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Faroes - Settlers before Vikings

Mystery Settlers Reached 'Step to Americas' Before Vikings

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New research published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews has found that the Faroes islands, the first stepping stones for Europeans as they explored across the Atlantic to ultimately land in the Americas, were colonized up to 500 years before the large-scale Viking colonisation.

The Faroes are located halfway between Norway and Iceland and it was believed that the Vikings were the first to land on the isles in the ninth century when they first set out from the Scottish archipelago of the Shetlands and which eventually culminated in the European discovery of continental North America in the 11 th century.

Now, scientists have discovered firm archaeological evidence "for the human colonization of the Faroes by people some 300 to 500 years before the large-scale Viking colonization of the ninth century, although we don't yet know who these people were or where they came from," said Mike Church, an environmental archaeologist at the Durham University in England.

The research took place at an archaeological site of Á Sondum on the island of Sandoy. The investigation revealed an extensive windblown sand deposit containing patches of burnt peat ash from human activity. This ash contained barley grains burnt in domestic hearths, which carbon dating showed was pre-Viking. Barley is not indigenous to the Faroes, so it must have been either grown or brought to the islands by humans.

"This is the first archaeological evidence that proves there were humans there at the Faroes prior to the big Viking colonization event," Church said.

However, who these colonizers were and what they were doing there remains a mystery. Possibilities include religious hermits from Ireland, late-Iron Age colonists from Scotland or pre-Viking explorers from Scandinavia. Unfortunately, the large scale Viking colonization would have destroyed most of the archaeological evidence for earlier settlement, making it very difficult to get to the bottom of the mystery.  

The new research challenges the scale, timing and nature of human settlement of the wider North Atlantic region and has implications for surrounding areas which may also have been colonized prior to the Vikings.

By April Holloway

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