A documentary is set to reveal the extent of Viking expansion in North America following the discovery of a new archaeological site on Newfoundland. Vikings Unearthed, which will air on BBC One and PBS, follows archaeologists as they uncover the first Viking site to be found in North America for more than 50 years.
Prior to the discovery, the only other archaeological site in North America that has been attributed to the Vikings is L'Anse aux Meadows, on the northern tip of Newfoundland. The new site, at Point Rosee, is 300 miles further south – potentially the furthest known point of Viking expansion ever found.
Sarah Parcak, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and colleagues discovered the site using high resolution satellite imagery. Ruins as small as 30cm were spotted beneath the surface of the ground. Analysis using near-infrared images showed what appeared to be man-made features, including the outline of a longhouse similar to those seen at the L'Anse aux Meadows site.
Further investigations showed the site contained what is thought to be an iron processing site, and that it was dated to between 800 and 1300 AD. Other than some Inuit use in the Arctic, there is no other evidence of any indigenous people processing iron at this time. Indeed, the only culture that had turf walls and processed iron in North America at this time was the Vikings.
Parcak said: "Typically in archaeology, you only ever get to write a footnote in the history books, but what we seem to have at Point Rosee may be the beginning of an entirely new chapter. This new site could unravel more secrets about the Vikings, whether they were the first Europeans to 'occupy' briefly in North America and reveal that the Vikings dared to explore much further into the New World than we ever thought."
Previously, because only one Viking site had been found in North America, it was thought the arrival in Newfoundland was a failed attempt to colonise the region. Researchers believe the Point Rosee site could provide a significant insight into the Vikings and how far they journeyed across North America.
Archaeologist Douglas Bolender told National Geographic: "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."
Vikings Uncovered (UK title) is on BBC One on 4 April at 8.30pm BST. In the US, Vikings Unearthed is on PBS/NOVA on 6 April at 9pm ET.