"Discoveries" of the Americas

Discoveries Americas

Discoveries Americas

Project Overview: 

In 2011, a team of anthropological geneticists from Iceland and Spain published an intriguing discovery: a subgroup of the current population of Iceland exhibits a relatively rare DNA feature (C1e) that does not seem to have European or Asian origins. While noting a lack of certainty, the study concludes, “the most likely hypothesis is that the Icelandic voyages to the Eastern coastline of the Americas resulted in the migration of at least one Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage to Iceland around year 1000” (Ebenesersdottir 98). 

On the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, two sites sit less than 150 miles apart: the Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows inhabited circa 1000 CE, and Port au Choix, where evidence has been found of Native American inhabitation from the Maritime Archaic through the Recent Indian periods (5000 BCE - 1500 CE). The presence at L’Anse aux Meadows of nuts from the butternut tree, whose northern range ends in New Brunswick, suggests that Vikings took their longships south and explored the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, leading to interactions with Native Americans (Arctic Studies Center). These interactions may be recorded, however distantly, in the medieval Icelandic Vinland Sagas (McGhee 9-12). What were these cultures like when they briefly glimpsed one another at the end of the first millennium?

While it is not possible to know what “actually happened” between the Norse and the indigenous peoples of Newfoundland, Labrador, and New Brunswick, it is possible, using game engine software, to construct an immersive visualization of their cultural systems. Such a visualization should be both “hard” and “soft,” including 3D models of the structures, artifacts, and technologies of each culture while also representing their construction of cultural identity through their relation to the natural environment, their kinship structures, religious practices, and long-distance networks of exchange. By allowing visitors to move back and forth between game scenarios based on Norse and indigenous evidence, this project aims to provoke dense and open-ended comparisons between the two, providing a path toward a deeper insight into human experience, and into the unique legacy of the Americas.

Project Team: 

Lynn Ramey
Vanderbilt University, Director


Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History. "Vinland: Archeology." Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Web. September 5 2014.

Ebenesersdottir, Sigridur Sunna; Asgeir Sigurdsson; Frederico Sanchez-Quinto; Carles Lalueza-Fox; Kari Stefansson; and Agnar Helgason. "A New Subclade of mtDNA Haplogroup C1 Found in Icelanders: Evidence of Pre-Columbian Contact?" American Journal of Physical Anthropology 144.1 (2011): 92-99. Print.

McGhee, Robert. "Contact between Native North Americans and the Medieval Norse: A Review of the Evidence." American Antiquity 49.1 (1984): 4-26. Print.