Vikings Beaten to the Islands; Archaeology Rewriting History Books

The Journal (Newcastle, England), August 21, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Vikings Beaten to the Islands; Archaeology Rewriting History Books


Byline: Patrick Joseph

THE Faroe Islands were colonised much earlier than previously believed, and it wasn't by the Vikings, according to new research by a North East academic.

New archaeological evidence on the isolated islands has proved they were colonised in the 4th to 6th centuries AD, at least 300-500 years earlier than previously thought.

The research, directed by Dr Mike J Church from Durham University and Simun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, challenges the nature, scale and timing of human settlement of the wider North Atlantic region and has implications for the colonisation of similar island groups across the world.

The Faroes were the first stepping stone beyond Shetland for the dispersal of European people across the North Atlantic that culminated on the shores of continental North America in the 11th century AD, about 500 years before Columbus made his famous voyage.

Analysis showed an extensive windblown sand deposit containing patches of burnt peat ash from human activity, dating human settlement to pre-Viking phases. These ash spreads contained barley grains which were accidentally burnt in domestic hearths and were then spread by humans onto the windblown sand surface during the 4th-6th centuries and 6th-8th centuries, a common practice identified in the North Atlantic during this period to control wind erosion.

Dr Church, from Durham University's Department of Archaeology, said: "There is now firm archaeological evidence for the human colonisation of the Faroes by people some 300-500 years before the large scale Viking colonisation of the 9th century AD, although we don't yet know who these people were or where they came from.

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