According to new evidence found at the bottom of a lake, the Vikings were not the first people to arrive at the Faroe Islands (between Iceland and Norway, and above Scotland). In fact, the islands were explored centuries earlier by an unknown group of humans.
The mysterious group of humans arrived on the islands around the year 500 AD – this is about 350 years earlier than the Vikings. While it is unclear as to who this mysterious group was, it could have been the Celts who would have crossed the seas to the islands. Interestingly, DNA from today’s inhabitants of the Faroe Islands reveal that their paternal ancestors are mostly Scandinavian and their maternal ancestors are Celtic for the most part.
Previous excavations confirmed that the Vikings inhabited the islands about 850 AD. But recent analysis of lake sediments revealed evidence that domestic sheep were present on the islands around the year 500. This is very significant as there weren’t any animals on the islands prior to humans arriving there.
In their study, the researchers went on a lake close to the village of Eiði on the island of Eysturoy where they put tubes in the water in order to gather sediment at the bottom of the lake that would have gathered there for thousands of years. Their initial focus was to study the climate from the time of the Vikings, but they instead found evidence of an even earlier group inhabiting the area.
Beginning at a depth of 51 centimeters (20 inches) into the sediment, there was evidence that many sheep were present on island, beginning sometime between the years 492 and 512. It is, however, possible that they arrived as early as the year 370. The researchers determined this by analyzing sheep DNA and two types of lipids (these are produced in the digestive system).
“We see this as putting the nail in the coffin that people were there before the Vikings,” noted Lorelei Curtin who conducted the research as a grad student at Lamont-Doherty.
Another noteworthy fact is that nobody has found the remains of the first inhabitants on the islands, but the experts have stated that it isn’t surprising. Perhaps they will find their remains at some point and they’ll be able to confirm who exactly these original inhabitants were.
The study was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment where it can be read in full.