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Archeologists find home of Viking who visited New World

Sunday, September 29, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a Viking longhouse that many believe was the home of Snorri Thorfinnsson, thought to be the first European born in the New World.

The 1,000-year-old ruins were found in a glacial valley in northern Iceland during a survey of Viking-era buildings led by archaeologists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Preliminary results suggest the ruins date between 1000 and 1100, or during the lifetime of Thorfinnsson, the son of Viking explorers.

"The house I am almost sure is Snorri's," said UCLA research associate John Steinberg. "I don't know how it could be anything else."

According to Viking sagas written in the early 13th century, Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir and Thorfinn Karlsefni traveled to North America in 1004, settling in a place known as Vinland, probably the Canadian province of Newfoundland. There, a year later, their son Snorri was born.

While few dispute that Vikings traveled to North America, as borne out by Norse archaeological finds at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, not all are convinced any children were born in the New World to those early European pioneers.

The archaeological team identified the perimeter of the nearly 1,500-square-foot house last year using equipment that sends electrical current through the ground. Buried turf walls can be found because they resist the electrical current, unlike the surrounding clay soil.

This summer, the team excavated about 10 percent of the longhouse, which got its name because such houses were usually oblong in shape. Researchers found 5-foot-thick turf walls, raised benches and various artifacts, including some associated with iron working.

The age and location are consistent with descriptions of the farm given in the sagas, Steinberg said.

"All the textual evidence says this is where it's supposed to be," Steinberg said of the longhouse.

Terje Leiren, a professor of Scandinavian history at the University of Washington who was not connected with the Icelandic dig, said the sagas have steered archaeologists to other Viking sites, including L'Anse aux Meadows, where a colony of eight sod buildings was found in the 1960s.

"In the 13th century, they knew where that farm was," Leiren said of the saga's authors. "The sagas can be very reliable. I would tend to trust them."

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