New research about mice on Madeira suggests that the Vikings may have visited the Atlantic island 400 years before it was colonized.
In an article published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research team from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (Imedea) in Majorca and the University of La Laguna analyzed the bones of two mice skeletons found in dunes on the eastern edge of the island. Radiocarbon tests on the second skeleton revealed that the mouse lived from 903–1036 AD.
The researchers discount the possibility that the mouse had somehow come to the island in the belly of a bird or by hitching a ride on a piece of driftwood. Instead, they believe the animal could have only reached Maderia in a ship that landed there before the year 1036.
The idea that this was a Viking ship comes from further evidence about mice on the island. Josep Antoni Alcover of the the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies explained that “The current populations of house mouse Madeira show similarities in mitochondrial DNA with Scandinavia and northern Germany, but not with those of Portugal. Therefore, this second sample analyzed leads us to believe that the Vikings led this mouse to this island home.”
From the 8th to 11th centuries Viking ships explored large parts of the Atlantic world, reaching North America and conducting raids on the Iberia Peninsula. Moreover, other studies have found that mice were transported as stowaways on theses ships.
The researchers hope to find more evidence of the presence of the Vikings and their mice
on Madeira. The island, which lies 520 kilometres west of the African coast, may have been known since ancient times. A map from 1351 appears to show the island, while there is also a tale of two romantic lovers, Robert Machim and Anna d’Arfet, whose shipped crashed on the island in the 14th century after being driven away from the coast of France by a storm.
Around 1420 Portuguese settlers arrived on the island. However, it seems that the mice had long since established themselves on Madeira. Professor Alcover notes that “the introduction of the mice probably resulted in an ecological disaster, based on the extinction of endemic birds and changing the ecology of the island four hundred years earlier than previously thought.”
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