‘We don’t yet know who these people were or where they came from … ‘
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — New archaeological research shows that the Faroe Islands, about halfway between Norway and Denmark in the North Atlantic, were colonized much earlier than previously believed — and not by the Vikings.
Based on traces of ashes and grains found in excavations, human colonization of the islands occurred in the 4th to 6th centuries AD, at least 300-500 years earlier than previously demonstrated and well before waves of Vikings started sailing widely in the region.
The study raises intriguing new questions about the dispersal of northern European peoples across the Atlantic.
“There is now firm archaeological evidence for the human colonization of the Faroes by people some 300-500 years before the large scale Viking colonization of the 9th century AD, although we don’t yet know who these people were or where they came from,” said Dr. Mike Church, with UK’s Durham University’s Department of Archaeology.
The research, directed Church and Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, is part of the multidisciplinary “Heart of the Atlantic” project. The findings were published in Quaternary Science Reviews.
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.
The research was carried out on an archaeological site at Á Sondum on the island of Sandoy.
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.
“The majority of archaeological evidence for this early colonization is likely to have been destroyed by the major Viking invasion, explaining the lack of proof found in the Faroes for the earlier settlement. This also raises questions about the timing of human activity on other islands systems where similarly evidence may have been destroyed,” Church said.
“Although we don’t know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying and burning it which indicates they must have stayed here for some time,” said co-author Símun V Arge, from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands.
“We now have to digest these dates of this early evidence in relation to other sources and consider whether there may be other similar sites, elsewhere on the islands, which may be able to provide us with further structural archaeological evidence.”