Vikings Were Not Impacted by the Little Ice Age: The Reality of Greenland Colonization

First Posted: Dec 04, 2015 08:18 PM EST

A new study questions the idea that the 10th-century Norse people were able to colonize Greenland because of a period of unusually warm weather. It turns out that the climate during this warm period may not have been universal during that time period.

"It's becoming clearer that the Medieval Warm Period was patchy, not global," said Nicolas Young, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The concept is Eurocentric-that's where the best-known observations were made. Elsewhere, the climate might not have been the same."

Norse, or Vikings sailed form recently settled Iceland to southwestern Greenland around 985, according to Icelandic records. Eventually, 3,000 to 5,000 settlers lived in Greenland, harvesting walrus ivory and raising livestock. However, these colonies disappeared between about 1360 and 1460, leaving only ruins.

The height of the Vikings coincided with the Medieval Warm Period, and their disappearance followed the onset of the Little Ice Age. This led many researchers to believe that climate was the cause of their rise and fall. Now, though, researchers have taken a closer look at records and have found that this may not be the case.

The researchers sampled boulders left by advancing glaciers over the last 1,000-some years in southwest Greenland. They found that the moraines were deposited during the Viking occupation, and that the glaciers neared or reached their later maximum Little Ice Age positions between 975 and 1275. This suggests that it was at least as cold when the Vikings arrived as when they left.

The findings reveal that the climate wasn't the reason the Vikings left. Instead, something else must have occurred that impacted the settlement.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

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