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Update: Archaeologist thinks Codroy Valley may have once been visited by Vikings


Like most archaeologists, Martha Drake is curbing her excitement about the news a Norse presence in southwestern Newfoundland may have been uncovered.

According to various stories published by online media outlets such as the New York Times, the BBC and National Geographic on Friday, American archaeologist Sarah Parcak claims she may have located what would be the second Norse site in Newfoundland last summer.

She used satellite imagery to help hone in on an area that seems to have evidence of human activity at Point Rosee in the Codroy Valley area of southwestern Newfoundland. Parcak — a National Geographic fellow who has used the same technology to locate ancient ruins in Egypt — and her team claim to have found turf walls and a stone hearth which may have been used to heat bog iron.

Bog iron is the same material the Norse would have used at the established site at L’Anse aux Meadows on the Northern Peninsula. Douglas Bolender, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and part of a research team that made the potential discovery, told The Canadian Press that carbon residue scraped from a rock near the bog iron was radiocarbon dated to around 800 AD and 1200 AD.

Drake is an archaeologist with the provincial Department of Business, Tourism and Recreation and has been working with Parcak since she first approached the department in 2014 to ask how to go about excavating the area in Point Rosee.

She said the project is intriguing, but more work needs to be done.

“There has been nothing conclusive yet,” cautioned Drake. “There has been no Viking artifact or defined structure.”

Michael Deal, a professor of archeology at Memorial University, shares that skepticism.

“This sounds kind of sensational. My first thought was 'Oh yeah,''' said Deal on Friday. “We have people coming over from Europe all the time thinking they know where are Norse sites and they never find them.”

Parcak doesn’t have enough evidence yet to confirm what she has found is actually Norse. That it could be from an aboriginal culture or Basque fishermen has not yet been fully ruled out, although neither of those cultures were known to use structures like those found at Point Rosee, nor were they known to use bog iron.

There are definitely indications it is some sort of cultural site, said Drake. She is waiting to hear results of from the testing of the bog iron found at the site.

“The question is whether this was bog iron that was smelted or if this was just unsmelted bog iron,” said Drake, referring to the Norse practice of heating bog iron for use as nails and tools.

“The evidence is elusive, but you can’t rule it out.”

Drake has little doubt the Vikings explored more than just L’Anse aux Meadows during the time they were in the Newfoundland area about 1,000 years ago. The fact they moved around so much and used up their resources efficiently makes the sites they visited hard to find centuries later.

“You don’t leave a lot of traces when you’re not here any length of time,” she noted.

Drake said Parcak and her team conducted a test dig at the site in 2015. She expects them to return to the site for a larger excavation this coming summer.

The expedition was documented by the PBS show “NOVA” in partnership with the BBC. The two-hour documentary, titled “Vikings Unearthed,” will air on PBS next Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.

It could be the first such site to be discovered in North America in more than 50 years.

Twitter: @WS_GaryKean

With files from The Canadian Press

According to various stories published by online media outlets such as the New York Times, the BBC and National Geographic on Friday, American archaeologist Sarah Parcak claims she may have located what would be the second Norse site in Newfoundland last summer.

She used satellite imagery to help hone in on an area that seems to have evidence of human activity at Point Rosee in the Codroy Valley area of southwestern Newfoundland. Parcak — a National Geographic fellow who has used the same technology to locate ancient ruins in Egypt — and her team claim to have found turf walls and a stone hearth which may have been used to heat bog iron.

Bog iron is the same material the Norse would have used at the established site at L’Anse aux Meadows on the Northern Peninsula. Douglas Bolender, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and part of a research team that made the potential discovery, told The Canadian Press that carbon residue scraped from a rock near the bog iron was radiocarbon dated to around 800 AD and 1200 AD.

Drake is an archaeologist with the provincial Department of Business, Tourism and Recreation and has been working with Parcak since she first approached the department in 2014 to ask how to go about excavating the area in Point Rosee.

She said the project is intriguing, but more work needs to be done.

“There has been nothing conclusive yet,” cautioned Drake. “There has been no Viking artifact or defined structure.”

Michael Deal, a professor of archeology at Memorial University, shares that skepticism.

“This sounds kind of sensational. My first thought was 'Oh yeah,''' said Deal on Friday. “We have people coming over from Europe all the time thinking they know where are Norse sites and they never find them.”

Parcak doesn’t have enough evidence yet to confirm what she has found is actually Norse. That it could be from an aboriginal culture or Basque fishermen has not yet been fully ruled out, although neither of those cultures were known to use structures like those found at Point Rosee, nor were they known to use bog iron.

There are definitely indications it is some sort of cultural site, said Drake. She is waiting to hear results of from the testing of the bog iron found at the site.

“The question is whether this was bog iron that was smelted or if this was just unsmelted bog iron,” said Drake, referring to the Norse practice of heating bog iron for use as nails and tools.

“The evidence is elusive, but you can’t rule it out.”

Drake has little doubt the Vikings explored more than just L’Anse aux Meadows during the time they were in the Newfoundland area about 1,000 years ago. The fact they moved around so much and used up their resources efficiently makes the sites they visited hard to find centuries later.

“You don’t leave a lot of traces when you’re not here any length of time,” she noted.

Drake said Parcak and her team conducted a test dig at the site in 2015. She expects them to return to the site for a larger excavation this coming summer.

The expedition was documented by the PBS show “NOVA” in partnership with the BBC. The two-hour documentary, titled “Vikings Unearthed,” will air on PBS next Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.

It could be the first such site to be discovered in North America in more than 50 years.

Twitter: @WS_GaryKean

With files from The Canadian Press

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