People from Britain or Ireland may have reached the remote Faroe Islands before the Vikings, according to new evidence.
Historically, the North Atlantic archipelago was part of the Viking world and its inhabitants speak a language derived from Old Norse.
Now, evidence has emerged that people reached the island by 500 AD – some 350 years before Scandinavians arrived.
This early settlement pre-dates the adoption of long-distance sailing technology by the Vikings.
Researchers found fragments of sheep DNA and chemical residues of sheep faeces in lake sediments on the Faroese island of Eysturoy. These were assigned an age using scientific dating techniques. Livestock could only have reached the remote archipelago if they were taken there by humans on boats.
“You see the sheep DNA and the biomarkers start all at once. It’s like an off-on switch,” said Dr William D’Andrea, from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) at Columbia University in New York.
Lead author Lorelei Curtin, who worked on the research while she was a graduate student at LDEO, said the findings were the “nail in the coffin” for the idea that the islands were uninhabited until the 800s.