Vikings may have reached the Faroe Islands some 1,200 years ago, but it turns out that was no immortal achievement. New research indicates that mystery settlers beat them there by as many as 500 years. Smithsonian reports that in 2006, archaeologists found burnt barley grains—not indigenous to the land—beneath a Viking longhouse. Carbon dating revealed it to be pre-Viking; researchers believe the barley was burned 300 to 500 years before the Vikings' arrival around 800 AD. It's the first solid proof "there were humans there at the Faroes prior to the big Viking colonization event," archaeologist Mike Church tells LiveScience.
Exactly who the settlers were is unknown, and most evidence would have been destroyed as Vikings likely put longhouses "in the same sorts of places where these early settlers put houses," says Church. Among the possibilities: religious hermits from Ireland, late-Iron Age Scots, or pre-Viking Scandinavians. (The islands sit between Norway, Scotland, and Iceland.) "Maybe these were intrepid explorers arriving from each of those areas," says Church. The Conversation notes the discovery could have intriguing implications: The Faroes were the "first stepping stone" across the North Atlantic, so the find raises the possibility that "Iceland, Greenland, and even North America were colonized earlier than previously thought."