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Faroe Islands Settlement Predates Viking Arrival, Study Says

Aug 20, 2013 01:36 PM EDT
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Faroe Islands, Eysturoy, road from Skipanes to Syđrugøta
The Faroe Islands, which lie about halfway between Iceland and Norway, were colonized centuries earlier than previously believed and the Vikings were not the first to settle there, according to new research from Durham University in the UK
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

The Faroe Islands, which lie about halfway between Iceland and Norway, were colonized centuries earlier than previously believed and the Vikings were not the first to settle there, according to new research from Durham University in the UK.

New archaeological evidence places settlers on the islands between 300 and 500 years earlier than previous estimates, which study leader Mike J. Church suggests presents a challenge to the nature, scale and timing of human settlement across the wider North Atlantic region.

The Faroe Islands acted as a way point as European settlers voyaged across the Atlantic, ultimately arriving on continental North America around the 11th century about 500 years earlier than Columbus made his famous voyage.

"There is now firm archaeological evidence for the human colonization of the Faroes by people some 300-500 years before the large scale Viking colonization of the 9th century AD, although we don't yet know who these people were or where they came from," Church, from the department of archeology at Durham University, said in a statement.

The evidence came in the form of peat ash created in human settlements that appear to to pre-date Viking arrival.

"These ash spreads contained barley grains which were accidentally burnt in domestic hearths and were then spread by humans onto the windblown sand surface during the 4th-6th centuries and 6th-8th centuries, a common practice identified in the North Atlantic during this period to control wind erosion," the researchers wrote in a statement.

Church said that the majority of the evidence of this early colonization was destroyed during the Viking invasion, which he said is a way of "explaining the lack of proof found in the Faroes for the earlier settlement."

"This also raises questions about the timing of human activity on other islands systems where similarly evidence may have been destroyed," he said.

Study co-author, Símun V. Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, said: "Although we don't know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying and burning it which indicates they must have stayed here for some time.

"We now have to digest these dates of this early evidence in relation to other sources and consider whether there may be other similar sites, elsewhere on the islands, which may be able to provide us with further structural archaeological evidence."

Church, Arge and their colleagues' research is published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

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