Icelandic sagas spoke of Norse exploration of North America, tales that gained credibility with researchers in 1960, when explorers discovered a small Norse settlement in Newfoundland.
Now, satellite data suggest that Norse exploration and settlement of the New World was far more extensive than previously thought.
On Thursday, a space archaeologist announced a new discovery: a possible second Norse settlement in North America. This one is much farther west than experts previously believed Viking explorers traveled, and its location, at a site dubbed Point Rosee, would have made it a perfect way station for further exploration into the continent.
If confirmed, the discovery could launch a new wave of research as archaeologists search for more hidden settlements.
"I am absolutely thrilled," Sarah Parcak, the archaeologist who discovered the settlement, told the BBC. "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."
Beginning in the 8th century, the Vikings expanded from their Scandinavian homeland, raiding cities and towns in Europe and establishing trade routes. According to the Íslendingasögur saga, Leif Eriksson founded a settlement in North America, which he named "Vinland."
Far removed from any modern roads or towns, Point Rosee lies on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, roughly 300 miles away from L’Anse aux Meadows, the first Norse settlement found.
The contents of the Point Rosee site are not definitively Norse. In fact, there aren't many contents at all, Norse or otherwise. The site mainly yielded cracked stones and other small remains, but Parcak believes what is there points to a Norse origin for the settlement.
The site showed evidence of ironwork, which was extremely rare for the indigenous people of the area, and the remains of turf walls constructed in Viking style. With no evidence suggesting later European colonists settled the site, there are few other plausible origins of the settlement.
"Either it's … an entirely new culture that looks exactly like the Norse and we don’t know what it is," Dr. Parcak told The Washington Post. "Or it's the westernmost Norse site that’s ever been discovered."
Parcak gained fame for crowdsourcing analysis of satellite data to help prevent looting in Egypt, The Christian Science Monitor’s Lucy Schouten reported in February. She took these same skills to North America in partnership with PBS Nova for this project.
Among the many potential exploration sites, Point Rosee stood out. Patterns on the ground had dimensions that mirrored the longhouses Vikings constructed in other settlements, according to the Post.
"What's amazing about satellites is that they don't just record information in the visual part of the light spectrum, but when we process the data all the sudden we start seeing really subtle detail," Parcak says in the PBS special.
Confirming the site's origin will require excavation by hand, a process that could take years.
The two-hour program, "Vikings Unearthed," premières online on Monday, April 4, and airs on television Wednesday, April 6.