Norse cultural reaction to climate change during the little ice age and their societal collapse in Greenland

A 1747 map of Greenland

Norse cultural reaction to climate change during the little ice age and their societal collapse in Greenland

By Christina Renee Young

Bachelor Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 2013

A 1747 map of Greenland

Abstract: This study aims to understand the adaptations of the Norse Greenlanders to climate change in their new home. In hopes of understanding the changes thoroughly, a multi-disciplinary study will be used. The aim of this study is to understand the Norse’s triumphs and failures in adaptation to ultimately discern what led to the Norse’s disappearance in Greenland.

Introduction: Vikings are known for their thirst for new lands and their far reaching expansion into the North Atlantic. Travelling from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, their homeland, they created settlements in what is today the Faroe Islands, the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, and, for a short time, North America . Neither the North American nor the Greenland settlements were to last, however. The sites were either deserted or the entire populations perished. Greenland in particular is an interesting case because the Norse were settled there from AD 985-ca.1500, roughly 500 years. The cause of the collapse of the Greenland settlements is attributed to many factors, the greatest of which was the Little Ice Age that occurred from AD 1250-1850. Suddenly, a new set of problems was thrust upon the Norsemen. In order to survive, cultural adaptations needed to be made. What were these adaptations? In what ways did they fail to adapt to their changing environment?

According to the Erik the Red’s Saga, Eirikur Thorvaldsson (or Erik the Red) committed a double homicide in AD 982. After conviction, Thorvaldsson was banished from Iceland for three years. Upon receiving his sentence, Thorvaldsson decided to sail westward in search of Gunnbjorn, a land rumored to be west of Iceland, so he gathered a small crew together and sailed west. It wasn’t long before Thorvaldsson and his crew found Gunnbjorn (or Greenland as it is known today). The men sailed around the southern tip of Greenland and north along the coast until they found a fjord relatively free of ice. It is within this fjord that the first Greenland settlement was founded and his homestead “Brattahlid” meaning “the steep incline”.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Wisconsin

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