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NOVA | Vikings Unearthed

Last Updated by WMHT Web Editor on

Watch Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 9pm on WMHT TV

NOVA will also be streaming Vikings Unearthed online on Monday, April 4 at 3:30 ET at pbs.org/nova.
 

PBS’s award-winning science series NOVA reveals what may be the first new Viking site discovered in North America in over 50 years. A groundbreaking co-production investigating the truth behind the legends of the Vikings and their epic journey to North America unveils the find and follows the search for evidence at what could be the furthest known point of the entire Viking expansion.  NOVA’s 2-hour special, VIKINGS UNEARTHED, traces their dramatic exploits in Europe, their extraordinary voyages across the Atlantic and the incredible story of the new discovery.

While infamous for their fearsome conquests, the Vikings were also expert seafarers, skilled traders, and courageous explorers who travelled far and wide from Scandinavia to Europe and into Asia. To date, we know of only one other Viking site in North America, found in the 1960s on the very northern tip of Newfoundland, at L’Anse aux Meadows. The discovery rewrote history; for centuries no one knew for sure if the Norse had actually made it to America, as suggested in the Vinland sagas. But are there more?

Using satellite technology, excavation and investigation of archaeological evidence, space archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak (National Geographic Fellow, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and winner of the TED 2016 prize), archaeologist Douglas Bolender (University of Massachusetts, Boston), historian Dan Snow and a team of leading experts from around the globe have discovered, excavated and examined a new archaeological site at Point Rosee, located in southern Newfoundland. 

The new site is the first found in 55 years that has merited closer examination and excavation. It could be the beginning of an exciting period of discovery revealing new insights into the remarkable journeys of the Vikings, who were the first Europeans to set foot in North America—500 years before Columbus.

Dr. Parcak uses high-resolution imagery from satellites positioned approximately 478 miles above the earth to spot ruins as small as 11 inches buried beneath the surface—making objects that were once invisible, visible.  Through stunning CGI recreations, satellite imagery analysis, and careful investigation of archaeological evidence, the film gives viewers an up close look as the team hunts for answers and sets out to unravel the secrets of these intrepid adventurers and examine just how far into the New World they dared to explore. 

In addition to uncovering the new site, the production explores the rich cultural heritage of the Vikings, including their colorful historical and mythical tales.  Led by historian Dan Snow, the team learns how Vikings voyaged thousands of miles on the rough open seas of the North Atlantic—during a time when most other ships never left the shoreline—by sailing and navigating on an exact replica of an 11th century Viking ship.  Snow also tracks their expansion west—first as raiders, then as settlers and traders—throughout Britain and beyond to Iceland and Greenland.  He uncovers evidence that the Vikings were not just rapacious raiders, but shrewd entrepreneurs whose trading empire stretched from the Caspian Sea in the East all the way to North America.

 

About the Discovery

 

  • Led by archaeologists Sarah Parcak and Douglas Bolender, and co-directed by Gregory Mumford, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Frederick Schwarz, Black Spruce Heritage Services​, with support, in part, by a grant from the National Geographic Society, the Newfoundland project used pioneering satellite imagery analysis, excavation and investigation of archaeological evidence to discover, excavate, and examine a new archaeological site at Point Rosee in Newfoundland, which could be the first new Norse site to be discovered in North America in over 50 years. If confirmed as Norse by further research, the site will show that the Vikings traveled much farther in North America than previously known, pushing the boundary of their explorations over 300 miles to the southwest. 

 

  • For more than 50 years, scientists have searched for another Norse site, a challenge given the culture did not leave behind much material, while Canada’s eastern coastline is a vast area to explore.

 

  • Using improved satellite technology, Sarah Parcak and her team looked at tens of thousands of square kilometers along the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada to make this potential Norse discovery.

 

  • Point Rosee is located in southern Newfoundland. The preliminary excavations took place over two-and-a-half weeks in June 2015. The recent processing of satellite imagery data, two magnetometer surveys, preliminary excavations, and the initial, albeit ongoing, analysis of the archaeological site and associated materials have revealed: traces of a few suggestive, sub-surface rectilinear features, some probable bog iron ore roasting, limited exposures of possible turf-type remains, and a few associated AMS radiocarbon dates that range from sometime between 800 and 1300 AD (in addition to other radiocarbon dates).  

 

  • Point Rosee is the second known, pre-Columbian, iron processing site discovered in North America (after L’Anse aux Meadows). Aside from some Inuit applications of meteoric iron and turf structures far to the north in the Arctic, there is no evidence of any indigenous people processing iron, while only one culture had turf walls and processed bog iron ore in North America: the Vikings. 

 

  • Further excavation, analysis, and multi-specialist input are crucial before determining the site’s time period(s) and cultural affiliation(s). 
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