A Stunning Discovery Proves That Vikings Reached the Americas Before Columbus

Tim Newcomb/Popular Mechanics

  • Researchers believe they have reliable evidence that shows Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas by about 500 years.
  • Tree species native to Canada and imported to Greenland were key to the discovery.
  • The Vikings were likely making regular trips to stock tree farms.

Not only did the Vikings travel to the Americas hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, but it appears that they were likely making routine trips to extract natural resources. Researchers believe they now have the proof of this behavior, thanks to a better understanding of trees found in Greenland.

A study published by researchers from the University of Iceland journal Antiquity earlier this year says that Norse colonists in Greenland (from 985—1450 AD) relied on imported timber for shipbuilding and large construction projects. It also claims that elite farms had access to timber imports from Northern Europe and North America.

That access—and the timing of it all—backs up Viking legends that claimed there was a regular trading route between Greenland and North America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus led his famous voyage west.

“These findings highlight the fact that Norse Greenlanders had the means, knowledge, and appropriate vessels to cross the Davis Strait to the east coast of North America, at least up until the 14th century,” the study authors wrote. “As such, journeys were being made from Greenland to North America throughout the entirety of the period of Norse settlement in Greenland, and resources were being acquired by the Norse from North America for far longer than previously thought.”

The timber in question includes hemlock and jack pine—tree species not native to either Greenland or Europe. Finding that these species were used in Greenland around 1000 AD supports the theory that they were imported from the Americas. The jack pine likely came from what is now New England and Nova Scotia. Hemlock may have taken even more travel to find, as it was most prominently located in and around Quebec, Ontario, and elsewhere in Canada.

To better understand the import practices, the researchers analyzed wood from multiple farms and construction projects known to be in use around 1000 AD, according to a statement. By scrutinizing the cellular structure of the wood, they were able to conclude that roughly a quarter of the timber used was either imported or arrived at the island as driftwood.

“By demonstrating the range of timber sources used by the Greenland Norse,” the authors wrote, “the results illustrate connectivity across the medieval North Atlantic world.”

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