Uncover the truth behind the legendary Vikings and their epic journey to the Americas. Airing April 6, 2016 at 9 pm on PBS Aired April 6, 2016 on PBS
(Program not available for streaming.) Bloody raids. Merciless pillaging. Loathsome invasions. The Vikings are infamous for their fearsome conquests—but they were also expert seafarers, skilled traders, and courageous explorers. They travelled far and wide, crisscrossing the known world from Scandinavia to Europe and into Asia, leaving a trail of evidence that suggests they were far from just vicious warriors. Through stunning CGI recreations and careful investigation of archeological evidence, "Vikings Unearthed" unravels the secrets of these intrepid adventurers. And now, new evidence is coming to light that these pioneering people may have ventured even farther than we had suspected. Renowned space archeologist Sarah Parcak takes up the case, and is on the trail of the Vikings. What she discovers just might rewrite history.
PBS Airdate: April 6, 2016
NARRATOR: The Vikings: Scandinavian warriors who plundered and pillaged, over a thousand years ago. Their brutality was legendary.
DAN SNOW (Historian): That is a sword cut in someone's head.
MARTIN CARVER (University of York): A sword cut mark on the top of the head.
NARRATOR: They left a trail of violence across Europe.
DAN SNOW: What are those bones?
MARTIN BIDDLE (University of Oxford): Those are the bones in the eastern compartment.
NARRATOR: For centuries, Viking longships terrorized people, from Ireland to the Caspian Sea.
NEIL PRICE (Uppsala University): Nothing like this had ever been seen before.
NARRATOR: But the Vikings were not just raiders, they were traders and explorers who ventured farther than any Europeans before them. Now, archaeologists are on their trail to uncover their secrets. How did they master early metal production? How did they construct their ships to withstand the roughest seas? And the biggest mystery of all: how far did the Vikings go?
Did they discover North America long before Columbus? Now, new technology is helping one scientist retrace their steps, with satellites 400 miles above Earth, revealing the unseen.
DR. SARAH PARCAK (University of Alabama at Birmingham): What's amazing about satellites is that they don't just record information in a visual part of a light spectrum, but when we process the data, all of the sudden we start seeing really subtle detail. This is just amazing new technology.
NARRATOR: But can this new technology find the "Holy Grail," a new Viking settlement in North America that could rewrite the history books?
SARAH PARCAK: It screams, "Please, excavate me!"
DAN SNOW: If this is a Viking site, you've just discovered the farthest known western point of the entire Viking expansion.
NARRATOR: At a secret location in North America, archaeologists are uncovering startling new evidence.
SARAH PARCAK: It's a very good day, indeed.
DOUG BOLENDER (University of Massachusetts): You don't get that moment very often, to walk out into a place that has the potential to change history.
SARAH PARCAK: So, are you ready?
NARRATOR: Vikings Unearthed, right now, on NOVA.
For centuries, the Vikings voyaged far and wide. They were fearsome raiders, but they were also successful traders, crisscrossing the known world, from their homelands in Scandinavia, south to Europe and eastward to exotic cities in Asia.
ANDY WOODS (York Museums Trust): We have coins that come all the way from Uzbekistan. We have this piece of ring, probably made in Russia, and this fragment of brooch, here, which is likely of Irish design. It's quite fantastic isn't it?
NARRATOR: And the Vikings boasted of adventures even more fantastic. In the 13th century, monks in Iceland recorded epic tales of Viking exploits, stories passed down from generation to generation.
These were the Viking Sagas. In them, the Vikings, also known as the Norse, claimed to have travelled far to the west, across the seas to Iceland, Greenland and beyond, discovering new, mysterious lands. Could those western lands have included North America?
BILL FITZHUGH (Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian): We had thought that the Vikings came to North America, because of the Sagas.
NARRATOR: But how reliable are these written texts? They seem to be a blend of history and mythology, so, for centuries, no one knew, for sure, if the Norse Vikings had actually made it to America.
It was only in the 1960s, with an amazing discovery, on the northern tip of Newfoundland, in Canada, that everything changed.
This is L'Anse aux Meadows. Here, archaeologists uncovered the foundations of 1,000-year-old Viking buildings, signs of Viking metalworking, iron nails and artifacts that could have only been left by the Norse.
DOUG BOLENDER: All the way back to the early Sagas, they talk about the Vikings coming to North America. Of course, ever since L'Anse aux Meadows we've known that that part of the story is true.
NARRATOR: The implications were huge. The Vikings had indeed made it to North America.
BILL FITZHUGH: The Viking voyages to America are some of the greatest voyages in mankind's history. They are unparalleled, really. For their time, they were unbelievable in what they did.
NARRATOR: The discovery rewrote history. The Vikings had come here hundreds of years before Columbus, making them the first Europeans to set foot in the New World. But since then, no other Viking sites have been found in North America, even though the Sagas tell of more Norse voyages and settlements in this new land.
BIRGITTA WALLACE (Parks Canada Agency): Hundreds of sites had been found that people thought were Norse, and when they start to examine them further, they're not. But it would be really nice, if they could find more evidence.
NARRATOR: Viking experts have long believed there could be more Viking remains in America.
DOUG BOLENDER: They knew about this region. They certainly could have come back. So the real question is, did they? If there are other sites to find, they have the potential to be found.
NARRATOR: But as hard as they've looked, archaeologists have come up empty-handed, finding no more evidence of Viking sites here. Now, they are turning to the latest, cutting-edge technology and searching the American coastline with new eyes: satellites, 400 miles above the earth.
Space archaeologist Sarah Parcak has pioneered the use of satellites to make iconic archaeological discoveries. With images captured by the satellites, she's already uncovered lost cities in Egypt…
SARAH PARCAK: Lo and behold, the map of a whole city.
NARRATOR: …and the fabled lighthouse of ancient Rome's harbor.
SARAH PARCAK: That is awesome.
NARRATOR: Now, she's on the trail of the Vikings. For the next few months, she'll be looking for lost sites across the North Atlantic, from Britain to Iceland and to North America. For Sarah, this is a leap into the unknown.
Unlike the Egyptians and the Romans, the Vikings did not construct giant monuments of stone or concrete.
SARAH PARCAK: This project is my biggest challenge yet. The Vikings went across a vast ocean, separating Europe from Iceland and Greenland and Newfoundland. But also, the Vikings lived in farmsteads. It was much more ephemeral. They simply didn't leave a lot behind.
NARRATOR: Can Sarah uncover more traces of the Vikings in Europe and even here in North America? Can she prove that the Vikings settled here, in a place that has remained undiscovered until now?
SARAH PARCAK: Could there potentially be another occupation site, you know, somewhere in Newfoundland, somewhere in North America? And that seems to be one of the Holy Grails of Viking research.
NARRATOR: Sarah is working with historian Dan Snow, who will be retracing the Vikings' steps in Europe and beyond.
How violent were the Viking raiders and warriors? How did the Vikings build boats capable of crossing the Atlantic, centuries before Columbus?
DAN SNOW: Whoa! That's amazing. The whole thing is just twisting, like this, down the hull there.
NARRATOR: Sometime around the eighth century, they took to the open seas. And for 300 years, these ships allowed the Vikings to roam far and wide, striking dread into the hearts of the people of Europe. But who were the Vikings?
More than 1,200 years ago, Scandinavia, today's Norway, Sweden and Denmark, is part of a rich but isolated land of warring local rulers, who take to the seas in search of glory. This is the land of the Vikings, spread over a vast area of almost 350,000 square miles. The landscape is dominated by water: the sea, rivers and fjords.
NEIL PRICE: All of Scandinavia is very much a maritime culture, all these different groups of peoples live by the sea, by the rivers, and in the winters, the harsh Scandinavian winters, they live on the ice.
NARRATOR: Much of the land is rugged and thickly forested. The Vikings live in small, scattered settlements and villages, with only a few big towns. They stay in communal structures called longhouses. The originals have not survived, but in Borg, in Norway, a reconstruction of a chieftain's longhouse reveals the scale of these buildings. Overall, it is a heavily rural economy.
NEIL PRICE: These people are making their living from farming the land, fishing the rivers and the coastal waterways, the fjords, and hunting in the forests.
NARRATOR: These farmers and fishermen are freemen, who own property and have legal rights, but Viking society is complex.
NEIL PRICE: They were socially stratified, that is, there were some people who were or thought they were more important than others: chieftains, jarls—this is the word that in English is "earl."
NARRATOR: So, at the top of society are the jarls, ruling over a vast majority of freemen. And at the very bottom are the slaves, both Scandinavians and foreigners.
NEIL PRICE: This is a culture that survives through slavery. It's a slave society. Most of the agricultural work, the manual labor, things like this would have been done by slaves.
NARRATOR: The Scandinavians, chieftains and slaves alike, remain Pagan, while most of Europe has been converted to Christianity. The Vikings worship many gods, including Odin, the chief of all gods; Thor, a warrior sky god; and Freya, the goddess of fertility.
Originally, the Scandinavians live relatively isolated from the rest of Europe, but by about 700 A.D., they are part of a growing commercial trading network, powered by advances in ship technology.
NEIL PRICE: Maritime technology is improving. Ships are getting faster. They can range farther afield. Sails are really coming into common use, and that gives the people increased possibilities to head out into that wider world.
NARRATOR: The Vikings set off in all directions, well beyond their territories. They were both traders and raiders.
NEIL PRICE: Of course, the acquisition of wealth—stealing things—is one of the motivations for these expeditions. Alongside the Viking raiders, there are traders still going out there, exploring new markets, new transactions.
NARRATOR: There are Scandinavians walking the streets of Istanbul and Bagdad. The Islamic traveler Ibn Fadlan describes some he encountered, along their eastern trade routes, as having "bright red hair, like fire. Tattoos from tips of fingers to necks!"
The Vikings use the great rivers as highways to travel east, through today's Russia and beyond, to Asia. They raid Europe, to the south. And then they go west, first to the neighboring British Isles and then on to Iceland and Greenland.
How did this age of Viking expansion get started?
Intriguing clues have been uncovered in the eastern Baltic. In 2008, in the village of Salme, off the coast of Estonia, workmen installing underground cables make a chance discovery of two Viking boats. All that is left are the rivets, the bits of metal that held the planks of the boats together. The arrangement of the rivets matches the pattern on classic Vikings ships. On top of the rivets are human bones.
It was a common Viking burial ritual to lay dead warriors in their ship, along with grave offerings that they could take to the afterlife.
Historian Dan Snow has come to see the remains.
DAN SNOW: This is the spot where the ship burials were found. We've got the smaller one, just over there, the larger one, right here, and you can see they've etched out the shape of the ship on the ground, there, as a permanent memorial.
NARRATOR: So, how would these boats have looked originally?
The smaller of the two boats, called Salme I, is almost 40 feet long.
NEIL PRICE: Before the discovery of Salme I, the largest number of bodies in any Viking boat burial was four, but in Salme I there are seven men. These guys are positioned sitting up in the boat, at their stations, and the oldest man is the guy steering the boat.
NARRATOR: The second boat is even bigger: 55 feet long and 10 feet wide.
NEIL PRICE: Remember how amazing it was to find seven dead Vikings in Salme I? In this one there are 34! Nothing like this had ever been seen before. And these 34 guys are all piled up in the prow of the vessel. Some of them have their swords beside them. Some of them have shields covering their faces. There's all kinds of personal items around them. It was then covered by the shields of the dead men. And then they start sacrificing animals. We find them on top of the shields. At least six dogs, a lot of birds, fish, all kinds of things.
One of the extraordinary things that Salme II is telling us about the Viking Age, that we didn't know before, is we used to think that on a Viking raid most of the people involved would essentially be farmers. Now, they'd maybe have a, a spear or two, something like that, perhaps a farmyard axe. But in Salme II there are more swords than men, 40 swords, at least, found in the grave.
NARRATOR: The artifacts found in the boats provide an unparalleled insight into the Viking world, and some of the most impressive objects are the swords.
DAN SNOW: This one, here, is very interesting. It shows something about the construction of the sword. The central part of the blade is a mixture of welded iron and steel, twisted together and flattened out. And the edge is just hardened steel. And this shows that the Vikings were absolutely state-of-the-art in their ability to work metal.
This beautiful piece of work, here, is from the pommel of a sword, which is the very bottom end of a sword. And it's the bit that, when it was in its scabbard, would be shown off to the world. So, they are often incredibly highly decorated, to show off the wealth and status of the owner.
NARRATOR: The Salme burials, dating to the early 700s, might represent one of the first ever Viking raids. Soon, the Vikings turn their attention to other distant shores and raids became more frequent, all thanks to their cutting-edge ship technology.
One of the earliest surviving examples of a classic longship is from Oseberg in Norway. This vessel, with its elegant high bow and stern, dates to around 800 A.D. Its rounded hull and shallow keel would allow it to land easily on a beach or riverbank, making any coast or inland waterway vulnerable to attack.
But how were these longships made?
At the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, master boat-builder Martin Rodevad Dael is using traditional materials and tools to construct a replica.
DAN SNOW: What are you working on here?
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL (Viking Ship Museum): Right now, it is the backbone, it is the keel for a small Viking ship.
DAN SNOW: And what kind of wood is it? Is this oak?
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: This is oak, yeah, and the whole boat will be built out of oak.
DAN SNOW: Right. Look at this. What a piece. How old do you reckon this is?
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: I would think 200 years old.
DAN SNOW: This is going to become planks? How do you do that?
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: We will split in halves and quarters.
NARRATOR: Splitting oak trunks into planks is tough work.
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: Yeah, there we go.
DAN SNOW: This is the line, I think. This is going to work.
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: Yeah.
NARRATOR: The plank will still have to be smoothed and shaped and fitted to the keel.
DAN SNOW: There we go. This is a brilliant plank.
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: So, the next plank will overlap, right here.
NARRATOR: This overlapping design is known as "clinker." It actually needs less waterproofing than fitted planks, making the boat lighter and faster.
Most think of oak as strong, but it is also flexible.
DAN SNOW: Whoa! Pretty good. That's amazing, hey? I weigh a hundred kilos.
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: You get these amazingly strong planks and you get the flexibility too.
NARRATOR: It all helps to mold the ship into the classic Viking shape and makes the boat sturdy and flexible enough to withstand powerful wind and waves.
And Martin wants show Dan how it works.
MARTIN RODEVAD DAEL: So, if you thought of moving you can see.
DAN SNOW: Whoa, that's amazing. The whole thing is just twisting like this. You can just see the ripples going down the hull there.
NARRATOR: These amazing longships are the engine of the Viking era. Their power helps create the myth of the Vikings as invincible maritime warriors. On board their longships, the Vikings travel far and wide, in search of wealth. And soon, the Vikings are starting to wreak havoc, up and down the coast of the unsuspecting British Isles.
For centuries, most of Britain has been part of the Roman Empire. After the Roman withdrawal, England is settled by Germanic cousins of the Vikings: the Angles and the Saxons. Eventually, these pagan tribes convert to Christianity, and by 600 A.D., much of Britain is Christian.
The Anglo-Saxon monks keep chronicles of this period, in which they describe the Vikings as vicious smash-and-grab raiders.
Dan has come to Portmahomack, in Scotland. In the 800s, this was a religious community of the Pictish people, the native inhabitants of Scotland.
Here, Dan meets Martin Carver, on the site of the Christian monastery. There was a church on the hill and the monastery building right next to it.
DAN SNOW: It's quite a substantial settlement, this.
MARTIN CARVER: It's very substantial. They're very busy, very wealthy. It's almost like a town. It's thriving. It's in contact with monasteries in Ireland and Northumbria, across the Channel and so on, a really important place.
NARRATOR: This monastery was a manufacturing center for silver ceremonial objects and ornate manuscripts inlaid with precious stones.
MARTIN CARVER: They were making chalices. This is a precious replica.
NARRATOR: When Martin excavated the site, he found small decorative pieces that once adorned chalices like this one.
MARTIN CARVER: What we did find was little studs. You see the little studs there?
NARRATOR: It shows just how rich and ripe for the picking these Christian monasteries were for the Viking raiders. And raid they did, violently attacking this monastery.
And Martin has evidence of how some of the monks were killed.
MARTIN CARVER: It was violent. You see the cut mark of the, of the sword there.
DAN SNOW: Whoa!
MARTIN CARVER: On there?
DAN SNOW: That's, that is a sword cutting somebody's head?
MARTIN CARVER: That is a sword cut mark. The cuts are being made on the top of the head and behind the head. He must have been not only attacked from behind, but kneeling. So you've got this picture of a monk kneeling, kneeling on the ground and getting bang, bang, bang, three cuts.
NARRATOR: The Vikings slaughter the monks, wipe out a flourishing monastery and leave with precious booty. The monastery is set on fire and part of it burns to the ground.
The Vikings soon earn a reputation as ruthless raiders and murderers. But are they the only ones?
NEIL PRICE: Viking raids are perceived with such shock by the people on the receiving end. Of course, it's violent and so on, but this is a violent age. The Vikings are not the only people out there raiding and pillaging. Other people do this too.
NARRATOR: But the British victims of the Vikings were especially horrified by the sacrilege of destroying Christian churches and monasteries and murdering monks and priests.
NEIL PRICE: So, there's a kind of shock effect that the Vikings are different to everyone else. They look different, they desecrate Christian places of worship, things that would be unthinkable to the locals.
NARRATOR: As one of the monks writes in the ninth century, "The ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God's church, with plunder and slaughter."
But soon the Vikings aren't just raiding, they are moving in, establishing bases for trading all around the North Atlantic, including the Shetland Islands, in the north of Scotland.
Wherever they go, the Vikings build their traditional structures, known as longhouses: long, rectangular buildings with no windows, where several families live together under one roof. This iconic architecture will be key, as archaeologist Sarah Parcak hunts for new, undiscovered Viking settlements, both in Europe and in North America.
Sarah is using satellite technology to re-examine the Viking territories, and she's on the lookout for the distinctive shape of Viking longhouses.
Dan has come to Sarah's lab at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where she is putting her technology to the test. Sarah has started her search for Viking settlements in Scotland. With local Viking experts, she is focusing on a promising potential site: the small island of Papa Stour, in the Shetland Islands. It's in an area where late Viking artifacts have been found, so there should be a settlement close by.
The key to Sarah's search is high resolution imagery, taken with satellites, 400 miles above the earth.
SARAH PARCAK: High resolution satellite imagery is an incredible tool. We have so many things that are on the surface that we can see, courtesy of a brand new satellite called WorldView-3. It has a resolution of .3 meters, that's just 10 inches.
So, if we zoom in, this one site, we can see the most incredible detail: we can see individual chambers, thicknesses of walls and even entrances inside the structure. So, this is just amazing new technology.
NARRATOR: But seeing things in incredible detail on the surface is only part of the process. Archaeologists want to see what lies beneath. And these satellites give them a way to do that, with the aid of cameras that can sense electromagnetic radiation in a part of the spectrum invisible to the human eye.
SARAH PARCAK: What's amazing about satellites is that they don't just record information in a visual part of a light spectrum, they record information in the near-infrared, which is not something we, as human beings, can see.
NARRATOR: Sarah is particularly interested in the part of the light spectrum called "near-infrared," because it can pick up very subtle differences in the plants growing on the surface, differences that cannot be seen in a normal photograph.
SARAH PARCAK: All you're seeing are modern fields. You see field boundaries, you see slight discolorations, but nothing is on the surface that gives you a hint of what's below. But when we process the data using the near-infrared, all of a sudden, we start seeing really subtle detail.
NARRATOR: If there are remains of ancient ruins beneath the surface, they can have a direct effect on the plants above. Disturbed soil can hold moisture, and buried stone walls can block root growth. These can result in very subtle differences in vegetation, invisible to our eyes, but visible in the near-infrared, which can reveal the shape of ancient building foundations buried underground.
SARAH PARCAK: We can begin to see shapes and outlines that look a lot like longhouses. They become more pronounced in the near-infrared. So, we see that, we see this rectilinear structure, here. So, this shows you just how well satellites can work in making what is otherwise a completely invisible world visible.
NARRATOR: Now, Sarah is using her technology to analyze fields on the island of Papa Stour, at a modern farm called North House.
SARAH PARCAK: And something very cool has just come up. This is a place called North House, in Shetland. Here we have a modern farmstead.
NARRATOR: Satellite photos clearly show the modern structures above the ground, but the field to the left appears empty. When Sarah switches over to the near-infrared images, new lines appear in the middle of the empty field, where there were none before.
SARAH PARCAK: Take a look at that!
DAN SNOW: That is very interesting, there, right on the edge of the modern settlement.
SARAH PARCAK: But this, you cannot see this at all, visually.
NARRATOR: Could this dark line be the wall of a Viking longhouse?
SARAH PARCAK: I'm really excited by this potential find.
NARRATOR: This is the first time that Sarah's satellite technology will be used to hunt for something Viking.
Sarah contacts a team of local archaeologists about her find, and they begin to dig in the empty field.
A few days later, Sarah is on her way to Papa Stour, to see if the archaeologists have found anything under the surface.
SARAH PARCAK: I'm hopeful we can potentially find something Norse. I guess we will have just to wait and see. Can't wait to get my hands dirty.
NARRATOR: The remote island of Papa Stour, one of the Shetland Islands: it is very small, only three square miles and home to about 20 people.
Finally, Sarah reaches North House, the site of the dig.
RICK BARTON: Welcome to North House.
SARAH PARCAK: Thank you. How's it all going?
RICK BARTON: It's going quite well.
NARRATOR: Supervising the dig is local archaeologist Rick Barton. After a few days of digging, in the spot where the satellite picked up a dark line, the team has already made a significant discovery.
SARAH PARCAK: It looks like a wall.
RICK BARTON: We have got walls…
SARAH PARCAK: Excellent.
RICK BARTON: …which corresponds very nicely with the image that you produced.
SARAH PARCAK: That is a big wall.
NARRATOR: This is the stone foundation of a building or an enclosure. It's strong evidence that Sarah's technology works to find buried ruins, but was this wall built by the Vikings?
SARAH PARCAK: I've heard rumors.
MAN: It's a bead, faceted.
RICK BARTON: If you hold it up to the light, you can see where the thread goes through.
SARAH PARCAK: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! Oh, my gosh. That's amazing!
NARRATOR: It's made of the semi-precious stone Carnelian. Imported from India, carnelian beads were used in necklaces and have been found in other Viking sites.
SARAH PARCAK: Beautiful!
RICK BARTON: Well done, Tom!
SARAH PARCAK: Well done!
MAN: Thanks. Cheers!
RICK BARTON: There is a pint in store for you.
SARAH PARCAK: Yes, a good find. I am pleased.
NARRATOR: So far, all the evidence seems to support the theory that this is a Viking site. But will Val Turner, the regional archaeologist for the Shetlands be convinced?
SARAH PARCAK: This is a great wall.
VAL TURNER (Shetland's Regional Archaeologist): Oh, lovely. I like that.
SARAH PARCAK: Really, really cool wall. So, distinct courses, distinct layers.
VAL TURNER: It's some serious wall, that. That certainly looks like it's a wall of a building. The width of it compares very well with longhouses that we've excavated. It, kind of, would fit comfortably into that category.
SARAH PARCAK: There is a very strong signature in the satellite imagery.
VAL TURNER: Yeah, it's excellent. I must admit, I'm amazed, actually. I didn't know whether or not it was going to work at all, so to see something like this come out of it is much more convincing than I expected it to be.
SARAH PARCAK: You and me both! In this particular place.
VAL TURNER: Excellent.
NARRATOR: The Shetland Islands are one of the first places in Britain to be settled by the Vikings. At the same time, some Viking leaders are no longer satisfied by simply raiding the coastlines. They conspire to launch a whole new level of assault that would escalate into full-scale conquest. What becomes known as the Great Heathen Army invades England and battles with Anglo-Saxon soldiers. In the winter, they huddle together in camps containing hundreds of warriors.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written by Christian monks in the 800s, one of the largest Viking camps is at Repton, an important Christian religious center. Archaeologist Martin Biddle grew up in Repton and started excavating its Anglo-Saxon remains over 40 years ago.
Soon, he uncovered evidence of grim events that unfolded here during the invasion.
MARTIN BIDDLE: It's about 30 years since I've been up here.
We've done it. I certainly wasn't as nimble as last time.
DAN SNOW: It's not easy, is it? What a great view.
MARTIN BIDDLE: The great valley of the Trent.
DAN SNOW: And we are as far from the sea as you can get?
MARTIN BIDDLE: Just about. Just about.
DAN SNOW: So, these are not Vikings raiding the coast, these are Vikings with huge armies, marching right in. Nowhere is safe.
MARTIN BIDDLE: Nowhere is safe.
NARRATOR: The site of the Viking camp was lost, until Martin started to dig 40 years ago.
MARTIN BIDDLE: The Viking camp here is a horseshoe, on the south bank of the Trent.
NARRATOR: His excavations suggest a defensive ditch closed off by the river.
MARTIN BIDDLE: The ditch is about four meters deep, about five meters wide, at the top.
NARRATOR: The evidence points to a substantial camp.
But the invaders don't always have the upper hand. Below the side of the church, Martin discovered an unusual grave of a Viking warrior.
MARTIN BIDDLE: Couldn't understand it ‘cause it seemed to have three legs. Didn't have three legs, it had two legs, plus an iron sword down his left side, in its scabbard.
And we found that there was a huge cut in the underside of the left part of the top of the femur. And you can imagine somebody going down like that. And it must have castrated him, because between his legs, we found a wild boar's tusk which is laid out quite obviously as…
DAN SNOW: …a replacement.
MARTIN BIDDLE: A replacement. And ‘round his neck, he had a necklace, with glass beads, with a silver hammer of the god Thor.
DAN SNOW: That's a Viking.
NARRATOR: The Vikings leave their pagan mark all over this holy Christian center. And in the vicarage garden, of all places, Martin discovered something even more shocking: a mass grave.
MARTIN BIDDLE: We took photographs at every single stage of this operation. Yes. Look at that.
DAN SNOW: What are those? Bones?
MARTIN BIDDLE: Those are the bones in the eastern compartment.
DAN SNOW: Wow.
MARTIN BIDDLE: A layer of bones, about that thick. And they are the big bones. And they have been brought from somewhere. That's why the small bones aren't there. And they were stacked beautifully, what we call "charnel-wise," like a medieval charnel house, a bone house. A bit like that.
NARRATOR: Martin believes that these are the bodies of war dead, carried back from raids and battles in other places, to be honored in secure Viking territory.
MARTIN BIDDLE: Over 260 people, 80 percent are male. There are mainly young adults, no children. It's a very highly selected population.
NARRATOR: Burying their war dead in the heart of the English countryside suggests these Vikings are intending to stay. They may have come to conquer and pillage, but the Vikings are soon settling down. The towns they overthrow thrive and even turn into cities.
In 876, they make their capital in York. The raiders and settlers are becoming successful urban traders and manufacturers, in what's been described as the first industrial revolution. But this isn't just a Viking success story, it was a multicultural experiment.
Andy Woods is curator of the Vale of York Hoard.
ANDY WOODS: It's fantastic, isn't it?
DAN SNOW: Wow!
NARRATOR: The pagan Vikings and the Christian Anglo-Saxons live together in the city, and this unique Viking treasure contains a fascinating insight into York's hybrid culture, in just one tiny object.
ANDY WOODS: This is a coin struck in Viking York, and this is a St Peter's penny. So it says, "The Money of St. Peter," in Latin, so, very clear Christian symbolism, but also, what's wonderful about it is that it mixes that with pagan imagery. So, we have this Thor's hammer pendant right at the bottom, here, and then that sword running through the center, there.
So, what I think you have, really nicely here, is that duality of the Vikings in York. They come from a pagan belief system, but they are ruling over Christians. You get a mixing of those two images together.
DAN SNOW: Happy to put both in a coin.
ANDY WOODS: Yeah. And about the Vikings interactions with the Anglo-Saxons, as well.
NARRATOR: Other items in the hoard reveal how extensive the Viking trading networks are.
ANDY WOODS: We have coins that come all the way from Uzbekistan. They were struck in Samarkand, in Uzbekistan.
And if you look in Scandinavia, we find is vast quantities of these what are known as dirhams, and so that's just amongst the coinage.
More widely, here, we have this piece of ring, probably made in the Perm region in Russia, and this fragment of brooch, here, which is likely of Irish design. So, what we can see: you get this network, stretching right across Europe.
DAN SNOW: Uzbekistan, Ireland and Russia?
ANDY WOODS: Yes, all on one tray. It's quite fantastic, isn't it?
NARRATOR: And this isn't the only treasure Viking York has produced. Andrew Jones studies another valuable Viking product found beneath York's streets. But what excites Andrew isn't silver or gold.
ANDREW JONES (York Archaeological Trust): I would say that, where we are sitting now, there is probably ten meters of archaeological deposits below our feet, and probably at least three meters of that is human excrement.
NARRATOR: Andrew's number one research interest is "number two." He studies ancient excrement, which provides a wealth of information about people's daily lives and habits.
ANDREW JONES: It tells you about diet, what people were eating.
NARRATOR: He's brought along, to the teashop, a model of his favorite specimen.
ANDREW JONES: This is the best-preserved piece of ancient mineralized excrement; it's the largest individual stool that we have ever found in Europe.
NARRATOR: The samples Andrew has been studying reveal the diverse and rich diet enjoyed by the citizens of this thriving metropolis.
ANDREW JONES: It's mainly cereal bran, but we've even found some samples which have whole grains in them that have been cooked, a bit like a rice pudding. So, we're moving into understanding about cooking methods, not just ingredients, so that's fantastic.
NARRATOR: The Vikings of York were living off the fat of the land. In their garbage dumps, Andrew has discovered the leftovers from a diet rich in protein.
ANDREW JONES: Loads of fish, very large numbers of birds. The big ones, like these here, are goose bones, and the small ones, generally, are chicken bones.
DAN SNOW: Chicken bones.
ANDREW JONES: But we had woodcock and lots of wild birds. So that suggests there is a lot of food around.
NARRATOR: But the excrement Andrew has studied also reveals an unpleasant side to medieval urban life.
ANDREW JONES: But it also had many thousands of parasite eggs. The ascaris worms, they bore through the gut wall, and sometimes have been known to emerge from every orifice of the human body, including the corner of your eye. They're a fact of Viking life.
NARRATOR: Despite their intestinal troubles, the Vikings make York one of the most important urban centers in Western Europe, doing its business far and wide.
While Viking towns and cities in Britain grow prosperous, back in Scandinavia, oppressive Viking rulers drive more people away. Vast lands across the ocean still lie unexplored, and intrepid Viking sailors set out to find new worlds.
Scotland and the Faroe Islands are stepping-stones to Iceland, which, at that time, has a warmer climate and more fertile land than today. Within 60 years, the whole island is populated by new settlers, who farm and live off the land. Here, most of the Viking dwellings are made of turf, blocks of grass and soil, cut from the ground and stacked like bricks.
Sarah Parcak has already shown that her satellites can help find hidden stone structures, like the wall in the Shetland Islands. Now, she's going to try to use her technique to discover new Viking sites in Iceland, but buried turf walls are much harder to spot from space than stone. Can the satellites detect them? Visiting Sarah is archaeologist Doug Bolender, an expert in the Viking settlements in Iceland.
SARAH PARCAK: We focused in on one area in particular. We've got a series of fields, you've got a couple of different shades of green, but it looks completely homogenous. Then, when we started processing the data using the near-infrared, all of a sudden, we start seeing really interesting shapes.
NARRATOR: Once again, Sarah focuses on the near-infrared satellite data, which picks up subtle variations in the vegetation on the surface. The images are hard to decipher, but it looks as though there might be some straight lines and right angles that could indicate manmade structures.
DOUG BOLENDER: The size looks about right, at least suggestive, of something like a farmstead, which is exciting.
NARRATOR: The only way to see if there is anything there is to excavate. Sarah and Dan are joining Doug at the site, in Hegranes, North Iceland. This is the spot Sarah and Doug identified as a potential Viking site, from the satellite imagery. They want to see if this field really hides a settlement.
To find out if there's a wall here, Doug's colleague Gudny Zoega has opened up a test trench.
GUDNY ZOEGA (University of Oslo): Here, in the middle of it, we actually have a wall feature, which you indicated on your satellite.
NARRATOR: To non-expert eyes, it's difficult to see, but running through the middle of the test trench is a mound of compact earth that could be the remains of a turf wall. Doug opens up a cross-section of the wall to get a better look.
GUDNY ZOEGA: You can see the striations of the turf in here.
NARRATOR: Dark bands, like this one, are the result of blocks of turf or sod piled on top of each other. For archaeologists like Doug and Gudny, who have excavated dozens of turf walls, these are the signs of something clearly manmade. Remarkably, the satellite data, by picking up subtle changes in the plants growing on the surface, has helped find structures buried underground, even though they were made of turf.
DOUG BOLENDER: So, even though you can't see this on the surface, at all, here, the turf itself is just under the surface about 10 centimeters. And so, it's, you know, definitely affecting the plants that are on the surface.
DAN SNOW: So, this little layer of turf, down here, is affecting the plants on the surface, and that's visible from space?
SARAH PARCAK: Four-hundred miles in space.
GUDNY ZOEGA: That's amazing.
SARAH PARCAK: We know satellite imagery works here, and that makes me wonder what's left to find in North America.
NARRATOR: The Vikings thrive in Iceland, mainly by farming and trading. The colony grows to perhaps 20,000 or more. It's here that the closest thing we have to a Viking history book is written, in what are known as the Icelandic Sagas.
BILL FITZHUGH: The Sagas themselves go back to the ancient stories that were told by the Norse, among themselves, in their long winter nights, in their feast halls and so forth. They had a wonderful oral culture.
NARRATOR: At the height of the Viking age, most Norse are not literate. What little writing they do is in the Runic alphabet, usually carved into wood, bone or stone.
NEIL PRICE: This is a culture that had a degree of literacy. They used runes, but they didn't have a book culture; they didn't have a communicated learning through writing.
NARRATOR: Norse myths and histories alike are passed on verbally, from generation to generation.
BILL FITZHUGH: And they created these Sagas partly in song and partly as oral tales, and were handed down, spoken down, for a long time. And oral traditions generally migrate, in terms of the story.
NARRATOR: These oral traditions are finally written down in the 13th century, by Christian monks in Iceland, a couple hundred years after their ancestors convert to Christianity. Written in the Old Norse language, these are not eyewitness accounts. They describe events that took place several centuries before, so they are not fully reliable.
Still, they carry a wealth of information about the Viking world as it was 1,000 years ago.
BILL FITZHUGH: So, the Sagas are wonderful. They're great epics, and they tell you a lot about the personalities and the times. And they tell you a lot about family life. They tell you about the sailing directions. They are a wonderful source of literature, as well as knowledge about Viking culture and their history.
NARRATOR: The Sagas also describe the workings of the Viking government in Iceland. Dan Snow is meeting Saga expert Emily Lethbridge at the site of Iceland's open-air Viking parliament, Thingvellir.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE (University of Iceland): This is the site of oldest parliament in the world.
NARRATOR: They held their meetings in a remarkable geological location.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: This is a natural fault line. We are at the point where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
DAN SNOW: You and I are standing in between Eurasia and North America at the moment?
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: We are. One foot on two continents.
DAN SNOW: Isn't that amazing that the Vikings, who were the first Eurasians to explore North America, ended up having one of their parliaments on the actual divide between the two.
NARRATOR: According to the Sagas, each year in June, chieftains from across Iceland would gather here.
DAN SNOW: What kind of things would be discussed and debated in these parliaments?
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: Well, decisions about feuds or disputes between local parties that couldn't be settled at a local level would be resolved here. The laws would be amended or revised, new laws created, sentences of "outlawry" would be imposed on members of society who had broken all of the rules.
DAN SNOW: You were sent away from Iceland?
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: You could go anywhere else, but you couldn't set foot on Iceland for the period that the outlawry stood.
NARRATOR: It is this kind of exile from Iceland that launches perhaps the most astonishing chapter in Viking exploration. According to the Sagas, around 982 A.D., a local Icelandic court banishes a Viking explorer and entrepreneur, named Eric the Red, because he had murdered several people.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: One of these characters in the Sagas, who's said to have been outlawed for three years, is Eric the Red.
NARRATOR: Already banished from Norway, and now exiled from Iceland, Eric sets sail to uncharted waters. Outlaws for sure, but he and his crew are also intrepid explorers.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: I think they were people who took chances and were prepared to undergo huge physical trials, such as sailing in open boats across the Atlantic, to see what they could find, not least for what could be exploited out there.
NARRATOR: How did Vikings, like Eric the Red, manage to successfully navigate and survive long distance voyages in the treacherous North Atlantic? To find out, Dan is onboard a replica Viking Ship, the Ottar.
The legendary oars come out when there is no wind or the boat is close to shore. If there is a sniff of a breeze, they use the sail. But winching the sail up to the top of the mast requires strength and teamwork.
DAN SNOW: Fast, free.
ESBEN JESSEN (Captain of the Ottar): Now you can feel we are going downwind, so it's nice and smooth.
NARRATOR: But successful transatlantic sailing needs much more than a swift and sturdy ship. The sailors have to survive at sea for weeks at a time. What could they eat?
Captain Esben Jessen offers Dan a traditional Viking shipboard meal.
ESBEN JESSEN: We have a variety here of smoked lamb, it's actually smoked over reindeer droppings, so it has a little tang to it.
DAN SNOW: Okay, here we go. Lovely! The reindeer droppings are really cutting through there, very nice.
ESBEN JESSEN: It's good. And then we have dried cod.
DAN SNOW: That I can smell, even in a big wind.
ESBEN JESSEN: Yes, it's amazing. It's just fantastic. It's a little chewy.
DAN SNOW: Wow.
ESBEN JESSEN: High in protein.
DAN SNOW: I bet. It's like gnawing on a bit of canvas.
ESBEN JESSEN: But then, when you smoke it or you dry it, or, as these two pickled herrings, here, then this…it could actually last for weeks and months, even.
NARRATOR: The Vikings' sailing and survival skills make them masters of the open seas. But how do they navigate? They are experts at using subtle clues that tell them where land is, even though they can't see it. Sailors call it "extended landfall."
ESBEN JESSEN: That could be everything from the smell of the grass or the pine trees you can smell, before you see the land; it could be forming clouds over land; it could be seabirds that are nesting on land, so they fly back every night when they've been out fishing; it could be a reflecting wave from the shoreline.
DAN SNOW: So, actually, the Vikings didn't have to hit the nail on the head? They could get within 50 to 60 miles of an island, and then they would get clues that would allow them to re-set and actually hit the landfall they wanted?
ESBEN JESSEN: Yeah, exactly.
NARRATOR: We don't know for sure what other tools or techniques the Vikings may have used to find their way in the open seas, but Eric the Red, banished from Iceland, sails west with little to lose. He sets out toward a rumored land and founds a new settlement.
In a brilliant stroke of P.R., he names it Greenland, in an effort to entice others to move there.
Greenland: the world's largest island; and today, eighty per cent of it is covered in ice. But what appears, now, to be a desolate landscape was home to the Vikings for nearly 500 years. The Vikings who follow Eric the Red grow to a population of around 3,000. They're able to survive and thrive here, by farming along the Greenland coast. They also harvest the riches of the sea, including walrus ivory, which they trade with Iceland and Europe.
Soon, the Vikings convert to Christianity.
With Danish archaeologist Jette Arneborg, Dan visits the most famous of all the Viking sites left on Greenland: the farmstead at Hvalsey, dominated by its church.
JETTE ARNEBORG (National Museum of Denmark): Can you see the church ruin, which is the best preserved ruin in the northeastern settlement?
DAN SNOW: I'm so excited, because I've travelled all over the world looking at Viking remains, and now we've finally got something that's above the ground. It's a big, huge ruin.
NARRATOR: Hvalsey is the center of a furious debate about whether the Viking colony in Greenland was a success or a failure.
JETTE ARNEBORG: Big churches, they were used as kind of parish churches.
DAN SNOW: This is a big, impressive building. This is not the kind of thing you are building, if you are just scratching a survival, living week to week. This shows that you are doing all right.
JETTE ARNEBORG: Yes, and that's one of the enigmas of Norse Greenland, because this building was built, perhaps, 150 years before the whole settlement just disappeared. This was settled from the very beginning, and it continued for almost 500 years. And it's prospered.
DAN SNOW: So, it is so strange. I feel like I'm in a very familiar Medieval European church. What would it have been like here, at its peak?
JETTE ARNEBORG: You have one room, and we think there might have been a platform for the choir.
DAN SNOW: A choir?
JETTE ARNEBORG: Yes, you had the choir here.
DAN SNOW: Just amazing! So we are, basically, standing in one of the oldest Christian sites in the New World.
JETTE ARNEBORG: Yeah. This is also the place where we have the last records from the Norse period.
DAN SNOW: Oh, really?
JETTE ARNEBORG: And we have a few letters, telling us about an Icelandic couple, who were married in this church, in 1408.
DAN SNOW: So, the last written piece of evidence we have for the whole of the settlement in Greenland relates to this very spot?
JETTE ARNEBORG: Relates to this very spot. I guess they were standing right here, getting married.
NARRATOR: During cold climate spells, farming is difficult here, so the Vikings adapt by hunting seal. But eventually, they abandon their settlements in Greenland.
JETTE ARNEBORG: I think seal was supplementing the farming, but the day when you couldn't farm anymore, if you suddenly could survive totally on seal, it was another society. And perhaps they simply didn't want another society. It was a natural development that the population, the number of people simply decreased.
DAN SNOW: It wasn't a failure?
JETTE ARNEBORG: No. I think it was a success, because those people, they came up here and they stayed for 500 years, where they had good lives up here.
NARRATOR: Not only is Greenland a Viking colony for 500 years, but according to the Sagas, it serves as a launching point for the most epic adventures of all.
It starts when the son of Eric the Red, Leif Eriksson, is blown off course in a storm in the seas west of Greenland.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: (Reading The Saga in Original Language) Lætr Leifr í haf ok er lengi úti.
He's at sea for quite a long time. Leifr sights new lands that he had no reason to know that these lands existed.
NARRATOR: The Sagas describe, in detail, Leif's trip and the different landscapes he discovers along a mysterious new coastline. For years, archaeologists and historians speculated that this coastline was in North America, and they tried to match the Sagas' descriptions to the geography we see today.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: Leifr, he's sailing south, down along the coast, and he's describing the different landscapes. They sail past, first, a land they call "Helluland," the land of stone slabs.
NARRATOR: Helluland seems, to some experts, to match what is now Canada's Baffin Island.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: And then they come to a part of the country that's very heavily wooded, and they give the name "Markland," or forested land, to that part of the country.
NARRATOR: Markland could correspond to today's Labrador. Farther south, according to the Sagas, Leif sends scouts ashore to explore the new land, and they bring wild grapevines back to the ship. So, they name this place "Vinland."
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: And they come back, one of them with a handful of self-sown wheat and the other a vine in their hand.
DAN SNOW: Wild vines, so is that where they get the name Vinland from?
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: That's one interpretation, yes, the land of wild grapes and vines.
NARRATOR: Some experts thought that Vinland could be what is now Newfoundland and the coast around the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: So, that's how, according to this Saga, North America was discovered.
DAN SNOW: So, this is hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus. Here it is, in this manuscript, right here.
NARRATOR: But no one knew for sure if the stories were true, without archaeological evidence. All that changed in 1960, when, after years of searching, archaeologists made a remarkable find at the northern tip of Newfoundland, in a place called L'Anse aux Meadows.
Sarah is on her way to L'Anse aux Meadows to see the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America. She wants to find out what kinds of traces the Vikings left behind here, in the hope that she might discover new sites along the coastline.
Approaching the site by boat, just as the Vikings would have, Sarah is struck by the sheer beauty of the place, as well as the extreme obstacles the Vikings faced.
SARAH PARCAK: I can't even imagine being a Viking in a boat and sailing by icebergs the size of a mountain. It gives you a sense of just how intrepid and brave they were, seeking new worlds.
NARRATOR: Reaching L'Anse aux Meadows, Sarah meets up with one of the leading experts of Viking archaeology in North America, Birgitta Wallace.
SARAH PARCAK: Hello, Birgitta.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: Well, hello, Sarah.
SARAH PARCAK: It's such a pleasure to meet you.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: Oh, and nice to meet you.
SARAH PARCAK: May I ask you for a tour of the site?
BIRGITTA WALLACE: Certainly.
NARRATOR: Birgitta was one of the excavators here in the 1960s, when archaeologists announced to the world their incredible discoveries, overturning the early history of North America.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: There are eight buildings on this site, and they are divided into four complexes.
NARRATOR: Today, all that remains are these mounds, which represent the collapsed and buried walls of the buildings. The original structures were made of turf, and their size suggests up to 90 people could have lived here. Some buildings had special functions.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: This is one. It consists of a smelting furnace for iron.
NARRATOR: In this depression, they found the remains of a furnace, which was excavated in the 1960s and later covered up, to protect it.
It was built exactly like Viking furnaces found in Europe, a small circular stone kiln lined with clay. It would have been sheltered in a turf hut like this one.
Birgitta also found slag, the byproduct of iron production.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: We collected practically all the slag.
NARRATOR: Evidence of ironworking is one of the key elements that identifies the site as Norse. The native peoples of this region didn't know how to produce iron from iron ore naturally found in rocks. So, it's possible that in a small hut here, that the first iron was manufactured in the New World.
And there was more evidence that metalwork had taken place in L'Anse aux Meadows. There were almost 100 nail fragments found in different places on the site.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: Whenever you find nails which have been cut and discarded, in any kind of concentration, it has to do with boat repair, both Norway and Iceland.
NARRATOR: There was only a very small quantity of iron produced at L'Anse aux Meadows, and it was most likely used to make new nails to repair boats. The Vikings were master blacksmiths. They had to be. It took thousands of nails to build even one Viking ship.
JONAS BIGLER (Blacksmith): They used about 7,000 for the biggest ship.
NARRATOR: Blacksmith Jonas Bigler is an expert in using Viking techniques.
DAN SNOW: I'll do it.
NARRATOR: And, like his predecessors, he can make a Viking nail in less than a minute.
Each nail is made from a long stick of iron. The end is placed into a small clay furnace, heated with charcoal and bellows to a temperature of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The key to making a good nail is hammering it while it is red hot and soft.
DAN SNOW: It cools off pretty fast, doesn't it?
JONAS BIGLER: Yeah. We also have something we say, we have to "Bash when the iron sheet is warm."
DAN SNOW: Yes, in English, we say, "Strike while the iron is hot."
JONAS BIGLER: Yeah! Now, we cut it.
DAN SNOW: There you go.
NARRATOR: Then he reheats the nail, before shaping the head.
JONAS BIGLER: Now it's really hot again, so, I make the head.
NARRATOR: The final step: rust-proofing the iron nail to protect it from the salty seas.
JONAS BIGLER: So, I have some oil, and I put it down there and get back to the fire.
DAN SNOW: Ah.
JONAS BIGLER: It makes a kind of coating outside, so as not to rust so easy.
DAN SNOW: Oh, really?
NARRATOR: The Viking way of life, so dependent on ships, relied on ironwork and the production of nails. So it's no surprise that the camp at L'Anse aux Meadows had a blacksmith's furnace.
In addition to the work buildings, the archaeologists uncovered three types of residential structures, all made out of turf.
The largest buildings were the big longhouses. Each was divided into two main rooms lined with wooden walls, one bigger, with benches along the side and an open fire burning on the floor, and a second, smaller room. The leader of the expedition would have lived here with his wife and close associates.
Next to the big longhouse, there was a smaller building, the home of workers, such as carpenters and blacksmiths. Other smaller huts were probably used by slaves.
Sarah wants to examine the modern reconstructions of the buildings. It will help her understand what she should look for, as she uses her satellite technology to hunt for a possible new Viking site in North America.
SARAH PARCAK: This is fantastic. This is the first time I've seen turf houses in person, so I'm just looking at the layout of the turf on each of the houses and sheds.
NARRATOR: These are solid buildings, with walls up to six-and-a-half feet thick, which would have provided good shelter, even in winter.
SARAH PARCAK: I can't even imagine how cold this place is or would have been in the winter. And you have to think that these thick walls would have been absolutely perfect natural insulation. And the nice thing about turf is you can get any piece of turf to fit together. It's like all-natural LEGO®.
NARRATOR: The huge turf buildings reveal much about how the Vikings lived in L'Anse aux Meadows. But it's the discovery of three tiny objects that is most significant to Birgitta.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: The most exciting find was the finding of three butternuts.
NARRATOR: Butternuts, a kind of walnut, don't grow naturally in this area. And they didn't a thousand years ago. In fact, butternuts only grow several hundred miles to the southwest, in today's New Brunswick and Quebec. And that lead to an amazing revelation.
BIRGITTA WALLACE: So, it really told us that the Norse who were here had also been farther south; at least as far south as New Brunswick, perhaps farther, yet, for instance, into the St. Lawrence to Quebec.
The really interesting part with the butternuts was that they grow in exactly the same areas as wild grapes in New Brunswick. And, to us, that proves that, yes, they had really observed wild grapes and named the country after it, Vinland.
NARRATOR: Vinland, land of vines, was the legendary place described in the Viking Sagas, because wild grapes grew there. The butternuts found among the Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows are strong evidence that the Norse sailors really had travelled far south of this spot, to a place where butternuts and wild grapes could grow. And, in fact, the Sagas don't just describe one settlement in Vinland.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: They sail south to a place that they call "Hop." And this is an incredibly rich and absolutely teeming with wildlife.
NARRATOR: (Quote from the Sagas) They sailed into the estuary and named the place Hop. Here they found wild wheat growing in fields on all the low ground and grapevines on all the higher ground. They had built their settlement on a slope by the lakeside; some of the houses were close to the lake, and others were farther away. They stayed there that winter.
The location of Hop, a settlement farther south, remains unknown.
DAN SNOW: So what does it say about their other stories in here, I mean, there must be a lot more to find now, in North America.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: There could well be, because the sagas describe not only these guys stopping off in one place, but stopping off in a number of places, and they were there for several years. They had a whole new world to explore.
DAN SNOW: So, there may be some archaeology out there?
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: There may be some archaeology out there.
NARRATOR: Can another Viking settlement be found in North America, perhaps south of L'Anse aux Meadows, where the butternuts may have come from?
BIRGITTA WALLACE: Hundreds of sites had been found that people thought were Norse, and when they start to examine them further, they're not. So, I thought it was an absolute miracle that one really was Norse. But it would be really nice if they could find more evidence.
NARRATOR: Can Sarah find that evidence? Can she locate another Viking site here? Back in the lab in Alabama, Sarah scrutinizes the satellite data.
SARAH PARCAK: We've really been focusing our efforts on the eastern seaboard of Canada.
DAN SNOW: If you find something on the eastern seaboard of Canada, that would be huge.
SARAH PARCAK: You know, over the last couple of months, we spent a lot of time looking along the entire Labrador coast. We looked up every single river, tens and tens of thousands of square kilometers.
We've looked in Quebec. We've even looked along the coastline of Maine, into Massachusetts. So, we've looked everywhere. And from that analysis, this very interesting site appeared in Newfoundland.
NARRATOR: Sarah focuses on a site in southwest Newfoundland, an area known as Point Rosee.
SARAH PARCAK: So, when we were doing initial processing, all I saw was a dark stain. You can see this slightly darker area, right here. That's all I saw.
DAN SNOW: Okay.
SARAH PARCAK: And I almost discarded it, but when we processed that imagery…
NARRATOR: When Sarah looks at the near-infrared image from the satellite, new and potentially intriguing patterns emerge.
SARAH PARCAK: …that rectilinear structure shows up very clearly here. You can see the outline of what looks like a longhouse better here, but you can see actual internal divisions. It's 22 meters long, and seven meters wide, the exact same size as the longhouses at L'Anse aux Meadows.
This is the first site we've had in 55 years that merits closer examination and excavation, 'cause, I mean, its size, its shape, the fact that the soil's different, the fact that there are these clear rectilinear and oval structures, I mean, it screams, "Please, excavate me!"
NARRATOR: If this turns out to be a site built by the Norse during their early explorations of the New World, it would be the farthest known point of the entire Viking expansion. But is there really anything there? Are these the remains of ancient Viking buildings? Or are the patterns of light and dark simply natural, caused by variations in the local geology?
Viking specialist Doug Bolender will be working with Sarah. He spent 15 years studying and excavating Viking sites in Iceland. He is skeptical that the technology will work here.
DOUG BOLENDER: I mean, it could be a small raised section of rock or sand. As human beings, we are basically made to recognize patterns, and not only are we really good at recognizing patterns, we are really good at making them up. So, we can see, often, what we want to see. And you can certainly look and say, you know, that looks like a rectangle, it looks like a structure, but many of the things that look like buildings in this image do seem to match patchiness in the geology, and about those, I'm extremely suspicious.
SARAH PARCAK: From what we've seen on the satellite imagery, you know, it looks…is very suggestive. We've studied dozens of examples of known Norse sites, but we can't be absolutely sure, until we go on the ground. And what we do is called "ground-truthing." That literally means we are confirming whether or not what we've seen from space is actually on the ground. And it's an essential thing you have to do before you start excavation.
NARRATOR: Before Sarah can start digging, she has to convince the Canadian authorities to give her permission.
SARAH PARCAK: Step One is non-invasive surveys. So, we have to go out on the ground and use a magnetometer to measure what might be buried beneath the ground.
NARRATOR: One of Sarah's team members heads to Point Rosee, in Newfoundland. Dave Gathings will survey the same field where the satellite picked up the intriguing patterns, using a magnetometer. This device detects subtle differences in the magnetism of the earth. It can reveal disturbances in the soil caused by burning, digging or the presence of metals.
SARAH PARCAK: All a magnetometer is, is it's a tool to measure differences in magnetism. So, really, if there's burning or some kind of buried metal, it's going to pick it up.
NARRATOR: Dave crisscrosses the field systematically.
DAVE GATHINGS (Archaeologist): You set up a grid pattern, I usually do 20 by 20 meters, because it's easier to remember your pace. I have to go back and forth. In this case, I have it set to do one meter intervals and to take a sample every half meter. And once you have all the grids measured, mosaic it together, and see what kind of pictures you have. It'll tell you what was here.
NARRATOR: When the magnetometer readings have been processed, Sarah has more information about what lies beneath the surface to compare with her satellite results.
SARAH PARCAK: So we've had some really exciting results back from the magnetometer survey at Point Rosee. We have this really interesting hotspot, here.
NARRATOR: The survey picks up several hotspots, some very close to the dark patterns that showed up in the satellite images, which Sarah thinks might be the traces of Viking walls.
SARAH PARCAK: In the northern part of the image, we had what looks like potential architectural features. And what's amazing is that this matches up perfectly with what we've seen from the magnetometer survey. So, now I'm convinced that this is a site, and we absolutely have got to get back to Point Rosee to excavate.
NARRATOR: The presence of magnetic hotspots, combined with the intriguing shapes on the satellite images, are enough to convince the Canadian authorities to grant permission for Sarah to excavate. After months of research in her lab, Sarah will be able to see what actually lies beneath the surface.
SARAH PARCAK: I am walking to Point Rosee for the first time, after many, many months of looking at satellite imagery. This is actually one of the first times where I'm visiting a site where I've processed the data, but I've never even been to a site remotely like it before.
NARRATOR: The site of Point Rosee is isolated. It's an hour's trek from the nearest road, on the exposed west-facing headland of Newfoundland.
SARAH PARCAK: I really had no idea it would be this beautiful, absolutely no idea at all.
NARRATOR: This whole area has rivers and lakes full of fresh water. There is plenty of food and wood in the forests.
SARAH PARCAK: Just, just look at those cliff drops!
NARRATOR: Being so close to the sea, this area could easily have been accessed by Vikings travelling by boat.
SARAH PARCAK: The number one thing that you have to look for, when you're looking for Viking sites, would be beaches, because where else are they going to land their ships? And this particular site has multiple beaches. It has this one on which we are standing. It's a bit rocky but, you know, not terrible access, if they want to pull their ships up.
NARRATOR: Sarah and her team have been given 14 days, by the Canadian authorities, to try to find archaeological proof in Point Rosee.
The site lies in the middle of a thin peninsula and is relatively flat. It's fully exposed to the Atlantic Ocean. Before the dig can start, the site needs to be surveyed and accurately measured.
CHASE CHILDS (Archaeologist): Two more centimeters.
Thirty centimeters too far.
NARRATOR: The whole site is divided into precise grids.
CHASE CHILDS: I'm on 15.3.
NARRATOR: That allows the team to match the satellite images to the corresponding areas on the ground. Guided by the magnetometer data and satellite imagery…
GREG MUMFORD (University of Alabama at Birmingham): I'll be coming in the middle of this, what looks like a separate chamber.
NARRATOR: …the team chooses the best places to open test trenches.
SARAH PARCAK: I want to make sure I hit the end. Right there.
NARRATOR: That way, they can see what's actually underneath.
SARAH PARCAK: Yeah. Okay, let's do it.
Here we go. Oh, man, the roots are really thick. It's going to be fun.
That looks pretty wet. You can just see how muddy it is. And there's just tons, I mean tons of roots, all roots running down.
Phew! It's going to be a full body workout.
NARRATOR: Day 3: It takes two days just to dig the test trenches, and, so far, nothing has been found.
Sarah and Canadian archaeologist Fred Schwarz are opening another trench.
DR. FRED SCHWARZ (Archaeologist): It's difficult digging, for sure.
NARRATOR: This is an area where the satellite imagery showed an intriguing L-shaped feature.
SARAH PARCAK: Pretty brutal.
NARRATOR: Only a few inches below the surface, Fred spots something.
SARAH PARCAK: Oh! Oh, I like that! Oh, yeah, I like that. It's sand, it's very sandy, it's yellowish grey. But it's always nice, when you get a more or less flat continuous deposit.
FRED SCHWARZ: We've got this dark peaty material, here. Then we've got a grey, sandy silt underneath. We also find this rusty red-brown sand gravel as well. And that does not seem to be in the sort of stratigraphic position you might expect, for a natural horizon. So, we'll have to clean this up and see what its profile looks like, but there could be something interesting going on here.
SARAH PARCAK: I really like that we're getting these level differences.
NARRATOR: The team is trying to find traces of 1,000-year-old Viking buildings, most likely made of turf or sod. Even subtle signs, like this, that the ground has been artificially disturbed could be important.
They need to keep digging.
Day 5: two days later, Fred makes an even more exciting find.
FRED SCHWARZ: Well, it's interesting. We have quite a large boulder. It's cracked. It's quite possible that it's fire-cracked, and it takes a pretty serious amount of heat to crack a boulder this size.
NARRATOR: This stone looks like it could have been cracked by fire. Since only very high temperatures would have been able to split this stone, could this be evidence of a hearth or even a furnace for ironworking?
FRED SCHWARZ: The fact that it's cracked, that suggests that there is a lot of heat being built up, at some point in the past, right alongside it.
NARRATOR: If this were a Viking furnace then there should also be traces of metal here, too. Dave runs the magnetometer to find out.
DAVE GATHINGS: It's still climbing, well. It's settling around 1,100.
SARAH PARCAK: Yeah, right in that little puddle right in the corner, right there.
DAVE GATHINGS: It's 900, 1,100. It's still reading, like, two over here. Yeah, real high. Wow.
NARRATOR: The magnetometer picks up readings relatively high compared to the surrounding area. This suggests that there could be dense amounts of metal in the soil or remnants of a fire. They need more evidence to find out if this could have been a Viking hearth or furnace.
Day 8: continuing the search won't be easy.
SARAH PARCAK: Ah, this is waterlogged.
NARRATOR: The weather is against them. It poured last night, and the trench is filled with water. As Sarah carefully peels away the layers around the cracked stone, she finds something intriguing.
SARAH PARCAK: Oh, that's a very heavy stone right here. Actually, got a little bit missing. And there's bubbling. That's classic slag. What slag is, is a byproduct of metal production.
NARRATOR: If Sarah is right, and this really is slag, it would indicate that metal was once produced here. A thousand years ago, the Vikings had a very distinctive method for producing iron. They started with rock, like this sample from Iceland, known as bog iron ore, which contains tiny iron deposits. The Vikings first roasted this bog iron ore over an open fire, to remove water and impurities. Then, they smelted the ore in an even hotter furnace, over charcoal, to separate the iron from the rock.
The waste material from this smelting process is slag, a stony material with a spongy appearance.
Sarah is convinced that what she's found in the ground at Point Rosee is slag. But is it? To find out, the samples will have to be tested.
Day 11: meanwhile, the team continues hunting for evidence. They have only four more days left before their permit runs out.
Sarah uncovers a tiny object in the trench.
SARAH PARCAK: So, right there.
MAN: Now, that's very exciting. It looks like a concretion, head of a nail or something. Potential evidence of worked material. I mean, a concretion with a hollow in it like that, kind of, worked material.
SARAH PARCAK: There should be other bits.
So, this looks like metalworking byproduct. It looks like it could potentially have come from the head of a nail. You can see how thin the walls are. It's very light. It's even a bit broken. It almost looks like a head of a nail could have gone in there.
NARRATOR: Meticulously sifting through the soil from the trenches, they're finding more samples that Sarah thinks could indicate metalworking.
SARAH PARCAK: That's why sieving is so important, because these are things that you miss when they're covered in muck and mud, and we found this just now.
That's got a really good weight to it, a very good sign.
NARRATOR: They have plenty of samples to test for metalworking. But now the team really wants to find something organic, like wood, bone or seeds, so they can try to date the site.
Day 13: with only two more days left, the team at Point Rosee concentrates its efforts in the trench where they found evidence of possible metal production…
SARAH PARCAK: Ahh!!
NARRATOR: …when Sarah uncovers something else.
SARAH PARCAK: Yeah, that looks like ash.
CHASE CHILDS: It's definitively not the same material on the other side.
NARRATOR: In the same trench as the fire-cracked stone, they've found what appears to be a layer of ash.
SARAH PARCAK: Oh, yeah, I like.
MAN: It looks like a clear ash layer.
SARAH PARCAK: It's a good sign. Oh, look at that. It's compacted.
CHASE CHILDS: Hey, Greg, it looks like we may have found our first floor.
SARAH PARCAK: And according to our expert, Doug Bolender, in Norse structures there would usually be a dense layer of ash that would indicate a floor layer. It's compacted, a dense layer of compacted ash, and that's exactly what we have here. So, it's a great sign.
CHASE CHILDS: The question I guess is what's under the ash layer?
SARAH PARCAK: It's flat rock, right in the middle of it.
Oh, yeah, looks like there's more rock.
NARRATOR: Beneath the ash, Sarah feels a layer of flat stones. Ash and stones could be more evidence indicating a manmade hearth or furnace.
SARAH PARCAK: We're finding flat stones and, in general, things don't appear flat-lying in nature. We're clearly in a cultural area, so it means that we are dealing with an interior of a structure, so, very exciting!
NARRATOR: To confirm they are in a cultural area, or one where people lived, the team collects samples from the ash layer to be analyzed later in the lab. And they continue to meticulously sift through the soil, trying to find organic material that could be used to date this site.
SARAH PARCAK: Oh!
NARRATOR: Sarah has spotted something in the bucket.
SARAH PARCAK: It's a good sign. It's floating. It's hard on the outside, looks like a seed. If this is a seed, it's our first thing that we could do radio-carbon-dating.
NARRATOR: Later, the team find two more seeds. These can be carbon-dated which may provide an approximate date for the site.
Day 14: it's the last day of the dig at Point Rosee. Sarah wants to show what the team has discovered to Viking expert Doug Bolender.
He's worked extensively on Norse sites in Iceland, but this is his first time in Newfoundland.
DOUG BOLENDER: It's that weird mix of being extremely excited about the possibility and extremely skeptical about actually finding something that's going to change the way that we understand what the Norse were doing in North America.
And, you know, you don't get that moment very often, to walk out into a place that has the potential to change history.
SARAH PARCAK: This is what showed up. That set off the mag like you wouldn't believe. First we hit this rock. We didn't know that it was fire-cracked at first.
DOUG BOLENDER: Right.
SARAH PARCAK: 'Cause it was so covered in muck.
NARRATOR: With the fire-cracked rock, the layer of what appears to be ash, and other disturbed layers of soil, Doug thinks Sarah could be on to something.
DOUG BOLENDER: These are the kinds of features that you often see for ironworking within Norse context. What I'm really curious about is, is this it? Is this an isolated feature?
NARRATOR: Sarah points out on the satellite imagery where there are signs of possible walls.
SARAH PARCAK: That looks like there is another feature. If that, if this is it, 'cause it looks like there is an additional rectilinear feature on the interior. And I wonder if that's our stone here, and that's our line of stones.
NARRATOR: Doug helps to open up the trench a bit more. He has a lot of experience excavating Viking turf walls, which can be difficult to spot. Dan Snow has also joined the team, to see what they've uncovered.
DOUG BOLENDER: We opened up this, specifically, because the remote sensing imagery had suggested that between these two units, just to the edge of the stone, there should actually be a wall. We opened it up and indeed it looks like there is a great deal of structure, there is banding.
DAN SNOW: What are these black bands?
DOUG BOLENDER: Well, what this looks like is it looks like it's turf blocks that have been put and cut and placed here.
NARRATOR: For Doug, the series of dark bands in the soil here closely resembles bands he's seen in Viking turf walls excavated in Iceland.
DAN SNOW: So someone has made a wall using turf?
DOUG BOLENDER: That is what it looks like.
DAN SNOW: Who would do a thing like that?
SARAH PARCAK: Don, Don, Don.
DAN SNOW: You've dug turf walls all over the North Atlantic, right?
DOUG BOLENDER: Lots of turf walls.
DAN SNOW: Lots of Viking turfs walls. Do they look like this?
DOUG BOLENDER: Well, actually, they look similar to this. And that is why we need to do a little bit more digging to figure it out. Whatever it is you picked up in the remote sensing, you picked up something that's actually here. I'm having a lot of trouble making it a geological anomaly.
NARRATOR: Is this strong enough evidence to convince Doug that this is a true Viking site in North America? The first one discovered in over 50 years?
DOUG BOLENDER: Right now, the simplest answer is that it looks like what it looks like, which would be a small activity area, maybe connected to a larger farm that's Norse. You have to explain that away. Where, in Iceland, I wouldn't think twice about what was happening here, the thing that really makes you pause, the thing that really makes you want to check every last little bit of it is that it's in Newfoundland.
SARAH PARCAK: I am just thrilled having a Norse specialist here say that the turf wall that we found, just in the area where the satellite images showed it should be was there. And he said it look, it looks like Norse turf.
NARRATOR: In order to be sure that the site is Viking, the team needs to run tests on the artifacts they've gathered. The samples found around the cracked rock will undergo analysis for metal composition, to see if they really are slag, the remnants of Viking metalwork.
And radio-carbon-dating will be done on the seeds or berries that Sarah found, in an effort to confirm that the site dates to the Viking period, a thousand years ago.
These are the first results to come back. Sarah and Dan are about to see them for the first time.
SARAH PARCAK: You know, we've been working almost a year on processing all this data, and we've spent a month in the field. So, I've actually been having trouble sleeping the last couple of nights, 'cause I know the radio-carbon results are in, and I'm about to find out, one way or the other.
Hey, Dan, what's going on?
DAN SNOW: Just waiting. The waiting game. I'm feeling a little nervous. How are you doing?
SARAH PARCAK: I'm very nervous. It's funny, if the dates are good, I'll be happy, but you know, if they're really off, there are more questions than answers.
DAN SNOW: Yeah, if they are bang on, it would be amazing. It would just be really good to have the dates work out. That's good.
SARAH PARCAK: So, are you ready?
DAN SNOW: Okay, let's do it!
SARAH PARCAK: Here we go.
It's a lot more recent. Yeah, it's 1600s, 1800s, which makes no sense, given what we have. I mean, there's no way that this is a modern site. You saw the conditions at that site, you know, lots of mixing, lots of potential later intrusion especially with the amount of water that was there. That berry, those berries were not from a particularly strong context.
DAN SNOW: Yeah. So the seeds could have just drifted down through the layers, over the years.
SARAH PARCAK: Yeah, or you know, things could have been exposed. But the reality is those dates don't match the archaeology, at all.
NARRATOR: The seeds seem to date to sometime around the 18th century, during the colonial period of North America, at least 700 years after the Vikings had arrived.
Could the structures on Point Rosee be from this time? The presence of turf walls doesn't match the kind of buildings commonly constructed during the colonial period, which were usually made of wood or stone. What's more, if the site does date to historic colonial times, then the archaeologists would expect to find other objects from that period.
SARAH PARCAK: We did not find one single bit of evidence for this site being historic, no glass, no pottery, nothing. And we've opened up five trenches in five separate parts of the site. So, you'd think if this site were historic, we would have found one thing.
NARRATOR: Like Sarah, Viking expert Doug Bolender is not discouraged by the radio-carbon-dating results.
DOUG BOLENDER: I've actually always been very skeptical about the potential for radio-carbon on the site. The seeds, they are coming out of material that it is sort of at the upper levels of this feature.
NARRATOR: If the structures underneath are Viking, then it would be natural for lots of plants to have grown on top, over the centuries, and that could explain berries or seeds from a much later date.
DOUG BOLENDER: If it's really from the Viking age, it is a thousand years of time for other stuff to accumulate.
NARRATOR: The radio-carbon dates are inconclusive. The archaeologists still don't know for sure if the site on Point Rosee is Viking. And they have to rule out every other possibility, including the chance that the structures are remains from a Native American culture.
In the last several centuries, Newfoundland has been home to at least two Native American tribes, the Beothuk and the Mi'kmaq. And their ancestors could have been here hundreds of years before.
We know that native peoples were here even a thousand years ago, because the Vikings themselves reported meeting them. The Viking Sagas tell us that, when they were exploring Vinland, they encountered other people whom they called skraeling.
BILL FITZHUGH: As soon as they arrived there, they discovered, unlike Greenland, that they were not alone; there were other people here.
NARRATOR: These lands may have been new to the Vikings, but they were already home to Native Americans.
EMILY LETHBRIDGE: These Native Americans, at first, are not aggressive or hostile, and the two parties trade. Skrælingar are particularly delighted by the milk products the would-be settlers of North America produce for them, but then the relations turn hostile.
NARRATOR: The Sagas tell of battles with the native people, already living along the coast, who outnumber the Vikings. In fact, the Sagas say this is the reason that the Viking explorers do not stay in North America.
BILL FITZHUGH: In the end, it was the native people that won outright. They, in a sense, repulsed the Vikings' settlements, and the last voyage to Vinland ends with folk saying, "Well, it's a wonderful place, but it's already occupied by people who can defend it."
NARRATOR: According to the Sagas, the Vikings make four separate trips to Vinland, exploring the coast and building at least one other settlement.
Now, archaeologists want to know if the site they've been excavating in southern Newfoundland, at Point Rosee, could be one of those Viking settlements, or is it the remains of a Native American culture?
So far, nothing establishes it definitively as Viking, but the metal analysis could provide important clues, because Native Americans did not smelt iron, but the Vikings did. Can the next set of tests reveal whether or not Point Rosee is a Viking site?
Ancient metallurgy expert Tom Birch is going to analyze the possible metal samples from Point Rosee. First, he cuts the samples open, so he can look inside.
TOM BIRCH (Archeo-Metallurgist): We've got two shiny inclusions, and if we look at the opposing phase to where we've just cut it, I can see them here, as well. They match up perfectly. So let's check under the microscope.
NARRATOR: Helped by microscopy technician John Still, Tom looks at all the samples using a scanning electron microscope. This microscope uses a beam of electrons to produce an image much higher in magnification than a conventional optical microscope.
TOM BIRCH: What we have here, John, is the sample, which we suspect is a lump of smithying slag.
JOHN STILL: So, we can see we've got quite a lot of bright material, probably iron hydroxide.
NARRATOR: The different levels of brightness of the image reflect the difference in composition, within the sample.
JOHN STILL: We also have these dark features; it looks like it's mostly quartz, a natural mineral.
NARRATOR: Each area is then analyzed for its chemical composition, using an energy dispersive spectrometer.
JOHN STILL: Here's the spectrum.
TOM BIRCH: Okay, and what do we have?
JOHN STILL: Manganese, iron, calcium, some aluminum.
NARRATOR: Each of these elements is then quantified, to give an accurate composition of the entire sample.
TOM BIRCH: That sounds good!
NARRATOR: Finally, the analysis is done. And it's time for Sarah and Dan to get the results.
SARAH PARCAK: When we set out to do this project work, our basic hypothesis was that we wouldn't find anything. And I think we've proven ourselves wrong. But now I really want the site to be Norse, because I don't know what else it could be.
DAN SNOW: Well, some of the leads we had didn't turn out like we hoped. We still, I don't think we still have the evidence that we need to go to the world and say there were Vikings on Point Rosee, in Newfoundland, so a lot of it has come down to today. This is a high-pressure situation.
TOM BIRCH: We analyzed this item, which you suspected to be a metal object, and me too, from its weight. And then we also analyzed some hammerscale, these small fragments. And then the last thing we analyzed was these lumps of slag.
Now, I took this to the geologists, and when we cut a sample from it there were some very bright, shiny inclusions, which I thought were remnants of metal. But actually, this is a stone.
SARAH PARCAK: Welcome to archaeology!
TOM BIRCH: Exactly. This isn't any old stone. This is over a billion-years-old, basically.
DAN SNOW: So, hang on. This, one of our prized objects is a stone. It's a billion years old, that's nice. But it doesn't tell us anything. What else have you got?
TOM BIRCH: The hammerscale isn't hammerscale. These are little bits of iron oxide.
DAN SNOW: So, our second vital clue turns out to be nothing, as well?
TOM BIRCH: It's natural. I was fooled.
DAN SNOW: So we are zero for two, at the moment. You feeling nervous, Sarah?
SARAH PARCAK: No, I'm not.
DAN SNOW: Well, I am.
NARRATOR: That only leaves what Sarah thought was slag, the waste product from the metal refining process.
TOM BIRCH: The smithying slag isn't smithying slag.
SARAH PARCAK: Okay.
TOM BIRCH: But it is bog ore, bog iron ore, okay? And there are some very interesting things about it.
SARAH PARCAK: Okay.
TOM BIRCH: This has been collected, and it has been roasted, to drive off the impurities.
DAN SNOW: So, this is evidence for metalworking.
TOM BIRCH: This is evidence for, yeah, metallurgy.
DAN SNOW: Sarah…
SARAH PARCAK: All right, it's good. So, what we thought was a hearth…
TOM BIRCH: It's a roasting fire. Now, the only reason you roast ore is to later extract iron from it.
DAN SNOW: Sarah, this is pretty exciting, right? Because we've talked to the historians who say nobody else was making metal on this coast ever, in the whole of history, apart from the Vikings. That sounds good to me. So it's got to be Viking.
DOUG BOLENDER: At the end of the day, we are at a place where the most likely of the explanations is that this is a Norse site, probably from the Viking age.
NARRATOR: The results are encouraging. What started with faint outlines revealed by satellite imaging and supported by evidence on the ground—signs of turf walls, stone cracked by hot fires—and now, the remnants of what appears to be Viking iron processing, all support the idea that a thousand years ago, Point Rosee was a Viking site, right here in North America.
This is not a land where butternuts or wild grapes grow, but, along with L'Anse aux Meadows, this could have been another settlement on the way to Vinland, the mythical place the Vikings described in their Sagas.
The story of Point Rosee is not over. Much more research will need to be done. It could take years to excavate and analyze the findings, but this could be the beginning of an exciting period of discovery, revealing new insights into the remarkable journeys of the Vikings, who we now know were the first Europeans to set foot in North America, 500 years before Columbus.
DOUG BOLENDER: The thing that is amazing here is to actually be in a moment of discovery and something that's, you know, brought people together, and experts from throughout the Norse world and far beyond that.
SARAH PARCAK: 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.
Dr. Colleen Batey
Saffron Walden Museum
A BBC Production with PBS, NOVA/WGBH Boston and France Television
© 2016 BBC
All rights reserved.
This program was produced by WGBH, which is solely responsible for its content.
Original funding for this program was provided by Google, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the David H. Koch Fund for Science and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- Image credit: (CGI skeletons in longship)
- © BBC
- Jette Arneborg
- National Museum of Denmark
- Martin Biddle
- University of Oxford
- Tom Birch
- Doug Bolender
- University of Massachusetts
- Martin Carver
- University of York
- Bill Fitzhugh
- Arctic Studies Centre, Smithsonian
- Dave Gathings
- Dave Gathings
- Esben Jessen
- Captain of the Ottar
- Andrew Jones
- York Archaeological Trust
- Emily Lethbridge
- University of Iceland
- Sarah Parcak
- University of Alabama
- Neil Price
- University of Uppsala
- Martin Rodevad Dael
- Viking Ship Museum
- Fred Schwartz
- Dan Snow
- Val Turner
- Shetland's Regional Archaeologist
- Birgitta Wallace
- Parks Canada Agency
- Andy Woods
- York Museums Trust
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