Nova (1974–…): Season 43, Episode 9 - Vikings Unearthed - full transcript

They were pioneering warriors, expert seafarers, and colonists of the North Atlantic realm. The Vikings even claimed in their sagas to have reached America. Now, renowned archaeologist Sarah Parcak uncovers new clues about their legendary expeditions and settlements.

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The Vikings

Scandinavian warriors who
plundered and pillaged

over a thousand years ago

Their brutality was legendary

That is a sword cut

in someone's head

A sword cut mark
on the top of the head

They left a trail of violence
across Europe

What are those bones?

Those are the bones

in the eastern compartment

For centuries, Viking longships
terrorized people from Ireland

to the Caspian Sea

Nothing like this
had ever been seen before

But the Vikings were not
just raiders

they were traders and explorers

who ventured farther than
any Europeans before them

Now, archaeologists are on their
trail to uncover their secrets

How did they master
early metal production?

How did they construct
their ships

to withstand the roughest seas?

And the biggest mystery of all:
how far did the Vikings go?

Did they discover North America
long before Columbus?

Now, new technology is helping
one scientist

retrace their steps

With satellites 400 miles above
Earth revealing the unseen

What's amazing about satellites

is that they don't just
record information

in the visual part
of a light spectrum,

but when we process the data,

all of a sudden we start seeing
really subtle detail

This is just amazing
new technology

But can this new technology find
the Holy Grail?

A new Viking settlement
in North America

that could rewrite
the history books

It screams,
"Please excavate me!"

If this is a Viking site,
you've just discovered

the farthest known western point
of the entire Viking expansion

At a secret location
in North America


Archaeologists are uncovering
startling new evidence

It's a very good day indeed

You don't get that moment very
often to walk out into a place

that has the potential
to change history

So, you ready?

"Vikings Unearthed"
right now on NOVA.

For centuries,

the Vikings voyaged far and wide

They were fearsome raiders

But they were also
successful traders,

criss-crossing the known world

From their homelands
in Scandinavia,

south to Europe,

and eastward to exotic cities
in Asia

We have coins that come

all the way from Uzbekistan

We have this piece of ring,

probably made in Russia,

and this fragment
of brooch here,

which is likely of Irish design

It's quite fantastic, isn't it?

And the Vikings boasted of
adventures even more fantastic

In the 13th century, monks
in Iceland recorded epic tales

of Viking exploits,

stories passed down from
generation to generation

These were the Viking sagas

In them, the Vikings...
Also known as the Norse...

Claimed to have traveled far
to the west across the seas...

To Iceland, Greenland
and beyond,

discovering new,
mysterious lands

Could those western lands
have included North America?

We had thought that the Vikings
came to North America

because of the sagas

But how reliable are these
written texts?

They seem to be a blend of
history and mythology

So for centuries, no one knew
for sure if the Norse Vikings

had actually made it to America

It was only in the 1960s,

with an amazing discovery on
the northern tip of Newfoundland

in Canada
that everything changed

This is L'Anse aux Meadows

Here archaeologists uncovered
the foundations

of 1,000-year-old Viking

signs of Viking metal working,
iron nails and artifacts

that could have only been left
by the Norse

All the way back

to the early sagas
that talk about

the Vikings coming
to North America

Of course,
ever since L'Anse aux Meadows,

we've known that
that part of the story is true

The implications were huge

The Vikings had indeed made it
to North America

The Viking voyages to America

are some of the greatest voyages
in mankind's history

They are unparalleled, really,
for their time

They were unbelievable
in what they did

The discovery rewrote history

The Vikings had come here
hundreds of years

before Columbus, making them the
first Europeans to set foot

in the New World

But since then, no other Viking
sites have been found

in North America,
even though the sagas tell

of more Norse voyages and
settlements in this new land

Hundreds of sites

had been found that people
thought were Norse

and when they start to examine
them further, they're not

But it would be really nice if
they could find more evidence

Viking experts have
long believed

there could be more
Viking remains in America

They knew about this region

They certainly could have
come back

So the real question is
did they?

If there are other sites
to find,

they have the potential
to be found

But as hard as they've looked,

archaeologists have come up

finding no more evidence
of Viking sites here

Now they are turning to the
latest cutting-edge technology

and searching the American
coastline with new eyes...

Satellites 400 miles
above the Earth

Space archaeologist Sarah Parcak
has pioneered the use

of satellites to make iconic
archaeological discoveries

With images captured
by the satellites,

she's already uncovered
lost cities in Egypt

Lo and behold,
the map of a whole city

And the fabled lighthouse
of ancient Rome's harbor

That is awesome

Now she's on the trail
of the Vikings

For the next few months
she'll be looking for lost sites

across the North Atlantic,

from Britain to Iceland
and to North America

For Sarah this is a leap
into the unknown

Unlike the Egyptians
and the Romans,

the Vikings did not construct
giant monuments

of stone or concrete

This project is my biggest
challenge yet

The Vikings went across a vast
ocean separating Europe

from Iceland and Greenland
and Newfoundland

But also the Vikings
lived in farmsteads

It was much more ephemeral

They simply didn't leave
a lot behind

Can Sarah uncover more traces
of the Vikings in Europe

and even here in North America?

Can she prove that the Vikings
settled here

in a place that has remained
undiscovered until now?

Could there potentially be

another occupation site,

you know, somewhere in

somewhere in North America?

And that seems to be one of the
holy grails of Viking research

Sarah is working with historian
Dan Snow,

who will be retracing
the Vikings' steps

in Europe and beyond

How violent were the Viking
raiders and warriors?

How did the Vikings build boats
capable of crossing the Atlantic

centuries before Columbus?

Whoa! That's amazing

The whole thing is just twisting
like this down the hull there

Sometime around the 8th century,

they took to the open seas,

and for 300 years these ships
allowed the Vikings

to roam far and wide,

striking dread into the hearts
of the people of Europe

But who were the Vikings?

More than 1,200 years ago,

Scandinavia... today's Norway,
Sweden and Denmark...

Is part of a rich but isolated
land of warring local rulers

who take to the seas
in search of glory

This is the land of the Vikings,

spread over a vast area of
almost 350,000 square miles

The landscape is dominated
by water:

the sea


and fjords

All of Scandinavia is very much
a maritime culture

All these different groups of
peoples live by the sea,

by the rivers,

and in the winters, the harsh
Scandinavian winters,

they live on the ice

Much of the land is rugged
and thickly forested

The Vikings live in small,
scattered settlements

and villages,
with only a few big towns

They stay in communal structures
called longhouses

The originals have not survived,
but in Borg in Norway,

a reconstruction of a
chieftain's longhouse

reveals the scale
of these buildings

Overall, it's a heavily
rural economy

These people are making their
living from farming the land,

fishing the rivers and the
coastal waterways, the fjords,

and hunting in the forests

These farmers and fishermen

are free men who own property
and have legal rights

But Viking society is complex

They were socially stratified

That is there were some people
who were or thought they were

more important than others...

Chieftains, jarls... this is the
word that in English is "earl"

So at the top of society
are the jarls,

ruling over a vast majority
of free men

And at the very bottom
are the slaves,

both Scandinavians
and foreigners

This is a culture
that survives through slavery

It's a slave society

Most of the agricultural work,
the manual labor,

things like this
would have been done by slaves

The Scandinavians...
chieftains and slaves alike...

Remain pagan while most of
Europe has been converted

to Christianity

The Vikings worship many gods,
including Odin,

the chief of all gods;
Thor, a warrior sky god;

and Freya,
the goddess of fertility

Originally, the Scandinavians
live relatively isolated

from the rest of Europe

But by about 700 AD,

they are part of a growing
commercial trading network

powered by advances
in ship technology

Maritime technology is improving

Ships are getting faster,
they can range further afield

Sails are really coming into
common use,

and that gives the people
increased possibilities

to head out
into that wider world

The Vikings set off
in all directions

well beyond their territories

They were both traders

And raiders

Of course,
the acquisition of wealth,

stealing things,

is one of the motivations
for these expeditions

Alongside the Viking raiders
there are traders

still going out there

Exploring new markets,
new transactions

There are Scandinavians

walking the streets
of Istanbul and Baghdad

The Islamic traveler Ibn Fadlan
describes some he encountered

along their eastern trade routes
as having

"Bright red hair like fire

Tattoos from tips of fingers
to necks"

The Vikings use the great rivers
as highways to travel east,

through today's Russia
and beyond to Asia

They raid Europe to the south

And then they go west... first
to the neighboring British Isles

and then on to Iceland
and Greenland

How did this age of Viking
expansion get started?

Intriguing clues have been
uncovered in the eastern Baltic

In 2008, in the village of
Salme, off the coast of Estonia,

workmen installing underground
cables make a chance discovery

of two Viking boats

All that is left are the rivets,

the bits of metal that held the
planks of the boats together

The arrangement of the rivets
matches the pattern

on classic Viking ships

On top of the rivets
are human bones

It was a common Viking burial
ritual to lay dead warriors

in their ship along
with grave offerings

that they could take
to the afterlife

Historian Dan Snow has come
to see the remains

This is the spot where the ship
burials were found

We've got the smaller one
just over there,

the larger one right here,

and you can see they've etched
out the shape of the ship

on the ground there
as a permanent memorial

So, how would these boats have
looked originally?

The smaller of the two boats,
called Salme 1,

is almost 40 feet long

Before the discovery of Salme 1,

the largest number of bodies in
any Viking boat burial was four,

but in Salme 1 there
are seven men

These guys are positioned
sitting up in the boat

at their stations,

and the oldest man is the guy
steering the boat

- The second boat is even bigger...
- 55 feet long and ten feet wide

Remember how amazing
it was to find

seven dead Vikings in Salme 1?

In this one there are 34

Nothing like this
had ever been seen before

And these 34 guys are all piled
up in the prow of the vessel

Some of them have their swords
beside them

Some of them have shields
covering their faces

There's all kinds of personal
items around them

It was then covered by the
shields of the dead men

And then they start
sacrificing animals

We find them on top
of the shields

At least six dogs,
a lot of birds,

fish, all kinds of things

One of the extraordinary things
that Salme 2 is telling us

about the Viking Age
that we didn't know before

is we used to think
that on a Viking raid

most of the people involved
would essentially be farmers

They'd maybe have a spear
or two, something like that,

perhaps a farmyard axe

But in Salme 2 there are more
swords than men...

40 swords, at least,
found in the grave

The artifacts found in the boats
provide an unparalleled insight

into the Viking world,

and some of the most impressive
objects are the swords

This one here is
very interesting

It shows something about the
construction of the sword

The central part of the blade
is a mixture of welded iron

and steel twisted together
and flattened out,

and the edge is
just hardened steel

And this shows that the Vikings
were absolutely state-of-the-art

in their ability to work metal

This beautiful piece
of work here

is from the pommel of a sword,

which is the very bottom end
of a sword

And it's the bit that
when it was in its scabbard

would be shown off to the world

So they are often incredibly
highly decorated

to show off the wealth
and status of the owner

The Salme burials,
dating to the early 700s,

might represent one of
the first ever Viking raids

Soon the Vikings
turn their attention

to other distant shores,
and raids become more frequent,

all thanks to their cutting-edge
ship technology

One of the earliest surviving
examples of a classic longship

is from Oseberg in Norway

This vessel, with its elegant
high bow and stern,

dates to around 800 AD

Its rounded hull and shallow
keel would allow it

to land easily on a beach
or river bank,

making any coast or inland
waterway vulnerable to attack

But how were these
longships made?

At the Viking Ship Museum
in Roskilde, Denmark,

master boat builder
Martin Rodevad Dael

is using traditional materials
and tools

to construct a replica

What are you working on here?

Right now it's the backbone,

it is the keel
for a small Viking ship

So, what kind of wood is this?

Is this oak?

This is oak, yeah

And the whole boat will be
built out of oak

Look at this... what a piece

How old do you reckon this is?

I would think 200 years old

This is going to become planks,
how do you do that?

Actually, we will split it
in halves and quarters

Splitting oak trunks into planks
is tough work

Yeah, there we go

This is the line, I think

That's going to work, isn't it?


The plank will still
have to be smoothed and shaped

And fitted to the keel

There we go

This brilliant plank

So, the next plank
will come right here

This overlapping design
is known as clinker

It actually
needs less waterproofing

than fitted planks, making
the boat lighter and faster

Most think of oak as strong,
but it's also flexible

Whoa, it's pretty good

That's amazing, eh?

I weigh a hundred kilos

You get these amazingly
strong planks

and you get the flexibility too

It all helps to mold the ship
into the classic Viking shape

and makes the boat sturdy
and flexible enough

to withstand powerful wind
and waves

And Martin wants to show
Dan how it works

So if you thought
of moving, you can see


You can tell how That's amazing

The whole thing is just
twisting like this

You can just see the ripples
going down the hull there

These amazing longships are
the engine of the Viking era

Their power helps create
the myth of the Vikings

as invincible maritime warriors

Onboard their longships,

the Vikings travel far and wide
in search of wealth

And soon, the Vikings are
starting to wreak havoc

up and down the coast of the
unsuspecting British Isles

For centuries, most of Britain

has been part
of the Roman Empire

After the Roman withdrawal,

England is settled by Germanic
cousins of the Vikings:

the Angles and the Saxons

Eventually these pagan tribes
convert to Christianity

and by 600 AD,
much of Britain is Christian

The Anglo-Saxon monks keep
chronicles of this period

in which they describe
the Vikings

as vicious smash-and-grab

Dan has come to Portmahomack
in Scotland

In the 800s this was a religious
community of the Pictish people,

the native inhabitants
of Scotland

Here Dan meets Martin Carver

on the site of the
Christian monastery

There was a church on the hill

and the monastery building
right next to it

It's quite a substantial
settlement, this

It's very substantial

They're very busy, very wealthy

It's almost like a town,
it's thriving

It's in contact with monasteries
in Ireland and Northumbria,

across the Channel and so on,
a really important place

This monastery was a
manufacturing center

for silver ceremonial objects
and ornate manuscripts

inlaid with precious stones

They were making chalices

This is a precious replica

When Martin excavated the site,

he found small decorative pieces

that once adorned chalices
like this one

What we did find
was little studs

You see the little studs there?

These kinds of things Yeah

It shows just how rich
and ripe for the picking

these Christian monasteries were
for the Viking raiders

And raid they did, violently
attacking this monastery

And Martin has evidence of how
some of the monks were killed

It was violent

You see the cut mark of the
of the sword there


That's that is a sword
cutting somebody's head?

That is a sword cut mark

The cuts are being made

on the top of the head
and behind the head

He must have been not only
attacked from behind,

but kneeling

So you've got this picture

of a monk kneeling,
kneeling on the ground

and getting... bang, bang, bang...
Three cuts

The Vikings slaughter the monks,

wipe out a flourishing monastery

and leave with precious booty

The monastery is set on fire and
part of it burns to the ground

The Vikings soon earn
a reputation

as ruthless raiders
and murderers

But are they the only ones?

The Viking raids are perceived
with such shock

by the people
on the receiving end

Of course, it's violent and so
on, but this is a violent age

The Vikings are not the only
people out there

raiding and pillaging...
Other people do this too

But the British victims
of the Vikings

are especially horrified
by the sacrilege

of destroying Christian churches
and monasteries

and murdering monks and priests

So there's a kind
of shock effect

that the Vikings are different
to everyone else,

they look different,

they desecrate Christian places
of worship,

things that would be
unthinkable to the locals

As one of the monks writes
in the 9th century:

"The ravages of heathen men

"miserably destroyed
God's church,

with plunder and slaughter"

But soon the Vikings
aren't just raiding

They're moving in,
establishing bases for trading

all around the North Atlantic,

including the Shetland Islands
in the north of Scotland

Wherever they go,

the Vikings build their
traditional structures,

known as longhouses...
Long, rectangular buildings

with no windows where several
families live together

under one roof

This iconic architecture
will be key

as archaeologist
Sarah Parcak hunts

for new, undiscovered Viking

both in Europe
and in North America

Sarah is using satellite
technology to reexamine

the Viking territories

And she's on the lookout for the
distinctive shape

of Viking longhouses

Dan has come to Sarah's lab
at the University of
Alabama, at Birminghamn

where she is putting her
technology to the test

Sarah has started her search for
Viking settlements in Scotland

With local Viking experts,

she is focusing on a promising
potential site...

The small island of Papa Stour
in the Shetland Islands

It's in an area where late
Viking artifacts

have been found, so there should
be a settlement close by

The key to Sarah's search is
high-resolution imagery

taken with satellites
400 miles above the earth

High-resolution satellite
imagery is an incredible tool

We have so many things
that are on the surface

that we can see courtesy of
a brand new satellite

called World View 3

It has a resolution of 3 meters

That's just ten inches

So if we zoom in, this one site,

we can see the most
incredible detail

We can see individual chambers,
thicknesses of walls,

and even entrances
inside the structure

So, this is just amazing
new technology

But seeing things in incredible
detail on the surface

is only part of the process

Archaeologists want to see
what lies beneath

And these satellites give them
a way to do that

with the aid of cameras that can
sense electromagnetic radiation

in a part of the spectrum
invisible to the human eye

What's amazing about satellites

is that they don't just record

in the visual part
of the light spectrum,

they record information
in the near infrared,

which is not something
that we as human beings can see

Sarah is particularly interested

in the part of the light
spectrum called "near infrared"

because it can pick up very
subtle differences

in the plants growing
on the surface...

Differences that cannot be seen
in a normal photograph

All you're seeing are
modern fields

You see field boundaries,
you see slight discolorations,

but nothing is on the surface
that gives you a hint

of what's below

But when we process the data
using the near infrared,

all the sudden we start seeing
really subtle detail

If there are remains of ancient
ruins beneath the surface,

they can have a direct effect
on the plants above

Disturbed soil
can hold moisture,

and buried stone walls can
block root growth

These can result in very subtle
differences in vegetation

invisible to our eyes but
visible in the near infrared,

which can reveal the shape of
ancient building foundations

buried underground

We can begin to see
shapes and outlines

that look a lot like longhouses

that become more pronounced
in the near infrared

So we see that, we see this
rectilinear structure here

So this shows you just how well
satellites can work in making

what is otherwise a completely
invisible world visible

Now Sarah is using her
technology to analyze fields

on the island of Papa Stour at a
modern farm called North House

And something very cool
has just come up

This is a place called
North House, in Shetland

Here we have a modern farmstead

Satellite photos clearly show
the modern structures

above the ground, but the field
to the left appears empty

When Sarah switches over
to the near infrared images,

new lines appear in the middle
of the empty field

where there were none before

Take a look at that

That is very interesting

Right on the edge of
the modern settlement

You cannot see this
at all visually

Could this dark line be the wall
of a Viking longhouse?

I'm really excited
by this potential find

This is the first time that
Sarah's satellite technology

will be used to hunt
for something Viking

Sarah contacts a team of local
archaeologists about her find

And they begin to dig
in the empty field

A few days later, Sarah is
on her way to Papa Stour

to see if the archaeologists
have found anything

under the surface

I'm hopeful we could potentially
find something Norse

I guess we'll just have
to wait and see

I can't wait
to get my hands dirty

The remote island of Papa Stour,
one of the Shetland Islands,

is very small... only three
square miles

and home to about 20 people

Finally Sarah reaches North
House, the site of the dig

Welcome to North House

Thank you!
How's it all going?

It's going quite well

Supervising the dig is local
archaeologist Rick Barton

After a few days of digging
in the spot

where the satellite picked up
a dark line,

the team has already made
a significant discovery

It looks like a wall

We've got walls


Which corresponds very nicely

with the image that you produced

That is a big wall

This is the stone foundation
of a building or an enclosure

It's strong evidence that
Sarah's technology works

to find buried ruins

But was this wall
built by the Vikings?

I've heard rumors

It's a bead, faceted

If you hold it up
to the light you can see

where the thread goes through

Oh, my gosh

That's amazing!

It's made of the semi-precious
stone carnelian

Imported from India, carnelian
beads were used in necklaces

and have been found
in other Viking sites


Well done, Tom

Well done

There is a pint
in store

Yes, a good find

I am pleased

So far, all the evidence
seems to support

the theory that this
is a Viking site


But will Val Turner,

the regional archaeologist for
the Shetlands, be convinced?

This is a great wall

Oh, lovely I like that

Really, really cool wall

So, distinct courses,
distinct layers

It's some serious wall,
that, though

That certainly looks like
it's a wall of a building

The width of it compares
very well with longhouses

that we've excavated

It kind of would fit comfortably
into that category

There is a very strong signature
in the satellite imagery

Yeah, it's excellent

I must admit,
I'm amazed, actually

I didn't know whether or not it
was going to work at all,

so to see something like this
come out of it

is much more convincing
than I expected it to be

You and me both!

In this particular place

The Shetland Islands are one of
the first places in Britain

to be settled by the Vikings

At the same time,
some Viking leaders

are no longer satisfied by
simply raiding the coastlines

They conspire to launch a whole
new level of assault

that would escalate
into full-scale conquests

What becomes known as the Great
Heathen Army invades England

and battles with
Anglo-Saxon soldiers

In the winter they huddle
together in camps

containing hundreds of warriors

According to the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,

written by Christian monks
in the 800s,

one of the largest Viking camps
is at Repton,

an important Christian
religious center

Archaeologist Martin Biddle
grew up in Repton

and started excavating its
Anglo-Saxon remains

over 40 years ago

Soon he uncovered evidence
of grim events

that unfolded here
during the invasion

It is about 30 years
since I've been up here

We've done it

I certainly wasn't as nimble
as last time

It's not easy, is it?

What a great view!

The great valley of the Trent

And we are as far from the sea
as you can get in the UK

Just about, just about, yeah

So these are not Vikings
raiding the coast,

these are Vikings with huge
armies marching right in

Nowhere is safe

Nowhere is safe

The site of the Viking camp
was lost

until Martin started to dig
40 years ago

The Viking camp here
is a horseshoe

on the south bank of the Trent

His excavations suggest
a defensive ditch

closed off by the river

The ditch is about
four meters deep,

about five meters wide
at the top

The evidence points
to a substantial camp

But the invaders don't always
have the upper hand

Below the side of the church,

Martin discovered an unusual
grave of a Viking warrior

Couldn't understand it
because he'd have three legs

Didn't have three legs... it had
two legs plus an iron sword

down his left side
in its scabbard

And we found that there was
a huge cut

in the underside

of the left part
of the top of the femur

And you can imagine somebody
going down like that

and it must have castrated him
because between his legs

we found a wild boar's tusk,

which is laid out
quite obviously as

A replacement A replacement

And round his neck he had
a necklace with some glass beads

with a silver hammer
of the god Thor

That's a Viking

The Vikings leave
their pagan mark

all over this holy
Christian center

And in the vicarage garden,
of all places,

Martin discovered something even
more shocking... a mass grave

We took photographs at every
single stage of this operation

Yes, look at that

What? Are those bones?

Those are the bones
in the eastern compartment


A layer of bones
about that thick

And they are the big bones

And they have been brought
from somewhere...

That's why the small bones
aren't there

And they were stacked

what we call charnel-wise

Like a medieval charnel house,
a bone house

A bit like that

Martin believes that these are
the bodies of war dead

carried back from raids
and battles in other places,

to be honored in secure
Viking territory

Over 260 people, 80% are male

There are mainly young adults

No children

It's a very highly
selected population

Burying their war dead in the
heart of the English countryside

suggests these Vikings
are intending to stay

They may have come to conquer
and pillage,

but the Vikings are soon
settling down

The towns they overthrow thrive
and even turn into cities

In 876 they make their capital
in York

The raiders and settlers

are becoming successful urban
traders and manufacturers

in what's been described as the
first industrial revolution

But this isn't just a Viking
success story,

it was a multicultural

Andy Woods is curator
of the Vale of York Hoard

It's fantastic, isn't it?


The pagan Vikings and the
Christian Anglo-Saxons

lived together in the city,

and this unique Viking treasure
contains a fascinating insight

into York's hybrid culture
in just one tiny object

This is a coin struck
in Viking York

and this is a St Peter's penny

So it says "the money
of St Peter" in Latin

So, very clear Christian

but also what's wonderful about
it is that it mixes that

with pagan imagery

So we have this Thor's
hammer pendant

right at the bottom here,

and then that sword running
through the center there

So what I think you have really
nicely here

is that duality
of the Vikings in York

They come from pagan
belief system

but they are ruling
over Christians

So you get a mixing of those
two images together

Happy to put both in a coin

And about the Vikings'

with the Anglo-Saxons as well

Other items in the hoard
reveal how extensive

the Viking trading networks are

We have coins that come

all the way from Uzbekistan

They were struck in Samarkand
in Uzbekistan

And if you look in Scandinavia,

we find vast quantities of these
what are known as dirhams

And so that's just
amongst the coinage

More widely here we have this
piece of ring,

probably made in the Perm region
in Russia,

and this fragment of brooch here
which is likely of Irish design

So what we can see is
you get this network

stretching right across Europe

Uzbekistan, Ireland, Russia

Yes, all on one tray

It's quite fantastic, isn't it?

And this isn't the only treasure
Viking York has produced

Andrew Jones studies another
valuable Viking product

found beneath York's streets

But what excites Andrew
isn't silver or gold

I would say that where we are
sitting now there is probably

ten meters of archaeological
deposits below our feet

and probably at least three
meters of that

is human excrement

Andrew's number one research
interest is number two

He studies ancient excrement,

which provides a wealth
of information

about people's daily lives
and habits

It tells you about diet,
what people were eating

He's brought to the tea shop a
model of his favorite specimen

This is the best-preserved piece

of ancient mineralized excrement

It's the largest
individual stool

we've ever found in Europe

The samples Andrew
has been studying

reveal the diverse and rich diet

enjoyed by the citizens
of this thriving metropolis

It's mainly cereal bran

But we've even found some
samples which have whole grains

in them that have been cooked,
a bit like a rice pudding

So we're moving
into understanding

about cooking methods,

not just ingredients,
so that's fantastic

The Vikings of York were living
off the fat of the land

In their garbage dumps, Andrew
has discovered the leftovers

from a diet rich in protein

Loads of fish,

very large numbers of birds

The big ones like these here are
goose bones

and the small ones
generally are chicken bones

Chicken bones

But we had woodcock
and lots of wild birds

So that suggests
there's a lot of food around

But the excrement Andrew
has studied

also reveals an unpleasant side
to medieval urban life

But it also had many thousands
of parasite eggs

The ascaris worms,
they bore through the gut wall

And sometimes have been known
to emerge from every orifice

of the human body, including
the corner of your eye

They're a fact of Viking life

Despite their
intestinal troubles,

the Vikings make York one of the
most important urban centers

in Western Europe, doing its
business far and wide

While Viking towns and cities
in Britain grow prosperous,

back in Scandinavia,
oppressive Viking rulers

drive more people away

Vast lands across the ocean
still lie unexplored,

and intrepid Viking sailors
set out to find new worlds

Scotland and the Faroe Islands
are stepping stones to Iceland,

which at that time
has a warmer climate

and more fertile land than today

Within 60 years,
the whole island is populated

by new settlers who farm
and live off the land

Here most of the Viking
dwellings are made of turf...

Blocks of grass and soil cut
from the ground

and stacked like bricks

Sarah Parcak has already shown
that her satellites

can help find hidden
stone structures

like the wall in
the Shetland Islands

Now, she's going to try to use
her technique to discover

new Viking sites in Iceland

But buried turf walls
are much harder

to spot from space
than stone walls

Can the satellites detect them?

Visiting Sarah is archaeologist
Doug Bolender,

an expert in the Viking
settlements in Iceland

We focused in on one area
in particular

We've got a series of fields

You've got a couple
different shades of green

but it looks
completely homogenous

Then when we started

processing the data
using the near infrared,

all of a sudden we start seeing
really interesting shapes

Once again, Sarah focuses on the
near infrared satellite data,

which picks up subtle variations

in the vegetation on the surface

The images are hard to decipher,

but it looks as though there
might be some straight lines

and right angles that could
indicate man-made structures

The size looks about right,

at least suggestive,
of something like a farmstead

Which is exciting

The only way to see if anything
is there is to excavate

Sarah and Dan are joining Doug
at the site

in Hegranes, North Iceland

This is the spot Sarah and Doug

as a potential Viking site
from the satellite imagery

They want to see if this field
really hides a settlement

To find out if there's
a wall here,

Doug's colleague Gudny Zoega has
opened up a test trench

Here in the middle of it

we actually have a wall feature,

which you indicated
on your satellite

To non-expert eyes,
it's difficult to see,

but running through the middle
of the test trench

is a mound of compact earth
that could be the remains

of a turf wall

Doug opens up a cross-section of
the wall to get a better look

You can see the striations
of the turf in here

Dark bands like this one are the
result of blocks of turf or sod

piled on top of each other

For archaeologists
like Doug and Gudny,

who have excavated dozens
of turf walls,

these are the signs of something
clearly man-made

Remarkably, the satellite data,
by picking up subtle changes

in the plants growing on
the surface, has helped find

structures buried underground,

even though they were made
of turf

So even though you can't see
this on the surface at all here,

the turf itself is
just under the surface

about ten centimeters

And so, it's, you know,
definitely affecting the plants

that are on the surface

So this little layer
of turf down here

is affecting the plants
on the surface

and that's visible from space?

400 miles in space

That's amazing

That's really crazy

We know satellite imagery
works here,

and that makes me wonder what's
left to find in North America

The Vikings thrive in Iceland,
mainly by farming and trading

The colony grows to perhaps
20,000 or more

It's here that the closest thing
we have to a Viking history book

is written in what are known
as the Icelandic sagas

The sagas themselves

go back to the ancient stories
that were told

by the Norse among themselves
in their long winter nights,

in their feast halls
and so forth

They had a wonderful
oral culture

At the height of the Viking age,
most Norse are not literate

What little writing they do is
in the Runic alphabet,

usually carved into wood,
bone, or stone

This is a culture

that had a degree of literacy...
They used runes...

But they didn't have
a book culture

They didn't have a communicated
learning through writing

Norse myths and histories alike
are passed on verbally

from generation to generation

And they created these sagas
partly in song

and partly as oral tales and
were handed down, spoken down,

for a long time, and oral
traditions generally migrate

in terms of the story

These oral traditions are
finally written down

in the 13th century by
Christian monks in Iceland,

a couple hundred years after
their ancestors convert

to Christianity

Written in the old
Norse language,

these are not eyewitness

They describe events that took
place several centuries before,

so they are not fully reliable

Still, they carry
a wealth of information

about the Viking world
as it was 1,000 years ago

So, the sagas are wonderful

They're great epics and they
tell you a lot

about the personalities
and the times

And they tell you a lot
about family life

They tell you about
the sailing directions

They are a wonderful source of
literature as well as knowledge

about Viking culture
and their history

The sagas also describe
the workings

of the Viking government
in Iceland

Dan Snow is meeting saga expert
Emily Lethbridge

at the site of Iceland's
open-air Viking parliament,


This is the site of the oldest
parliament in the world

They held their meetings in a
remarkable geological location

This is a natural fault line

We are on the point where

the North American and the
Eurasian tectonic plates meet

You and I are standing
in between Eurasia

and North America at the moment

We are... one foot
on two continents

Isn't that amazing
that the Vikings,

who were the first Eurasians
to explore North America,

ended up having
one of their parliaments

on the actual divide
between the two

According to the sagas,
each year in June,

chieftains from across Iceland
would gather here

What kind of things would be
discussed and debated

at these parliaments?

Well, decisions about feuds or
disputes between local parties

that couldn't be settled
at a local level

would be resolved here

The laws would be amended
or revised, new laws created

Sentences of outlawry would be
imposed on members of society

who had broken all of the rules

You were sent away from Iceland?

You could go anywhere else but
you couldn't set foot on Iceland

for the period
that the outlawry stood

It is this kind of exile
from Iceland that launches

perhaps the most astonishing
chapter in Viking exploration

According to the sagas,
around 982 AD,

a local Icelandic court banishes
a Viking explorer

and entrepreneur
named Eric the Red

because he had murdered
several people

One of these characters
in the sagas

who's said to have been outlawed
for a period of three years

is Eric the Red

Already banished from Norway

and now exiled from Iceland,

Eric sets sail
to uncharted waters

Outlaws for sure,

but he and his crew are also
intrepid explorers

I think they were people

who took chances and were
prepared to undergo

huge physical trials such
as sailing in open boats

across the Atlantic
to see what they could find,

not least for what could be
exploited out there

How did Vikings
like Eric the Red

manage to successfully
navigate and survive

long-distance voyages in the
treacherous North Atlantic?

To find out, Dan is onboard a
replica Viking ship, the Ottar.

The legendary oars come out
when there is no wind

or the boat is close to shore

If there is a sniff of a breeze,
they use the sail

But winching the sail
up to the top of the mast

requires strength and teamwork

Mast Free

Now you can feel we are going

so it's nice and smooth

But successful
transatlantic sailing

needs much more than a swift
and sturdy ship

The sailors have to survive
at sea for weeks at a time

What could they eat?

Captain Esben Jessen offers Dan

a traditional Viking
shipboard meal

We have a variety here
of smoked lamb

It's actually smoked
over reindeer droppings

so it has a little tang to it

Okay, here we go


That reindeer droppings are
really cutting through there

Very nice It's good

And then we have a dried cod

That I can smell
even in a big wind

Yes, it's amazing, isn't it?

It's a little chewy

Wow High in protein

I bet

It's like gnawing
on a bit of canvas

But then when you smoke it
or you dry it,

or as these two pickled herrings
here, this would actually

it could last for weeks
or months even

The Vikings' sailing
and survival skills

make them masters
of the open seas

But how do they navigate?

They are experts at using
subtle clues that tell them

where land is
even though they can't see it

Sailors call it
extended landfall

That could be everything

from the smell of the grass
or the pine trees you can smell

before you see the land

It could be forming clouds
over land

It could be sea birds
that are nesting on land

so they fly back every night
when they've been out fishing

It could be reflecting wave
from the shoreline

So, actually,
the Vikings didn't have

to hit the nail on the head

They could get to within
50 or 60 miles of an island

and then they would get clues
that would allow them to reset

and actually hit
the landfall they wanted

Yeah, exactly

We don't know for sure what
other tools or techniques

the Vikings may have used to
find their way in the open seas

But Eric the Red,
banished from Iceland,

sails west with little to lose

He sets out toward
a rumored land

and founds a new settlement

In a brilliant stroke of PR,
he names it Greenland

in an effort to entice others
to move there

the world's largest island

And today, 80% of it
is covered in ice

But what appears now
to be a desolate landscape

was home to the Vikings
for nearly 500 years

The Vikings who follow
Eric the Red

grow to a population
of around 3,000

They're able to survive
and thrive here

by farming along
the Greenland coast

They also harvest the riches of
the sea, including walrus ivory,

which they trade
with Iceland and Europe

Soon the Vikings convert
to Christianity

With Danish archaeologist
Jette Arneborg,

Dan visits the most famous
of all the Viking sites

left on Greenland...
The farmstead at Hvalsey

dominated by its church

You can see the church ruin,
which is the best preserved ruin

in the northeastern settlement

I'm so excited because I've
traveled all over the world

looking at Viking remains

and now we've finally
got something

that's above the ground;
it's a big, huge ruin

Hvalsey is the center
of a furious debate

about whether the Viking colony
in Greenland

was a success or a failure

Big churches, they were used
as kind of parish churches

This is a big, impressive

This is not the kind of thing
you're building

if you're just scratching
a survival, living week-to-week;

this shows that you're doing
all right

Yes, and that's one of
the enigmas of Norse Greenland

because this building was
built perhaps 150 years

before the whole settlement
just disappeared

This was settled
from the very beginning

and continued
for almost 500 years

And it's prospered

So it's so strange, I feel like

I'm in a very familiar
Medieval European church

What would it have been like
here at its peak?

You had one room, and we think

there might have been
a platform for the choir

A choir?

Yes, you had the choir here

Just amazing!

We're basically standing
in one of the oldest

Christian sites in the New World


This is also the place

where we have the last records
from the Norse period

Oh, really?

And we have a few letters
telling us

about an Icelandic couple

who were married in this church
in 1408

So the last written piece
of evidence we have

for the whole of settlement
in Greenland

relates to this very spot

Relates to this very spot

I guess they were standing
right here getting married

During cold climate spells,
farming is difficult here,

so the Vikings adapt
by hunting seal

But eventually, they abandon
their settlements in Greenland

I think seal was supplementing
the farming,

but the day when you couldn't
farm any more,

if you suddenly could survive
totally on seal,

it was another society,

and perhaps they simply
didn't want another society

It was a natural development
that the population,

the number of people
simply decreased

It wasn't a failure

No, I think it was a success
because those people,

they came up here
and they stayed for 500 years

where they had good lives
up here

Not only is Greenland
a Viking colony for 500 years,

but according to the sagas,
it serves as a launching point

for the most epic adventures
of all

It starts when the son
of Eric the Red, Leif Ericson,

is blown off course in a storm
in the seas west of Greenland

"L tr Leifr í haf
ok er lengi úti"

He's at sea
for quite a long time

Leifr sights new lands

that he had no reason to know

that these lands existed

The sagas describe in detail
Leif's trip

and the different landscapes
he discovers

along a mysterious new coastline

For years, archaeologists
and historians speculated that

this coastline was
in North America,

and they tried to match
the sagas' descriptions

to the geography we see today

Leifr, he's sailing south

down along the coast

and he's describing
the different landscapes

They sail past, first of all,
a land they call Helluland:

the land of stone slabs

Helluland seems to some experts

to match what is now Canada's
Baffin Island

And then they come to a part
of the country

that's very heavily wooded
and they give the name Markland,

or forested land,
to that part of the country

Markland could correspond
to today's Labrador

Further south,
according to the sagas,

Leif sends scouts ashore
to explore the new land,

and they bring wild grape vines
back to the ship

So they name this place Vinland

And they come back,

one of them with a handful
of self-sown wheat

and the other with a vine
in their hand

Wild vines, is that where they
get the name Vinland from?

That's one interpretation, yes,

the land of wild grapes
and vines

Some experts thought
that Vinland could be

what is now Newfoundland

and the coast around
the Gulf of St Lawrence

So that's how,

according to this saga,

North America was discovered

So this is hundreds of years
before Christopher Columbus,

here it is
in this manuscript right here

But no one knew for sure
if the stories were true

without archaeological evidence

All that changed in 1960
when, after years of searching,

archaeologists made
a remarkable find

at the northern tip
of Newfoundland,

in a place called
L'Anse aux Meadows

Sarah is on her way
to L'Anse Aux Meadows

to see the only confirmed Viking
settlement in North America

She wants to find out

what kinds of traces the Vikings
left behind here

in the hope that she might
discover new sites

along the coastline

Approaching the site by boat
just as the Vikings would have,

Sarah is struck by the sheer
beauty of the place

As well as the extreme obstacles
the Vikings faced

I can't even imagine
being a Viking in a boat

and sailing by icebergs
the size of a mountain

It gives you a sense of just how
intrepid and brave they were,

seeking new worlds

Reaching L'Anse aux Meadows,

Sarah meets up
with one of the leading experts

of Viking Archaeology
in North America:

Birgitta Wallace

Hello, Birgitta!

Well, hello, Sarah!

It's such a pleasure to meet you

Oh, and nice to meet you

May I ask you
for a tour of the site?


Birgitta was one of
the excavators here in the 1960s

when archaeologists announced
to the world

their incredible discoveries,

overturning the early history
of North America

There are eight buildings
on this site,

and they are divided
into four complexes

Today, all that remains
are these mounds

which represent the collapsed
and buried walls

of the buildings

The original structures
were made of turf,

and their size suggests
up to 90 people

could have lived here

Some buildings had
special functions

This is one

It consists of a smelting
furnace for iron

In this depression, they found
the remains of a furnace

which was excavated in the 1960s

and later covered up
to protect it

It was built exactly like
Viking furnaces found in Europe:

a small circular stone kiln
lined with clay

It would have been sheltered
in a turf hut like this one

Birgitta also found slag,

the by-product
of iron production

We collected
practically all slag

Evidence of ironworking
is one of the key elements

that identifies the site
as Norse

The native peoples
of this region

didn't know how to produce iron

from iron ore
naturally found in rocks

So it's possible that
in a small hut here,

the first iron was manufactured
in the New World

And there was more evidence

that metalwork had taken place
in L'Anse aux Meadows

There were almost
100 nail fragments

found in different places
on the site

Whenever you find nails

which have been cut
and discarded

in any kind of concentration,

it has to do with boat repair,
both Norway and Iceland

There was only a very small
quantity of iron produced

at L'Anse aux Meadows,

and it was most likely used to
make new nails to repair boats

The Vikings were master

They had to be

It took thousands of nails
to build even one Viking ship

They used about 7,000
for the biggest ship

Blacksmith Jonas Bigler

is an expert in using
Viking techniques

If you'll take a go?

I'll do it

And like his predecessors,

he can make a Viking nail
in less than a minute

Each nail is made
from a long stick of iron

The end is placed
into a small clay furnace

heated with charcoal and bellows

to a temperature of
over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit

Okay, go for it

The key to making a good nail

is hammering it
while it is red hot and soft

It cools off pretty fast,
doesn't it?


We also have something we say:

we have to bash
when the iron sheet is warm


In English, we say "strike
while the iron is hot"


Now we cut it

There you go!

Then he reheats the nail
before shaping the head

Now it's really hot again

I make the head

The final step:
rust-proofing the iron nail

to protect it
from the salty seas

So, I have some oil

and I put it down there
and get back to the fire


It make the kind of coating

so as not to rust so easy

Oh, really?

The Viking way of life,
so dependent on ships,

relied on ironwork
and the production of nails

So it's no surprise that
the camp at L'Anse aux Meadows

had a blacksmith's furnace

In addition
to the work buildings,

the archaeologists uncovered
three types

of residential structures
all made out of turf

The largest buildings were
the big longhouses

Each was divided
into two main rooms

lined with wooden walls,

one bigger with benches
along the side

and an open fire burning
on the floor,

and a second smaller room

The leader of the expedition
would have lived here

with his wife
and close associates

Next to the big longhouse,
there was a smaller building,

the home of workers such as
carpenters and blacksmiths

Other smaller huts
were probably used by slaves

Sarah wants to examine

the modern reconstructions
of the buildings

It will help her understand
what she should look for

as she uses
her satellite technology

to hunt for a possible new
Viking site in North America

This is fantastic

This is the first time I've seen
turf houses in person,

so I'm just looking
at the layout of the turf

on each of the houses and sheds

These are solid buildings

with walls
up to six-and-a-half feet thick,

which would have provided
good shelter even in winter

I can't even imagine
how cold this place is

or would have been in the winter

And you have to think
that these thick walls

would have been absolutely
perfect natural insulation

And the nice thing about turf is

you can get any piece of turf
to fit together

It's like all-natural Lego

The huge turf buildings
reveal much

about how the Vikings lived
in L'Anse aux Meadows

But it's the discovery
of three tiny objects

that is most significant
to Birgitta

The most exciting find

was the finding
of three butternuts

Butternuts, a kind of walnut,

don't grow naturally
in this area,

and they didn't
a thousand years ago

In fact, butternuts only grow

several hundred miles
to the southwest

in today's New Brunswick
and Quebec

And that led
to an amazing revelation

So, it really told us that
the Norse who were here

had also been farther south,

at least as far south
as New Brunswick,

perhaps farther yet...

For instance,
into the St Lawrence to Quebec

The really interesting part
with the butternuts

was that they grow
in exactly the same areas

as wild grapes in New Brunswick

And to us, that proves that,

yes, they had really observed
wild grapes

and named the country after it:

Vinland, land of vines,
was the legendary place

described in the Viking sagas
because wild grapes grew there

The butternuts found
among the Viking ruins

at L'Anse aux Meadows
are strong evidence

that the Norse sailors

really had traveled
far south of this spot

to a place where butternuts
and wild grapes could grow

And in fact,

the sagas don't just describe
one settlement in Vinland

They sail south to a place
that they call Hope,

and this is incredibly rich

and absolutely teeming
with wildlife

"They sailed into the estuary
and named the place Hope

"Here they found wild wheat
growing in fields

"on all the low ground

"and grape vines
on all the higher ground

"They had built their settlement
on a slope by the lakeside

"Some of the houses
were close to the lake,

"and others were farther away

They stayed there that winter"

The location of Hope,
a settlement farther south,

remains unknown

So what does it say about
their other stories in here?

I mean, there must be a lot more
to find out in North America

There could well be,
because the sagas describe

not only these guys
stopping off in one place,

but stopping off
in a number of places,

and they were there
for several years

They had a whole new world
to explore

So, there may be some
archaeology out there?

There may be some archaeology
out there

Can another Viking settlement
be found in North America

perhaps south
of L'Anse aux Meadows,

where the butternuts
may have come from?

Hundreds of sites had been found
that people thought were Norse,

and when they start to examine
them further, they're not

So I thought
it was an absolute miracle

that one really was Norse

But it would be really nice

if they could find more evidence

Can Sarah find that evidence?

Can she locate
another Viking site here?

Back in the lab in Alabama,

Sarah scrutinizes
the satellite data

We've really been focusing
our efforts

on the eastern seaboard
of Canada

If you find something

on the eastern seaboard
of Canada, that would be huge

You know, over the last
couple of months,

we spent a lot of time looking
along the entire Labrador coast

We looked up every single river,

tens and tens of thousands
of square kilometers

We've looked in Quebec,

we've even looked
along the coastline of Maine

into Massachusetts

So we've looked everywhere

And from that analysis,

this very interesting site
appeared in Newfoundland

Sarah focuses on a site
in southwest Newfoundland,

an area known as Point Rosee

So when we were doing
initial processing,

all I saw was a dark stain

You can see this slightly
darker area right here

That's all I saw


And I almost discarded it

But when we processed
that imagery

When Sarah looks
at the near-infrared image

from the satellite,

new and potentially intriguing
patterns emerge

That rectilinear structure shows
up very clearly here

You can see the outline

of what looks like a longhouse
better here,

but you can see
actual internal divisions

It's 22 meters long
and seven meters wide...

The exact same size

as the longhouses
at L'Anse aux Meadows

This is the first site
we've had in 55 years

that merits closer examination
and excavation

because, I mean,

its size, its shape, the fact
that the soil's different,

the fact that there are

these clear rectilinear
and oval structures,

I mean, it screams,
"Please excavate me!"

If this turns out to be a site
built by the Norse

during their early explorations
of the New World,

it would be
the farthest known point

of the entire Viking expansion

But is there really
anything there?

Are these the remains
of ancient Viking buildings?

Or are the patterns of light
and dark simply natural,

caused by variations
in the local geology?

Viking specialist Doug Bolender
will be working with Sarah

He's spent 15 years studying
and excavating Viking sites

in Iceland

He is skeptical that
the technology will work here

I mean, it could be a small,
raised section of rock or sand

As human beings,

we are basically made
to recognize patterns,

and not only are we really good
at recognizing patterns,

we are really good
at making them up

So we can see often
what we want to see

You can certainly look
and say, you know,

that looks like a rectangle,
it looks like a structure,

but many of the things that look
like buildings in this image

do seem to match patchiness
in the geology,

and about those,
I'm extremely suspicious

With what we've seen
on the satellite imagery,

you know,
it looks very suggestive

We've studied dozens of examples
of known Norse sites

But we can't be absolutely sure
until we go on the ground,

and what we do is called

That literally means
we are confirming whether or not

what we've seen from space
is actually on the ground,

and it's an essential thing
you have to do

before you start excavation

Before Sarah can start digging,
she has to convince

the Canadian authorities
to give her permission

Step one is noninvasive surveys

So we have to go out
on the ground

and use a magnetometer

to measure what might be buried
beneath the ground

One of Sarah's team members

heads to Point Rosee
in Newfoundland

Dave Gathings will
survey the same field

where the satellite picked up
the intriguing patterns

using a magnetometer

This device detects
subtle differences

in the magnetism of the earth

It can reveal disturbances
in the soil

caused by burning, digging,
or the presence of metals

All a magnetometer is,

it's a tool to measure
differences in magnetism,

so really if there's burning
or some kind of buried metal,

it's gonna pick it up

Dave criss-crosses the field

You set up a grid pattern

I usually do 20 by 20 meters

because it's easier
to remember your pace

I have to go back and forth

In this case, I have it set
to do one-meter intervals

and to take a sample
every half meter

And once you have
all the grids measured,

mosaic it together and see
what kind of pictures you have

It'll tell you what was here

When the magnetometer readings
have been processed,

Sarah has more information about
what lies beneath the surface

to compare with her
satellite results

So we've had some really
exciting results

back from the magnetometer
survey at Point Rosee

We have this really interesting
hotspot here

The survey picks up
several hotspots,

some very close
to the dark patterns

that showed up
in the satellite images,

which Sarah thinks might be
the traces of Viking walls

In the northern part
of the image,

we had what looks like potential
architectural features,

and what's amazing is that
this matches up perfectly

with what we've seen
from the magnetometer survey

So now I'm convinced that
this is a site,

and we absolutely have got
to get back to Point Rosee

to excavate

The presence
of magnetic hotspots

combined with the intriguing
shapes on the satellite images

are enough to convince
the Canadian authorities

to grant permission
for Sarah to excavate

After months of research
in her lab,

Sarah will be able to see

what actually lies
beneath the surface

I am walking to Point Rosee
for the first time

after many, many months
of looking at satellite imagery

This is actually
one of the first times

where I'm visiting a site
where I've processed the data,

but I've never even been to
a site remotely like it before

The site of Point Rosee
is isolated

It's an hour's trek
from the nearest road,

on the exposed west-facing
headland of Newfoundland

I really had no idea
it would be this beautiful

Absolutely no idea at all

This whole area has rivers
and lakes full of fresh water

There is plenty of food and wood
in the forests

Just look at those cliff drops!

Being so close to the sea,

this area could easily have been
accessed by Vikings

traveling by boat

The number one thing
that you have to look for

when you're looking for Viking
sites would be beaches,

because where else are they
going to land their ships?

And this particular site
has multiple beaches

It has this one
on which we're standing

It's a bit rocky,
but not terrible access

if they want to pull
their ships up

Sarah and her team

have been given 14 days
by the Canadian authorities

to try to find archaeological
proof in Point Rosee

The site lies in the middle
of a thin peninsula

and is relatively flat

It's fully exposed
to the Atlantic Ocean

One more.

Before the dig can start,

the site needs to be surveyed
and accurately measured

Two more centimeters.

30 centimeters too far.


The whole site is divided
into precise grids

I'm on 15 3!

That allows the team
to match the satellite images

to the corresponding areas
on the ground

Guided by the magnetometer data
and satellite imagery

I'll be coming
through the middle

of what looks like
a separate chamber

the team chooses the best
places to open test trenches

I want to make sure
I hit the end right there

That way, they can see
what's actually underneath

Okay, let's do it

Here we go

Oh man, the roots
are really thick

It's going to be fun

That looks pretty wet

You can just see how muddy it is

And there's just tons,
I mean, tons of roots,

all roots running down

It's going to be
a full body workout

Day three

It takes two days
just to dig the test trenches,

and so far,
nothing has been found

Sarah and Canadian archaeologist
Fred Schwarz

are opening another trench

It's difficult digging for sure

This is an area where
the satellite imagery

showed an intriguing
L-shaped feature


Pretty brutal

Only a few inches
below the surface,

Fred spots something


Ooh, I like that!

Oh yeah, I like that

It's sand, it's very sandy,
it's yellowish gray

But it's always nice
when you get

a more or less flat
continuous deposit

We've got this dark
peaty material here,

then we've got a grey
sandy silt underneath

We also find

this rusty red-brown
sand gravel as well

And that does not seem to be

in the sort of stratigraphic
position you might expect

for a natural horizon,
so we'll have to clean this up

and see what the profile
looks like,

but there could be something
interesting going on here

I really like that we're getting
these level differences

The team is trying
to find traces

of 1,000-year-old
Viking buildings,

most likely made of turf or sod

Even subtle signs like this

that the ground has been
artificially disturbed

could be important

They need to keep digging

Day five

Two days later, Fred makes
an even more exciting find

Well, it's interesting

We have quite a large boulder

It's cracked

It's quite possible that
it's fire-cracked,

and it takes a pretty serious
amount of heat

to crack a boulder this size

This stone looks like it could
have been cracked by fire

Since only
very high temperatures

would have been able
to split this stone,

could this be evidence
of a hearth

or even a furnace
for ironworking?

The fact that it's cracked,

it suggests that there's
a lot of heat

being built up at some point
in the past,

right alongside it

If this were a Viking furnace,

then there should also be traces
of metal here, too

Dave runs the magnetometer
to find out

It's still climbing

Well, it's settling around 1,100

Yeah, right in that
little puddle

right in the corner, right there

It's 900 to 1,100

It's still reading, like, twos
over here

Yeah, real high


The magnetometer picks up
readings relatively high

compared to the surrounding area

This suggests that
there could be

dense amounts of metal
in the soil

or remnants of a fire

They need more evidence
to find out

if this could have been
a Viking hearth or furnace

Day eight

Continuing the search
won't be easy

Ah, that is waterlogged

The weather is against them

It poured last night,

and the trench is filled
with water

As Sarah carefully
peels away the layers

around the cracked stone,
she finds something intriguing

Oh, that's a very
heavy stone right here

Actually got a little bit
missing, and there's bubbling

That's classic slag,
and what slag is

is a by-product
of metal production

If Sarah is right
and this really is slag,

it would indicate that metal
was once produced here

A thousand years ago,
the Vikings

had a very distinctive method
for producing iron

They started with rock
like this sample from Iceland,

known as bog iron ore, which
contains tiny iron deposits

The Vikings first roasted
this bog iron ore

over an open fire
to remove water and impurities

Then they smelted the ore

in an even hotter furnace
over charcoal

to separate the iron
from the rock

The waste material from this
smelting process is slag...

A stony material
with a spongy appearance

Sarah is convinced that

what she's found in the ground
at Point Rosee is slag

But is it?

To find out, the samples
will have to be tested

Day 11

Meanwhile, the team continues
hunting for evidence

They have only
four more days left

before their permit runs out

Sarah uncovers a tiny object
in the trench

So, right there

Now that's very exciting

It looks like a concretion,
a head of a nail or something

Potential evidence
of worked material

I mean, a concretion
with a hollow in it like that

There should be other bits

So this looks like
metalworking by-product

It looks like it could
potentially have come

from the head of a nail

You can see how thin
the walls are

It's very light

It's even a bit broken

It almost looks like
the head of a nail

could have gone in there

Meticulously sifting through
the soil from the trenches,

they're finding more samples

that Sarah thinks could indicate

That's why sieving
is so important:

because these are things
that you miss

when they're covered
in muck and mud

And we found this just now

That's awesome!

It's got a really good
weight to it

A very good sign

They have plenty of samples
to test for metalworking

But now the team really wants
to find something organic,

like wood, bone, or seeds,

so they can try to date the site

Day 13

With only two more days left,
the team at Point Rosee

concentrates its efforts
in the trench

where they found evidence
of possible metal production


When Sarah uncovers
something else

Yeah, that looks like ash

It's waterlogged,
but it's definitely

not the same material
on the other side

In the same trench
as the fire-cracked stone,

they find what appears to be
a layer of ash

Oh, yeah

I like

It looks like a clear ash layer

That's a good sign

Oh, look at that

It's compacted

Hey Greg, I think we might
have our first floor

According to our expert
Doug Bolender,

in Norse structures, there would
usually be a dense layer of ash

that would indicate
a floor layer

It's compacted,
a dense layer of compact ash,

and that's exactly
what we have here,

so it's a great sign

The question I guess is
what's under the ash layer?

Flat rock?

There's flat rock
right in the middle of it

Oh yeah, there's more,
looks like there's more rock

Beneath the ash, Sarah feels
a layer of flat stones

Ash and stones
could be more evidence

indicating a man-made hearth
or furnace

We're finding flat stones,
and in general,

things don't appear flat-lying
in nature

We're clearly
in a cultural area,

so it means that we're dealing
with an interior of a structure

So, very exciting!

To confirm they are
in a "cultural area,"

or one where people lived,

the team collects samples
from the ash layer

to be analyzed later in the lab

And they continue

to meticulously sift
through the soil,

trying to find organic material

that could be used
to date this site


Sarah has spotted something
in the bucket

That's a good sign
that it's floating

It's hard on the outside

Looks like a seed

If this is a seed,
it's our first thing

that we could do
radiocarbon dating

Later, the team finds
two more seeds

These can be carbon dated,

which may provide an approximate
date for the site

Day 14

It's the last day of the dig
at Point Rosee

Sarah wants to show
what the team has discovered

to Viking expert Doug Bolender

He's worked extensively
on Norse sites in Iceland,

but this is his first time
in Newfoundland

It's that weird mix

of being extremely excited
about the possibility

and extremely skeptical
about actually finding something

that's going to change the way
that we understand

what the Norse were doing
in North America

And you know, you don't get
that moment very often

to walk out into a place

that has the potential
to change history

This is what showed up

That set off the mag
like you wouldn't believe

First, we hit this rock

We didn't know that it was
fire-cracked at first

just because it was
so covered in muck

With the fire-cracked rock,

the layer of what appears
to be ash,

and other disturbed layers
of soil,

Doug thinks Sarah
could be on to something

These are the kinds of features
that you often see

for ironworking
within Norse context

What I'm really curious
about is, is this it?

Is this an isolated feature?

Sarah points out
on the satellite imagery

where there are signs
of possible walls

It looks like there's
another feature if this is it,

because it looks like
there's an additional

rectilinear feature
on the interior,

and I wonder
if that's our stone here

and that's our line of stones

Doug helps to open up the trench
a bit more

He has a lot of experience
excavating Viking turf walls,

which can be difficult to spot

Dan Snow has also
joined the team

to see what they've uncovered

We opened this up specifically

because the remote sensing
imagery had suggested that

between these two units
just to the edge of the stone,

there should actually be a wall

We opened it up,
and indeed it looks like

there is a great deal
of structure

There's banding

What are these black bands here?

Well, what this looks like is

it looks like turf blocks

that have been put and cut
and placed here

For Doug, the series
of dark bands in the soil here

closely resembles bands
he's seen in Viking turf walls

excavated in Iceland

Someone's made a wall
using turf?

That is what it looks like

Who would do a thing like that?

Dun dun dun!

You've dug turf walls

all over the North
Atlantic, right?

Lots of turf walls

Lots of Viking turf walls

Do they look like this?

Well, actually,
they look similar to this

and that is what

we need to do a little bit
more digging to figure out

Whatever it is you picked up
on the remote sensing,

you picked up something
that's actually here

I'm having a lot of trouble
making it a geological anomaly

Is this strong enough evidence
to convince Doug

that this is a true Viking site
in North America,

the first one discovered
in over 50 years?

Right now, the simplest answer

is that it looks like
what it looks like,

which would be
a small activity area,

maybe connected to a larger farm
that's Norse

You have to explain that away

If we were in Iceland,

I wouldn't think twice
about what was happening here

The thing that really
makes you pause,

the thing that really
makes you want to check

every last little bit of it
is that it's in Newfoundland

I am just thrilled having
a Norse specialist here

say that the turf wall
that we found

just in the area
where the satellite images

showed it should be was there,

and he said
it looks like Norse turf

In order to be sure that
the site is Viking,

the team needs to run tests

on the artifacts
they've gathered

The samples found
around the cracked rock

will undergo analysis
for metal composition

to see if they really are slag...

The remnants of Viking metalwork

And radiocarbon dating
will be done

on the seeds or berries
that Sarah found

in an effort to confirm
that the site dates

to the Viking period...
A thousand years ago

These are the first results
to come back

Sarah and Dan are about to see
them for the first time

You know, we've been working
almost a year

on processing all this data,

and we've spent a month
in the field,

so I've actually been having
trouble sleeping

the last couple of nights

because I know
the radiocarbon results are in

and I'm about to find out
one way or the other

Hey Dan, what's going on?

Just waiting

The waiting game

I'm feeling a little nervous

How are you doing?

I'm very nervous

It's funny, like,
if the dates are good,

I'll be happy, you know,
and if they're really off,

there are more questions
than answers

Yeah, if they're bang-on,
it would be amazing

It would just be really good

to have the dates work out

That's good

So are you ready?

Okay, let's do it

Here we go

It's a lot more recent

Yeah, it says 1600s, 1800s

Which makes no sense
given what we have

I mean, there's no way
that this is a modern site

You saw the conditions
at that site


You know, lots of mixing,

lots of potential
later intrusions,

especially with the amount
of water that was there

That berry

Those berries were not from
a particularly strong context


So the seeds could have just
drifted down through the layers

over the years

Yeah, or you know,
things could have been exposed

But the reality is

those dates don't match
the archaeology at all

The seeds seem to date

to sometime
around the 18th century,

during the colonial period
of North America,

at least 700 years
after the Vikings had arrived

Could the structures on
Point Rosee be from this time?

The presence of turf walls

doesn't match the kind
of buildings

commonly constructed
during the colonial period,

which were usually made
of wood or stone

What's more, if the site does
date to historic colonial times,

then the archaeologists
would expect to find

other objects from that period

We did not find
one single bit of evidence

for this site being historic...
No glass, no pottery, nothing

And we've opened up
five trenches

in five separate parts
of the site

So you'd think
if this site were historic,

we would have found one thing

Like Sarah, Viking expert
Doug Bolender

is not discouraged by the
radiocarbon dating results

I've actually always been
very skeptical

about the potential
for radiocarbon on the site

The seeds,
they are coming out of material

that's sort of at the upper
levels of this feature

If the structures underneath
are Viking,

then it would be natural
for lots of plants

to have grown on top
over the centuries,

and that could explain berries
or seeds from a much later date

If it really is
from the Viking age,

it is a thousand years of time
for other stuff to accumulate

The radiocarbon dates
are inconclusive

The archaeologists
still don't know for sure

if the site on Point Rosee
is Viking

And they have to rule out
every other possibility,

including the chance that
the structures are remains

from a Native American culture

In the last several centuries,
Newfoundland has been home

to at least two
Native American tribes:

the Beothuk and the Micmaq

And their ancestors
could have been here

hundreds of years before

We know that native peoples
were here

even a thousand years ago

because the Vikings themselves
reported meeting them

The Viking sagas tell us that

when they were exploring

they encountered other people,
whom they called "skraeling"

As soon as they arrived there,
they discovered,

unlike Greenland,
that they were not alone

There were other people here

These lands may have been new
to the Vikings,

but they were already home
to Native Americans

These Native Americans at first
are not aggressive or hostile,

and the two parties trade

are particularly delighted

by the milk products
the would-be settlers

of North America produce
for them

But then the relations
turn hostile

The sagas tell of battles

with the native people
already living along the coast,

who outnumber the Vikings

In fact, the sagas say
this is the reason that

the Viking explorers
do not stay in North America

In the end, it was the native
people who won out

They, in a sense, repulsed
the Viking settlements,

and the last voyage to Vinland
ends with folks saying,

"Well, it's a wonderful place,

but it's already occupied
by people who can defend it"

According to the sagas,

the Vikings make four
separate trips to Vinland,

exploring the coast and building
at least one other settlement

Now archaeologists want to know

if the site
they've been excavating

in southern Newfoundland
at Point Rosee

could be one of those
Viking settlements

Or is it the remains
of a Native American culture?

So far, nothing establishes it
definitively as Viking,

but the metal analysis
could provide important clues

because Native Americans
did not smelt iron,

but the Vikings did

Can the next set of tests reveal

whether or not Point Rosee
is a Viking site?

Ancient metallurgy expert
Tom Birch is going to analyze

the possible metal samples
from Point Rosee

First, he cuts the samples open
so he can look inside

We've got two shiny inclusions,

and if we look
on the opposing face

from where we've just cut it,
I can see them here as well

They match up perfectly

So let's check
under the microscope

Helped by microscopy technician
John Still,

Tom looks at all the samples

using a scanning electron

This microscope uses
a beam of electrons

to produce an image
much higher in magnification

than a conventional
optical microscope

What we have here, John,

is the sample

which we suspect is a lump
of smithying slag

So we can see we've got a lot
of quite bright material,

probably iron hydroxide

The different levels
of brightness of the image

reflect the difference in
composition within the sample

We also have these dark features

It looks like
it's mostly quartz,

a natural mineral

Each area is then analyzed
for its chemical composition

using an energy dispersive

Here's the spectrum

Okay, and what do we have?

We have a lot of manganese,
iron, calcium, some aluminum

Each of these elements
is then quantified

to give an accurate composition
of the entire sample

That sounds good, yeah

Finally, the analysis is done

and it's time for Sarah and Dan
to get the results

When we set out
to do this project work,

our basic hypothesis was that
we wouldn't find anything

And I think we've proven
ourselves wrong

But now I really want the site
to be Norse,

because I don't know
what else it could be

Well, some of the leads we had
didn't turn out like we hoped

I don't think we still have
the evidence that we need

to go to the world and say there
were Vikings on Point Rosee

in Newfoundland

So a lot of it has come down
to today

This is a high-pressure

We analyzed this item,

which you suspected to be
a metal object,

and me too, from its weight

And then we also analyzed
some hammerscale,

these small fragments

And then the last thing
we analyzed

were these lumps of slag

Now, I took this
to the geologists,

and when we cut a sample
from it,

there were some very bright,
shiny inclusions

which I thought were remnants
of metal

But actually,

this is a stone

Welcome to archaeology!

Exactly, yeah

But this isn't any old stone

This is over a billion
years old, basically

So hang on

This, one of our prized objects,
is a stone

It's a billion years old,
that's nice,

but it doesn't tell us anything

What else have you got?

The hammerscale
isn't hammerscale

These are little bits
of iron oxide

So our second vital clue
turns out to be nothing as well

It's natural

I was fooled

So we are zero for two
at the moment

You feeling nervous, Sarah?

No, I'm not

Well, I am

That only leaves
what Sarah thought was slag...

The waste product
from the metal refining process

The smithying slag
isn't smithying slag


But it is bog ore,
bog iron ore, okay?

And there are some very
interesting things about it


This has been collected
and this has been roasted

to drive off the impurities

So this is evidence
for metalworking

This is evidence

for metallurgy


All right, it's good

So, what we thought was a hearth

It's a roasting fire

Now, the only reason

you roast ore

is to later extract iron from it

Sarah, this is pretty exciting,

Because we've talked
to historians who say

nobody else was making metals
on this coast ever

in the whole of history
apart from the Vikings

That sounds good to me

So it's gotta be Viking

At the end of the day,

we're at a place where the most
likely of the explanations

is that this is a Norse site,
probably from the Viking age

The results are encouraging

What started with faint outlines
revealed by satellite imaging

and supported by evidence
on the ground...

Signs of turf walls,

stone cracked by hot fires,

and now the remnants

of what appears to be
Viking iron processing...

All support the idea that
a thousand years ago,

Point Rosee was a Viking site
right here in North America

This is not a land where
butternuts or wild grapes grow,

but along
with L'Anse aux Meadows,

this could have been
another settlement

on the way to Vinland,

the mythical place the Vikings
described in their sagas

The story of Point Rosee
is not over

Much more research
will need to be done

It could take years to excavate
and analyze the findings

But this could be the beginning

of an exciting period
of discovery

revealing new insights

into the remarkable journeys
of the Vikings,

whom we now know were
the first Europeans to set foot

in North America,
500 years before Columbus

The thing that's amazing here

is to actually be
in a moment of discovery

and something that's, you know,
brought people together,

experts throughout the Norse
world and far beyond that

Typically in archaeology,

you only ever get to write
a footnote in the history books,

but what we seem to have
at Point Rosee

may be the beginning
of an entirely new chapter