POINT ROSEE, CANADAIt’s a two-mile trudge through forested, swampy ground to reach Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula stretching from southern Newfoundland into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Last June, a team of archaeologists was drawn to this remote part of Canada by a modern-day treasure map: satellite imagery revealing ground features that could be evidence of past human activity.
The treasure they discovered here—a stone hearth used for working iron—could rewrite the early history of North America and aid the search for lost Viking settlements described in Norse sagas centuries ago.
To date, the only confirmed Viking site in the New World is L’Anse aux Meadows, a thousand-year-old way station discovered in 1960 on the northern tip of Newfoundland. It was a temporary settlement, abandoned after just a few years, and archaeologists have spent the past half-century searching for elusive signs of other Norse expeditions.
“The sagas suggest a short period of activity and a very brief and failed colonization attempt,” says Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist specializing in Norse settlements. “L’Anse aux Meadows fits well with that story but is only one site. Point Rosee could reinforce that story or completely change it if the dating is different from L’Anse aux Meadows. We could end up with a much longer period of Norse activity in the New World.”
The site of the discovery, hundreds of miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows, was located by archaeologist Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic Fellow and “space archaeologist” who has used satellite imagery to locate lost Egyptian cities, temples, and tombs.
Last November, TED awarded Parcak a $1 million prize to develop a project to discover and monitor ancient sites. This latest discovery in Newfoundland—supported, in part, by a grant from the National Geographic Society—demonstrates that her space-based surveillance can not only spy out artifacts in barren desert landscapes, but also in regions covered by tall grasses and other plant life.
Parcak led a team of archaeologists to Point Rosee last summer to conduct a “test excavation,” a small-scale dig to search for initial evidence that the site merits further study. The scientists unearthed an iron-working hearth partially surrounded by the remains of what appears to have been a turf wall.