In the News: Discovering an Earlier Human Habitation of Azores

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new analysis of sediment cores from the Azores has uncovered a record of environmental change that links directly with human colonization of the remote archipelago. The research shows that humans—most likely Norse—arrived at the Azores during the early Middle Ages (500 to 900 CE), about 700 years earlier than previously understood through the archaeological record and likely steered there by changes in climate associated with the Medieval Warm Period.

Pnas Azores With Sampled Lakes
Locations of core samples from lakes in the Azores (Raposeiro, P.M., et al. 2021, PNAS)

“Our results not only provide unambiguous geochemical evidence for the presence of humans several hundreds of years before the first arrival by the Portuguese, they also suggest that these early settlers had substantially modified the landscape—and that it was not nearly as pristine as reported by early Portuguese explorers,” said Timothy Shanahan, associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. Shanahan partnered with over 30 authors and was part of the data analysis and writing teams.

Media coverage of the research paper includes:

Written by Kristin Phillips, Department of Geological Sciences