Norse matches The two jasper artifacts were key pieces of evidence that helped the researchers unravel the existence of the voyage.
The larger, and more recently excavated of the two, was found in 2008, only 33 feet (10 meters) away from an ancient Norse hall. The discovery was made by Priscilla Renouf, a professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Todd Kristensen, who is now a graduate student at the University of Alberta.
"You can think of these almost as the matches of the Vikings," Smith said. The Norse would have struck them against a steel fire starter to make sparks to start a fire, he explained. As time passed, and after being struck against steel repeatedly, the jasper fire starters wore down and were thrown out.
The chemical composition of jasper varies depending on where it was obtained. To figure out where the larger jasper fire starter came from, Smith, Thomas Urban of Oxford University, and Susan Herringer of Brown University's Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World looked for the outcrops in the New (or Old) World chemically matched it. They compared the fire starter with geological samples using a handheld X-ray florescence device that can detect the chemical signature of jasper.
The results suggested the jasper originated from the area of Notre Dame Bay, somewhere along a 44-mile-long (71 km) stretch of the coast. The closest chemical match was to a geological sample from modern-day Fortune Harbor.
The second, smaller jasper piece was unearthed in the 1960s in excavations carried out by Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, who discovered L'Anse aux Meadows. Different tests run on this piece suggested in 1999 that it also came from the Notre Dame Bay area. At the time Smith couldn't prove it was used as a fire starter, but now believes it likely is.
Exploring the New World Ever since the discovery of L'Anse aux Meadows nearly 50 years ago, archaeologists and historians have been trying to uncover the story of Norse exploration in the New World.
Previous research has revealed the presence of butternut seeds at L'Anse aux Meadows, indicating the Norse made a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence or possibly even a bit beyond. Additionally, Norse artifacts (and possibly a structure) have been discovered in the Canadian Arctic, indicating a trading relationship with the indigenous people there that might have lasted for centuries.
However, the Norse exploration outpost at L'Anse aux Meadows was in operation for no more than 10 to 25 years, archaeological evidence suggests. In fact, according to medieval Norse stories, the outpost may have been in use for just two to three years, and perhaps only seasonally, before being abandoned.
The new research, Smith said, has demonstrated there is still much to learn about Norse exploration in the New World.
"It's provocative," he said. "It's interesting to think about where this goes."
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