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Instead, the Viking explorer had heard of a strange land to the west from Icelandic trader Bjarni Herjolfsson, who more than a decade earlier had overshot Greenland and sailed by the shores of North America without setting foot upon it.

Eriksson bought the trader’s ship, raised a crew of 35 men and retraced the route in reverse.

According to the “Saga of Erik the Red,” Eriksson crossed the Atlantic by accident after sailing off course on his return voyage from Norway after his conversion to Christianity.

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Another key argument for Stanford and Bradley’s proposal is the complete absence of any human activity in north-east Siberia and Alaska prior to around 15,500 years ago.

If the Maryland and other east coast people of 26,000 to 19,000 years ago had come from Asia, not Europe, early material, dating from before 19,000 years ago, should have turned up in those two northern areas, but none have been found.

But the new Maryland, Virginia and other US east coast material, and the chemical tests on the Virginian flint knife, have begun to transform the situation.

Now archaeologists are starting to investigate half a dozen new sites in Tennessee, Maryland and even Texas – and these locations are expected to produce more evidence.

Most archaeologists had therefore rejected any possibility of a connection.

But the newly-discovered and recently-dated early Maryland and other US east coast Stone Age tools are from between 26,000 and 19,000 years ago - and are therefore contemporary with the virtually identical western European material.

His father, Erik the Red, founded the first European settlement of Greenland after being expelled from Iceland around A. Eriksson converted his mother, who built Greenland’s first Christian church, but not his outlaw father. These Norse stories were spread by word of mouth before becoming recorded in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Icelandic legends called sagas recounted Eriksson’s exploits in the New World around A. Two sagas give differing accounts as to how Eriksson arrived in North America.

However, the seasonally shifting zone where the ice ended and the open ocean began would have been extremely rich in food resources – migrating seals, sea birds, fish and the now-extinct northern hemisphere penguin-like species, the great auk.

Stanford and Bradley have long argued that Stone Age humans were quite capable of making the 1500 mile journey across the Atlantic ice - but till now there was comparatively little evidence to support their thinking.

Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, discovered by archaeologist Dr Darrin Lowery of the University of Delaware. A sixth was discovered by scallop-dredging fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land.

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