30 June 2011

Abrupt climate change doomed Norse settlements: Study

Interest continues to develop for a sudden climatic change leading to the destruction of the two medieval Viking settlements on Greenland as the scientific community gears-up for another summer of archaeological work in the far north.




                                                                       Photograph by: File photo, Postmedia News

New scientific evidence supporting a long-standing theory that abrupt climate change probably doomed Greenland's Norse settlements about 650 years ago may also explain why most Canadians today are not speaking Danish and celebrating their Viking ancestry.

The study by a group of researchers from Denmark, Germany and Norway used samples of marine sediment from Greenland's west coast to reconstruct a picture of the giant island's climate over the past 1,500 years. Their findings showed that when Scandinavian settlers led by Eric the Red first established colonies on Greenland in 985, the west coast around present-day Disko Bay — located just 400 kilometres east of Baffin Island across the Davis Strait — was relatively warm and conducive to the farming life the settlers favoured.

It was during that early era of Norse settlement in Greenland that Viking explorers — most famously Eric's son, Leif Ericsson — are known to have become the first Europeans to reach the Americas.

L'Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland, was the site of a Norse settlement established around 1,000 but abandoned shortly after — primarily, scholars believe, because of attacks by hostile aboriginal tribes known as "skraelings" to Ericsson and his fellow adventurers.

The Norse continued to inhabit their Greenland settlements for at least 350 more years, with evidence documented from Baffin Island by Canadian archaeologist Pat Sutherland suggesting sporadic contact between Greenlandic Norse traders and the Dorset culture, ancient aboriginals who were later overrun — probably before 1400 — by the eastward-migrating Thule ancestors of modern Inuit.

But around that same time, the European researchers have concluded in a study published in the journal Boreas, a prolonged stretch of cold weather on Greenland appears to have led to the demise of the Norse settlements there. And any chance of a renewed effort by the Scandinavian seafarers to colonize Canada disappeared with them.

That left the next, and enduring, wave of European settlement in North America to French and English colonists after explorer John Cabot reached Newfoundland in 1497.

"Our study shows a major shift towards cooler conditions and extensive sea-ice which coincides with the estimated time for the collapse of the western settlement in AD 1350," University of Copenhagen geologist Sofia Ribeiro said in a summary of the new study.

"The Norse were proud of being Europeans, farmers and Christians, and never adopted the hunting and survival techniques of the Inuit, so these temperature shifts would have caused significant problems for the colonists and their livestock."

Ribeiro cautioned that "we cannot attribute the end of the Norse civilization to a single factor," but noted that "there is enough evidence to suggest that climate change played a major role in determining its collapse."

The harsher climate in Greenland would have made "farming and cattle production increasingly difficult" at the same time that increased sea ice "prevented navigation and trading with Europe," she stated.

Ribeiro told Postmedia News that "what happened to the Norse after 1350 is a mystery."

But she noted that in both Greenland and nearby Newfoundland, "there were no specially favourable conditions for the Norse to settle there during medieval times."

The Boreas study pointing to the onset of severe cooling in Greenland at the end of the Norse habitation supports recent research published by scientists at Brown University in Rhode Island in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After probing sediments from two lakes near Greenland's west coast, they also concluded that abrupt climate cooling preceded the disappearance of the Norse settlements in the region.


© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

27 June 2011

Workers find ancient Viking burial ground

From the Irish Independent as reported in the Archaeology Daily News: there will be more on this unfolding story as the local archaeologists open the dig.

Irish Independent

June 26, 2011

Ancient skeletal remains have been uncovered by contractors working on the largest energy project in the country.

The unrecorded burial ground was discovered on farmland in Rush, north Dublin, as EirGrid laid piping for a high voltage direct current (HVDC) underground power line.

Several skulls and bones were recovered on the strip of land near Rogerstown estuary, which locals historians believe could date back to the Vikings in the 9th century.

An on-site archaeologist has informed the National Monuments Service and is expected to be given the go-ahead to carry out a full archaeological survey next week.

It is not yet known how many bodies are buried there or exactly what era they date back to.

A spokeswoman for EirGrid said the section of land has been cordoned off and was being protected from heavy rainfall until examinations can be completed.

However work is continuing in the surrounding area.

"A previously unrecorded burial ground has been located on private land in Rush earlier this week," she said.

"It wasn't marked up on any ordnance survey maps."

She said there was no evidence of disturbance on the land before the 1.5 metres deep trench was dug on the farmland.

23 June 2011

More on What May Have Happened to the Greenland Vikings.

22 June 2011

In the past two months there have been several articles written indicating that the demise of the Greenland Vikings may have been weather related; specifically the worsening winter weather of Greenland with the advent of the Mini-ice Age beginning in about the 11th century. Some of the articles are posted on this Blog.

As you may know from reading the Axe of Iron posts, I have made mention of the fact that the Viking Age began with the warming weather of the Medieval Warm Period in the 8th century, ending during the Mini-ice Age in the 12th century. I also have long held that the disappearance of the entire Greenland Viking population was a gradual trend that began soon after the establishment of the two known settlements around the year 986. Some of the population remained to the end of the Eastern Settlement in the 15th century.

Here is what I wrote on the subject, excerpted from the Historical Perspective of Axe of Iron: The Settlers, the first novel of the Axe of Iron series of historical fiction novels:

“The two known Norse Greenland colonies prospered into the late fifteenth century. The population eventually swelled to as many as four thousand people at any given time, spread among farms in the areas around these settlements.

At some point late in the fourteenth or early in the fifteenth century, all settlement attempts and trading voyages to Greenland from Iceland and other points to the east were abandoned. Sometime in the middle of the fourteenth century (Western Settlement), and just after the turn of the fifteenth century (Eastern Settlement), the Greenland populations disappeared without a trace.

Perhaps most of the inhabitants of the Greenland settlements had already moved west having migrated to successful settlements already established by other Northmen with the native populations of North America over the ensuing years.

In any case, I maintain they eventually gave up the sea. Like thousands of their compatriots in Europe, they settled ashore. All impetus and desire for undertaking the perilous voyages became a thing of the distant past.

Around 1450, winters became colder in the far north, a lot colder. The ice in the harbors and fjords began remaining well into summer, and then it just remained. Greenland became uninhabitable for the Northmen. The Medieval Warm Period ended. A mini–ice age gripped the Arctic and northern portions of North America for the next four hundred years, into the last half of the nineteenth century.

During the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, a Catholic Prelate voyaged to Greenland, ostensibly to check on his flock. Although a few domestic animals grazed the hillsides, he found no people, living or dead. No ships, supplies, or tools remained. The people and their possessions had simply vanished into the mists of time.

The Icelandic bishop Gisli Oddsson, quoting church records, stated in the sixteenth or seventeenth century (the exact date is unknown) that the Norse Greenlanders joined the natives of America in 1342, giving up Christianity in the process. The record notes a firm date for the migration, not sometime in the fourteenth century.

We know three things for certain if one considers the disappearance of these people objectively: They did not sail to Iceland or Europe; they did not remain on Greenland until they died of hunger or exposure; they did not simply disappear. No, they had been migrating slowly to North America for five hundred years. Assimilation with the indigenous peoples became, over time, the Norse Greenlanders’ only option for survival. It is the only logical answer to the one-thousand-year-old mystery.

Since their assimilation, almost everything the Northmen left behind on this continent has turned to dust, become locked under the permafrost, or disappeared under many feet of debris in the forests and along the seashores of North America.

I have attempted to tell a tale of what might have happened, what could have happened, and considering the options available, what probably did happen to the Norse Greenlanders.

More than 40–generations have elapsed since they came to this continent. Now their very existence, everything they accomplished, has faded from the collective memory of all the peoples they contacted and lived among.

I prefer to believe the four thousand live on however, their genetic makeup diluted by the intervening centuries of time. They are still here, smiling back at us from the faces of the Inuit Greenlanders, Cree, Ojibwa, and Iroquois with whom they joined so long ago.”

Jones, 95, 111.

Jones, 95.
Thomas H. McGovern, The Demise of Norse Greenland (Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, DC 2000) 327.
Ingstad, 177–178.
Ingstad, 179–180.
History Channel, The Vikings Fury From The North (A&E Television Networks, New York, NY, 2000) VCR Tape.


This new data seems to indicate that the winters on Greenland worsened and the summers became shorter and colder much sooner than originally thought, perhaps as early as the beginning of the 11th century. As a result the dates indicated in the Historical Perspective are off by at least 300-years.

The Greenland Vikings did not disappear, they left Greenland to survive. As a pastoral/littoral society, life in Greenland became untenable with the shorter and colder summers. The exodus began as a trickle in the late 10 and early 11 century’s and continued each year until every single one of those remaining on Greenland had migrated to North America as the fury of the Mini-Ice Age enveloped the far North.

J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2011 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

18 June 2011

Surprise Archeological Find from Iceland’s Settlement

Iceland Review

May 19, 2011

Archaeological remains that were found during an excavation in Urridakot in Gardabaer, a neighboring town of Reykjavik, were much older than archaeologists had assumed. They date back to the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century AD while Urridakot is first mentioned in written sources from the 16th century.

Excavation has been ongoing in Urridakot in the past years because of planned construction in the area. In 2006 the local authorities asked the Institute of Archaeology to fully complete the registration of archaeological remains within the town limits, Fréttabladid reports.

"The first test dig was made in Urridakot in 2007 and last year the excavation was to be completed at which point I decided to dig in the area between those that had been tested," said archaeologist Ragnheidur Traustadóttir.

"Nothing could be seen on the surface and there are no sources on anything in the area but then we discovered a magnificent cowshed from the Settlement Era," she described, adding that they also found a lodge, storage room, pantry and a cooking hole from the 9th to 11th century; further research is required to determine how old the remains are exactly.

Remains dating back to the Middle Ages, shortly after 1226, have also been found: a pantry, kitchen and outhouse. No living quarters from that time have been found yet but they may have been located above the excavation area.

Conditions for preservation are poor at Urridakot so biological remains haven't been found. Few but notable objects have been discovered such as two spindles, one of which is decorated and the other inscribed with runes, which is rare in Iceland.

Two pearls from the Viking Age have also been found, along with baking plates, a sharpener imported from Norway, knives made of iron, nails and various bronze sheets.

Traustadóttir said there are many indications that there was seasonal habitation at Urridakot but not permanent; no such dwelling, known as sel in Icelandic, has been thoroughly researched.

The remains found at Urridakot will be displayed in the future although probably not at that exact location. They might be exhibited in connection with Hofsstadir, the local archaeological center.

04 June 2011

Greenland Cold Snap Linked to Viking Disappearance

Mon May 30, 4:37 pm ET

OSLO (Reuters) – A cold snap in Greenland in the 12th century may help explain why Viking settlers vanished from the island, scientists said on Monday.

The report, reconstructing temperatures by examining lake sediment cores in west Greenland dating back 5,600 years, also indicated that earlier, pre-historic settlers also had to contend with vicious swings in climate on icy Greenland.

"Climate played (a) big role in Vikings' disappearance from Greenland," Brown University in the United States said in a statement of a finding that average temperatures plunged 4 degrees Celsius (7F) in 80 years from about 1100.

Such a shift is roughly the equivalent of the current average temperatures in Edinburgh, Scotland, tumbling to match those in Reykjavik, Iceland. It would be a huge setback to crop and livestock production.

"There is a definite cooling trend in the region right before the Norse disappear," said William D'Andrea of Brown University, the lead author of the study in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have scant written or archaeological records to figure out why Viking settlers abandoned colonies on the western side of the island in the mid-1300s and the eastern side in the early 1400s.

Conflicts with indigenous Inuit, a search for better hunting grounds, economic stresses and natural swings in climate, perhaps caused by shifts in the sun's output or volcanic eruptions, could all be factors.


Scientists have previously suspected that a cooling toward a "Little Ice Age" from the 1400s gradually shortened growing seasons and added to sea ice that hampered sailing links with Iceland or the Nordic nations.

The study, by scientists in the United States and Britain, added the previously unknown 12th century temperature plunge as a possible trigger for the colonies' demise. Vikings arrived in Greenland in the 980s, during a warm period like the present.

"You have an interval when the summers are long and balmy and you build up the size of your farm, and then suddenly year after year, you go into this cooling trend, and the summers are getting shorter and colder and you can't make as much hay," D'Andrea said.

The study also traced even earlier swings in the climate to the rise and fall of pre-historic peoples on Greenland starting with the Saqqaq culture, which thrived from about 4,500 years ago to 2,800 years ago.

Scientists fear that the 21st century warming is caused by climate change, stoked by a build-up of greenhouse gases from human activities. An acceleration of warming could cause a meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, raising world sea levels.

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