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VIKINGS, SOLAR STORMS, AND TREE RINGS

THESE TIDBITS ARE LESS about a scientific finding and more about fascinating methodology involved in the research. 

“Viking Presence is 1000 Years Old” reads a headline in the News section of Science, October 22, 2021. “In the 1960s,” it notes, “scientists discovered what is still the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. But researchers couldn’t determine exactly when the Norse had lived there.”

Vikings built structures at L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada like this reconstructed example. Image from Science, October 22, 2021. 

Radiocarbon Dating. One archaeological timepiece is radiocarbon dating: Carbon-12 and carbon-14 are both present in organic matter. However, carbon-14 decays and is not replaced. Thus, it’s possible to estimate the age of an artifact by measuring the ratio of these two isotopes contained in it.

Of L’Anse aux Meadows’ age, Science reports, “Radiocarbon dating of artifacts suggested it was within a 275-year window starting in the 790s.” 

Recent research with expanded methodology has narrowed the window considerably. Indeed, to a single year, precisely 1000 years ago.

Solar Storms. Occasional disturbances on the Sun emanate outward across the Solar System. We know them as disrupting the Earth’s magnetosphere, to the detriment these days of satellite and radio transmissions. 

Arcs rise above an active region on the surface of the sun. Image by the STEREO Science Center—NASA Earth Observatory from Wikipedia.

What’s more, Science notes, previous records indicate that a sizable storm hit Earth in the year 993. “When big solar storms hit Earth,” Science observes, “the particles cause a spike in the creation of carbon-14 atoms, which are incorporated into growing trees.” 

Tree Rings. Annual growth patterns of trees give rise to dendrochronology, or tree ring dating. Ancient Greek botanists recognized the rings’ presence. Wikipedia notes, “In his Trattato deila Pittura (Treatise on Painting), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was the first person to mention that trees form rings annually and that their thickness is determined by the conditions under which they grew.” And, of course, when a tree is felled, its ring-growing ceases.

Growth rings of a tree at Bristol Zoo, England. Each ring represents one year; the outside rings, near the bark, are the youngest. Image by Arpingstone from Wikipedia.

Bringing All These Together, Precisely. Science concludes, “… researchers used tree rings containing the telltale carbon spike to calculate that three pieces of cut wood found at L’Anse aux Meadows had all come from trees felled 28 years later.”

And 993 + 28 = 1021, precisely 1000 years ago. Ain’t science neat! ds 

 © Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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