A new archeological discovery at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site poses some interesting questions.
According to a paper published this month in a scientific journal, Memorial University researchers found a previously unknown archeological layer at the site last August, revealing new evidence of human activity.
The findings, extracted from a layer of peat bog, include woodworking debris, charcoal and the remains of plants and insects.
Dr. Paul Ledger, Dr. Veronique Forbes and colleagues encountered the new evidence, approximately 30 metres east of the 1,000-year-old Norse ruins.
Material from the layer was radiocarbon-dated to the late-12th to mid-13th century, after the Norse Vikings (990-1050 AD) were believed to have permanently left Newfoundland.
There is no definite evidence from the material that the Vikings were in Newfoundland later than previously believed.
Ledger told The Northern Pen it’s possible the Vikings could still have been visiting L’Anse aux Meadows during this period, although he believes it is more likely evidence of Indigenous activity.
“We’d say it’s probably Indigenous but ... it sort of looks like layers you’d maybe see in the Norse world elsewhere,” he explained. “But that could also be that we’re used to looking at those sorts of layers. And a lot of times when people look at Indigenous archeology, they’re very much focused on the buildings and there’s not a lot of looking around the spaces between buildings. It’s hard to say.”
The significance of the discovery is that it’s “new cultural material from a site where there were Europeans,” Ledger says.
“Even if it’s not Norse it’s exciting because it’s at that site and it’s not too long after they were here,” he continued. “Anything we find in that, it’s close in time when there were Europeans and that’s what’s exciting.”
Ledger, Forbes and their team are returning for four weeks in August to conduct more research and find some answers.
Ledger says they need to re-open the 1.5-metre by 60-centimetre hole they dug last summer and dig deeper until there’s no more cultural material.
Then they’re going to dig four more holes in the area to uncover how far this layer spreads from the initial discovery.
They’ll also be reopening an old excavation from the 1970s to see if they can find any similar material that may have been missed.
The material presents some other curiosities.
The presence of two species of insect was particularly peculiar.
A species of pill beetle (Simplocaria metallica) and a species of rove beetle (Acidota quadrata) were found in the bog.
This was the first record of Acidota quadrata ever in Newfoundland and Labrador – it is typically found in the Arctic.
Simplocaria metallica is native to Greenland and it was never recorded in Newfoundland this early.
Ledger hypothesizes the presence of these insects could be related to the movement of either Norse or Indigenous people.
“It could have arrived earlier with the Norsemen and just became established or it could be it was transported by Indigenous trade networks,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that it’s related to north – it could be – but it also could just be related to the movement of peoples around that whole area.”
For Ledger, it was interesting to find “things that shouldn’t be here at that time.”
“It’s not that we’re necessarily finding something Norse, but the thing that’s interesting is that the Norse may have brought things with them that continued to live in that area,” he said.
No evidence of pot-smoking Vikings
When he spoke to The Northern Pen, Ledger wished to debunk a theory circulating in various online publications that there may be evidence the Vikings had smoked pot in L’Anse aux Meadows.
Ledger notes in the paper that various pollens were found, one of which may be either hops pollen or cannabis pollen.
He says it was a mere “throwaway comment” in the paper that publications have since run with.
“To cut the long story short, it’s not cannabis pollen,” he said. “But I said in the paper it’s a type of pollen that could be cannabis or hops, because these two things are near indistinguishable.”
He confirmed there’s nothing to the theory.