Faroe Islands were colonised 300-500 years before the Vikings

Somebody got there before the Vikings did – some 300 and 500 years earlier. Norse settlers reached Iceland in the 9th century and probably reached Greenland around the 11th century. But the archaeological evidence is that some unknown colonists had already reached the Faroes in the 4th- 6th century and again between the 6th -8th centuries. There is a theory that they could have been monks from Ireland (St. Brendan?) but I think it is still highly likely that these early explorers/colonists were sea-faring peoples out of Scandinavia.

Mike J. Church, Símun V. Arge, Kevin J. Edwards, Philippa L. AscoughJulie M. Bond, Gordon T. Cook, Steve J. Dockrill, Andrew J. DugmoreThomas H. McGovernClaire Nesbitt and Ian A. Simpson, The Vikings were not the first colonizers of the Faroe Islands, Quaternary Science Reviews (2013)


Faroe Islands -Google Earth

Faroe Islands -Google Earth


We report on the earliest archaeological evidence from the Faroe Islands, placing human colonization in the 4th–6th centuries AD, at least 300–500 years earlier than previously demonstrated archaeologically. The evidence consists of an extensive wind-blown sand deposit containing patches of burnt peat ash of anthropogenic origin. Samples of carbonised barley grains from two of these ash patches produced 14C dates of two pre-Viking phases within the 4th–6th and late 6th–8th centuries AD. A re-evaluation is required of the nature, scale and timing of the human colonization of the Faroes and the wider North Atlantic region.

Durham University Press Release:

The Faroe Islands were colonised much earlier than previously believed, and it wasn’t by the Vikings, according to new research.

New archaeological evidence places human colonisation in the 4th to 6th centuries AD, at least 300-500 years earlier than previously demonstrated. 

The research, directed by Dr Mike J Church from Durham University and Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands as part of the multidisciplinary project “Heart of the Atlantic”, is published in the Quaternary Science Reviews.

The research challenges the nature, scale and timing of human settlement of the wider North Atlantic region and has implications for the colonisation of similar island groups across the world.

Sandoy, Faroes - Google Maps

Sandoy, Faroes – Google Maps

The Faroes were the first stepping stone beyond Shetland for the dispersal of European people across the North Atlantic that culminated on the shores of continental North America in the 11th century AD, about 500 years before Columbus made his famous voyage.

The research was carried out on an archaeological site at Á Sondum on the island of Sandoy. 

Analysis showed an extensive windblown sand deposit containing patches of burnt peat ash from human activity, dating human settlement to pre-Viking phases. These ash spreads contained barley grains which were accidentally burnt in domestic hearths and were then spread by humans onto the windblown sand surface during the 4th-6thcenturies and 6th-8th centuries, a common practice identified in the North Atlantic during this period to control wind erosion.

Lead author Dr Mike Church, from Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said: “There is now firm archaeological evidence for the human colonisation of the Faroes by people some 300-500 years before the large scale Viking colonisation of the 9th century AD, although we don’t yet know who these people were or where they came from.

“The majority of archaeological evidence for this early colonisation is likely to have been destroyed by the major Viking invasion, explaining the lack of proof found in the Faroes for the earlier settlement. This also raises questions about the timing of human activity on other islands systems where similarly evidence may have been destroyed.”

Co-author, Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, said: “Although we don’t know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying and burning it which indicates they must have stayed here for some time.


Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “Faroe Islands were colonised 300-500 years before the Vikings”

  1. Lois Says:

    Very interesting… I must find out more!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: