like Point Rosee has the potential to reveal what that initial wave of Norse colonization looked like not only for Newfoundland but for the rest of the North Atlantic.”

L’Anse aux Meadows showed the sagas weren’t entirely fictional, National Geographic says. The sagas and now even more physical evidence show the Norse probably did venture west from Europe and their Greenland settlements.

Archaeologists conducted small-scale dig to search for initial evidence that the site merits further study.

Archaeologists conducted small-scale dig to search for initial evidence that the site merits further study. (Robert Clark, National Geographic)

Other evidence of Vikings in the New World include a copper coin and other artifacts of the 11th century found in the U.S. state of Maine. Scholars have speculated the things were obtained by natives trading with Norse people.

Ms. Parcak’s documentary film Vikings Unearthed will be broadcast on American public television the week of April 3.

Featured Image: Artistic representation of a Viking ship. (CC BY 3.0) Detail of Newfoundland from an 1858 map of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. (Public Domain)

By Mark Miller

Comments

Iron and steel was so rare for the Vikings that if they came across a wrecked longship on a beach they would take the time to retrieve its iron nails. When pillaging they would raid workshops like farriers and carpenters to steal all the tools and metal supplies they could find, and from houses they would even steal kitchenware which back then was all hand-made and thus valuable booty.

Although they had a mean reputation that was usually only when they were challenged, because to put people to the sword and burn places takes time. They wanted to get in, steal then go. Their reputation came largely from monks in charge of raided churches, seemingly ungrateful to be left alive.

Once they became regular raiders to steal wool, North Sea fish and European vegetables to trade with the Arabs, they liked to buy high-quality Arab steel from which their armourers forged their weapons.

there are other nearby beaches suitable for landings, the search for a residential settlement nearby hasn't happened yet but I bet they're looking; though one of the many buildings on what appears to have been a farm in the satellite image may have housed the blacksmith and shepherd etc.... and there's the story of a sandbar where an overturned longship was found at the mouth of the Codroy River nearby.

No need for a military defense there, hence no wall. The Beothuk population wasn't large and was peaceable in nature; it seems to have been the Mi'kmaq who drove the Norse out of Vinland .... which more and more now sounds like it was around the Gulf of St Lawrence, despite the claims about Cape Cod (maybe that was "Hope").

"Vikings trading with Phoenicians".... that wording is incorrect by about 2000 years, "early Norse" is more like it, the Viking era didn't start until the 8th Century, maybe 7th, and Punic is found in Iberia, you don't have to have contact with Phoenicia to have picked up their script

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