The remains of an 11th-century Norse settlement found at L’Anse aux Meadows (on the northern tip of Newfoundland) are evidence of the first European presence in North America. That’s really cool, but it’s not news—the remains were found over a half century ago.
What’s news is that an American researcher from Brown University may have figured out a way to reconstruct a possible voyage undertaken by some of the people who lived there.
Keep in mind that the outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows, consisting of some timber-framed turf buildings, was only occupied for a maximum of 25 years. (And it might’ve been used for a mere two years—scientists just aren’t sure.) So hard evidence is pretty difficult to come by.
What Kevin Smith (the deputy director and chief curator of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, not the Clerks guy) found was that jasper fire starters found near one of the halls at L’Anse aux Meadows most likely came from Notre Dame Bay, 143 miles south of the settlement.
That suggests that Norse explorers left the outpost, went south, and arrived in an area of Newfoundland that’s known to have been heavily populated by the ancestors of the Beothuk people. If they did undertake such a voyage, it’s extremely likely that contact occurred between the indigenous people and the Vikings.
Of course, with so little evidence to go on, the story is largely speculation. It’s not known whether it happened at all, or, if it did, whether it was the very first contact between Europeans and North Americans, or simply a very early example of it. But it’s a lead that gives researchers another clue into the world as it was a millennium ago.