Researchers May Have Found North America's Second Viking Site


Almost five centuries before Christopher Columbus was born in the early 1450s, a ship led by Viking explorer Leif Erikson crossed the Atlantic Ocean. It dropped anchor in present-day Canada, and the sailors built a temporary settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland, complete with dwellings, a forge, and a carpentry workshop.

The site was abandoned after only a few years. Archaeologists discovered its 1000-year-old ruins in 1960, and called it L'Anse aux Meadows. For decades, it was the only known Norse settlement in North America outside Greenland. Now, National Geographic reports that researchers may have found evidence of a second Viking site in southern Newfoundland—a find that, if verified, could rewrite the timeline of European exploration in the New World.

The potential outpost is in Point Rosee, a remote spot 300 miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows. The area was identified as a potential Viking hotspot by “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak.

Parcak uses satellite images taken by cameras 400 miles above Earth to find ancient cities, temples and tombs in Egypt. Last November, Parcak was awarded a $1 million TED Prize, which she is using to develop a platform called Global Xplorer. The citizen science initiative teaches individuals to scan satellite images for undiscovered—and potentially important—archaeological finds.

In 2015, Parcak used the same technology to examine the Canadian coastline. Satellite images hinted at potentially human-made shapes lurking underneath vegetation, and Parcak and her team visited one promising site to take a closer look. Magnetometer readings at the site revealed elevated iron levels. Subsequent digs uncovered an ancient fire-cracked stone hearth, scraps of iron, and Viking-style turf walls.

While there isn’t enough definite evidence to state that these finds are remnants of the seafaring Scandinavians, The New York Times reports that radiocarbon tests have dated the relics to the Norse age (late 8th century through the mid 11th century). Also, the site’s relics aren’t characteristic of any other cultures that might have existed in the area, Parcak told The Washington Post. Archaeologists didn't find any flint scraps, pottery shards, or iron nails left behind by later European colonists or indigenous Canadians. Plus, the only other known pre-Columbian iron processing site in North America is L’Anse aux Meadows.

“Either it’s … an entirely new culture that looks exactly like the Norse and we don’t know what it is,” Parcak said to The Washington Post. “Or it’s the westernmost Norse site that’s ever been discovered.”

Nobody knows whether the site was merely an iron smelting site or part of a larger settled community. Experts will continue to excavate and analyze the find, which will be featured in a two-hour PBS documentary called "Vikings Unearthed" airing on April 4. If it’s a true Viking site, Parcak says it might help researchers find additional Norse relics in the area. These discoveries could provide new evidence that these sailors had explored more of North America—and possibly arrived there earlier—than historians had previously thought.

[h/t National Geographic]

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


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