The Vikings may have reached America in the Dark Ages but a re-examination of a dialogue written by Greek historian Plutarch suggests that the Ancient Greeks may have beaten them to it by at least 900 years.

A group of researchers relying on scientific data and the study of the ancient historian’s writing “On the Face Which Appears in the Orb of the Moon” (commonly known as “De Facie”) have theorised that the ancient Greeks may have reached North America long before Leif Erikson .

The theory is explained in a paper co-written by Dr Ioannis Liritzis, a University of the Aegean professor of archaeometry-natural sciences, astronomer Patagiota Preka-Papdema, philosopher Konstantinos Kalachanis, metereologist Chris Tzanis and IT consultant Panagiotis Antonopoulos.

In “De Facie”, Plutarch (who lived between 46 and 119AD) records a dialogue between Lambrias and Sylla the Carthaginian. Sylla recounts the story of a traveller who visited the temple of Kronos in Carthage after his return from a long journey to a distant continent.

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The traveller reveals to Sylla that other travellers would make the journey to the continent every 30 years when the planet Saturn (Kronos in Greek) was in the Taurus constellation.

Dr Liritzis’ team said that the ancient Greeks may have drawn on their detailed knowledge of astronomy to precisely identify the patterns of Atlantic Ocean currents that would move them westwards towards North America.

“Die Facie” describes a total solar eclipse taking place which prompted the research team to examine records of solar eclipses to match the one described in Plutarch’s work.

Using astronomical software, the team identified as the most likely candidate, an eclipse that took place in 75AD.

In the years around the eclipse, Saturn would have appeared in the Taurus constellation in three periods, from 26 to 29AD, 56 to 58AD and 85-to 88AD.

The team concluded that the preparations for the journey described in “De Facie” were likely to have started in 56AD – the time closest to Plutarch’s writing. The traveller reached North America the following year and would have remained there until 59AD.

Through Plutarch’s work, the team concluded that journeys across the Atlantic took place every 30 years over several centuries.

Plutarch mentions a “great continent lying beyond the island of Ogygia which was five days by trireme west of Britain.

Dr Liritzis said the ancient Greeks may have travelled to America for the sake of exploration, to gain riches or for religious reasons.

In response to the paper, many archaeologists have countered that while such a journey was possible it was implausible.

Underwater archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Lund University in Sweden argued that the ancient Greeks did not possess navigational technologies or have the knowledge to navigate the Atlantic Ocean.