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Did the Vikings and their clandestine mice beat Portugal in the Azores? | Portugal

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They were from the land of ice, snow and the midnight sun – but still ended up in some sweet destinations. This is the conclusion of researchers who have uncovered evidence to support the idea that the Vikings settled on the mild coasts of the Azores several hundred years before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1427.

Given that the Vikings are generally associated with the frozen north, the claim is surprising. Nevertheless, it is based on solid science, explains a group of international researchers who recently analyzed sediments from the lake bottoms of the Azores, an archipelago in the central Atlantic.


These were found to be rich in organic compounds found in cow and sheep droppings. At the same time, these samples were also found to contain high levels of charcoal but were low in native tree pollen.

Such a mixture strongly suggests that early settlers burned trees to clear land for their cattle to graze, researchers say. However, it was the dating of these samples that provided the real surprise. Scientists discovered that they were deposited between 700 and 850 AD, several centuries before the date given for the Portuguese arrival on the islands.

“Our reconstructions offer unambiguous evidence of the pre-Portuguese colonization of the Azores,” says the team, led by environmentalist Pedro Raposeiro, of the University of the Azores, in an article published in the American newspaper, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month.

Around AD 700-800, weather and wind conditions in the northern hemisphere likely helped settlers in higher latitudes and inhibited those in southern Europe, making it easier for northerners to access the Azores, adds the newspaper. And as to the identity of these settlers, the researchers are adamant. “These results suggest that the Scandinavians were most likely the first settlers on the islands,” he says.

Importantly, Raposeiro’s conclusions are also supported by the research of evolutionary biologist Jeremy Searle of Cornell University, who also argued that the Vikings reached the Azores, although his work is based on a very different biological source. He focused on the mouse.

“Mice sneak aboard ships and are carried around the world by humans,” Searle told the Observer Last week. “Where you find humans you find mice and if you can figure out where these mice came from, you will have a glimpse of where these humans had their original homes.”

Searle’s studies found that house mouse populations, Mus musculus, have different genetic signatures depending on their location. “By analyzing mitochondrial DNA – which is inherited from the female line – we can tell the difference between mice from different parts of Europe,” he said.

Did the Vikings and their clandestine mice beat Portugal in the Azores?  |  Portugal

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The remains of Nordic mice have revealed the earlier colonization of the Azores. Photograph: GlobalP / Getty Images / iStockphoto

In the British Isles, a distinctive line of house mouse is found in the Orkney Islands, Isle of Man, Hebrides, Caithness and parts of Ireland.

“These are all areas of Viking influence and, most importantly, when we looked at Norway, we found that the mice carried the same genetic signature there,” Searle said.

In short, Searle and his team believe they have located the Viking mouse and have since looked for signs of its presence elsewhere – and found it in ancient mice from Iceland and Greenland, which the Vikings had settled there. is over 1,000 years old.

Then, a few years ago, Searle looked at two other places much further south: the Azores and Madeira – and in both places they discovered that the mice carried the same genetic signature that the Viking mouse carried. Importantly, they found very few mice that carried genetic signatures like those found in mouse populations in Portugal, whose sailors were also considered to be the first to settle on these islands.

Did the Vikings and their clandestine mice beat Portugal in the Azores?  |  Portugal

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São Miguel Island, Azores. The archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal. Photograph: Sergey Dzyuba / Alamy

“These mice were obviously accidental travelers who were dispersed by the Vikings across the Atlantic, to Iceland and Greenland, as well as to the Azores and Madeira, we believe. It shows how far the Vikings had spread.

The idea that the Vikings reached the Azores and Madeira before the Portuguese were intriguing. The latter are considered to be the pioneers of the Age of Discovery, during which Europeans explored and colonized the world, and these two destinations were among their earliest settlements.

It now appears that the Portuguese sailors were simply following the Vikings – and their mice.

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