Who Were the First People to Arrive in the Azores?
A group of international academics discovered evidence that people inhabited islands in the Azores archipelago 700 years earlier than previously thought. The group explains their research of sediment cores taken from lakes on some of the archipelago’s islands in their report, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Soon thereafter, others from Portugal arrived and made the archipelago their home. In this new effort, the researchers found evidence that humans were living on some of the islands in the Azores approximately 700 years earlier.
Looking to learn more about the history of the Azores, the researchers began collecting sediment samples from several of the lakes on the islands and studying them to see what they might reveal.
Sediment samples can serve as historical evidence because the material in the air that falls to the surface of a lake and then to the lake bottom is covered over by new layers of sediment as time passes.
Analysis of the sediment cores showed an increase in 5-beta-stigmasterol in a core layer dated to a time between 700 CE and 850 CE, taken from Peixinho Lake. The compound is typically found in the faeces of livestock, such as cows and sheep—neither of which lived in the Azores prior to the arrival of humans.
They also saw upticks in charcoal particles (suggesting large fires had been burning) along with a dip in native tree pollens.
The findings suggest someone had burned down the forest to provide more land for livestock. The researchers found similar evidence in cores taken from Caldeirão Lake, which is on a different island, though it appeared approximately a century later. And they found evidence of non-native ryegrass in the sediment taken from a lake on a third island.
The findings present strong evidence of humans inhabiting the archipelago hundreds of years before the Portuguese arrived.
The researchers theorize that they were likely Norse seafarers, noting their accomplishments in sailing up and down the coasts of many parts of Europe.