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Researchers May Have Found North America's Second Viking Site

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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]

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
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Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
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Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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