New analysis casts doubt on theory that change in climate influenced Vikings to move to Greenland in 985, and posits it would have been relatively cold
The Vikings’ arrival and departure from Greenland was not heavily influenced by the so-called medieval warm period, according to new research that casts doubt that the climatic change was a global phenomenon.
Viking seafarers, led by Erik the Red, are understood to have expanded from Iceland to south-western Greenland around 985. The Norse population grew to about 3,000 to 5,000 settlers, harvesting walrus ivory and raising livestock. But the colonies disappeared by 1460, with the local Inuit population remaining as the only inhabitants before Europeans again arrived in the 1700s.
Previous theories have suggested that a warming climate allowed Norse people to push further north to the frigid expanses of Greenland, before leaving as temperatures dropped again. In what has become known as the medieval warm period, temperatures rose from around 950, with the generally balmier conditions lasting until 1250, before the arrival of what is known as the little ice age.
But new analysis of glaciers in Greenland shows that there was no significant change in their extent during the medieval warm period, suggesting that it remained relatively cold throughout the Viking colonisation of Greenland.
Speaking of immigration, here is further evidence that the first people to reach Iceland were not Vikings, but Celts:
The research is revealed in the book, Into the Ocean: Vikings, Irish, and Environmental Change in Iceland and the North, which has recently been published by University of Toronto Press. Written by archaeologist Dr Kristján Ahronson of Bangor University, it shows he found these cross markings in these caves which are very similar found in Scotland and Ireland.
There are about 200 man-made caves in southern Iceland, and Ahronson focused on several located at Seljaland, which lies near the Isle of Heimaey. He explains, “In our work at Seljaland, we recorded over 100 simple crosses and 24 more elaborately carved or sculpted examples. The crosses bear a range of striking stylistic similarities to early medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, such as that found at the important early medieval monastery of Iona in Argyll as well as more extreme locales for Scotland’s early Christian communities such as St Molaise’s Cave on Holy Island (off Arran) and at isolated north Atlantic places such as the tiny island of North Rona (north of Lewis and the Scottish mainland). The Seljaland caves are remarkable in their own right for the concentration of sculpture found there and because of the very fact that they’ve been dug out of the rock, and form part of a poorly understand yet distinctively Icelandic phenomenon, now dated to Iceland’s earliest settlement.” –
In an article for The Conversation, Ahronson offers more details on this site: “We were able to accurately date one of these caves by finding construction waste from where it had been excavated from the Icelandic rock. We related this waste material to layers of volcanic airfall, ash layers that have been dated by international teams of researchers with remarkable precision and are a powerful dating tool for this part of the world. And we developed new methods to study the surface of volcanic ash layers that helped us to better understand the processes by which people cleared and managed that woodland, and contributed to creating the pastoral landscape that we recognise today. Again, these human activities can be accurately dated and chime with the our other lines of investigation.”
Interesting. I wonder what became of these people once the Vikings arrived…