Vikings left Greenland due to drought

(ORDO NEWS) — It was previously believed that European settlements on the island ceased to exist due to the cold, but the new work shows a more complex picture.

As you know, the Vikings settled in Greenland because Eric the Red was successively expelled first from Norway (along with his father), and then from Iceland – both times for killing neighbors.

He reached the island in 982, and a few years later, attracted by his stories about the new land, other Icelanders sailed to Greenland and in 986-987 founded two settlements – East and West.

The colony prospered, had fairly developed trade relations with Norway and Denmark. One of the significant goods was a walrus tusk, from which decorations were carved, including for temples.

But gradually this product in Europe was replaced by ivory from Africa, trade weakened, and then the connection with the Greenland colony was completely interrupted.

Vikings left Greenland due to drought 1

The expedition of Hans Egede at the beginning of the 17th century did not find a single surviving European on the island. Modern research has shown that the colony ceased to exist at the beginning of the 15th century. Why did this happen? There are many hypotheses, but none of them is recognized by the historical community.

The main version of the death of the colony is climate change associated with the beginning of the Little Ice Age.

Now scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (USA) are proposing a new hypothesis: it was not a drop in temperature that drove the Norwegians out of Greenland, but a drought. They presented their findings in a paper published in the journal Science Advances .

The authors note that earlier studies did not have data from actual Viking settlement sites. For example, ice core data used in previous studies to reconstruct historical temperatures in Greenland was taken from a location more than 1,000 kilometers to the north and at an altitude of over 2,000 meters. Agree, such results can hardly be called correct.

Now, the researchers have gone to the lake, which is located next to the former Norwegian farm and not far from one of the largest groups of farms in the Eastern Settlement. There they spent three years collecting sediment samples from the lake.

The scientists then analyzed the sample, which included sediments from the last 2,000 years, for two different markers: the first, a lipid known as brGDGT, could be used to reconstruct temperature from changes in its structure.

A second marker, derived from the waxy coating on plant leaves, can be used to determine the rate at which plants have lost water through evaporation. As such, it serves as an indicator of how dry the conditions were.

The scientists found that although the temperature did not change much during the entire period of the Norwegian settlement of South Greenland, over time the climate became more and more dry.

As a result, the fodder base for livestock has been sharply reduced. There was not enough grass even for summer grazing, to say nothing of stocks for the winter. A prolonged drought, in addition to other economic and social pressures, could upset the balance so much that European settlements in Greenland ceased to exist.

Vikings left Greenland due to drought 2

Let’s note one more moment. All sources and archaeological finds known today indicate that cattle breeding was not just the main, but almost the only occupation that provided the Vikings of Greenland with food.

Marine resources were considered extremely limited by them: for example, as mentioned above, they hunted walruses because of the demand for tusks, but they were not interested in the meat and fat of these animals. There are no finds that would indicate that the Greenlanders built fishing boats (kayaks) or had equipment for catching fish.

We must also take into account the following: not only sheep needed grass. Greenland did not grow forests. That is, all the wood was imported to the island – which made this building material extremely expensive.

As a result, the forest was used mainly for the construction of ships and only minimally for the construction of houses. The houses were covered with turf from the same pastures, which, as it seemed at first, were more than enough.

If we combine these factors with the drought described in the new work, then the reason for the death of the Greenland Viking settlements becomes clear.

At the same time, we note that the decrease in average temperatures on the planet during the decline of the Viking colony in Greenland was quite real. And even if it was not observed on the territory of the Eastern Settlement, the general slight cooling on the planet would inevitably reduce the amount of precipitation on it.

Thus, it cannot be ruled out that the increase in droughts in the end can also be explained by a drop in temperatures – albeit not in this particular point of the island.


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