Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Why Did the Vikings Abandon Greenland?

The Vikings, called the “Northmen,” profoundly impacted medieval history with their raids into Europe from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. Despite extensive research due to their wide territorial spread, the reasons behind some of their migrations and relocations remain elusive. One of the unanswered questions is why the Vikings abandoned Greenland, but a new study has provided significant findings on this matter.

The Vikings, depicted as an independent community engaged in farming and seafaring with the capability to launch overseas expeditions, conducted hit-and-run raids on many European cities and towns, acquiring loot.

Particularly in the late tenth century, the Vikings successfully and sustainably settled in southern Greenland. However, by the fifteenth century, they had abandoned these lands. Previous research attributed this abandonment to the onset of the Little Ice Age, which halted agricultural activities and brought extreme cold to the North Atlantic. However, a new study published in Science has revealed that the situation was not as precise as previously thought.

During the mid-to-late Middle Ages, the Vikings were highly active in the western seas. In 795, they invaded Ireland and established kingdoms in Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford. By the 900s, they had settled in Iceland and, from there, moved to Greenland and North America. The kingdom they established in Greenland in 985 heralded a long settlement lasting six centuries. Their agricultural activities, livestock farming, seafaring, and walrus ivory trade were primary reasons for keeping the Vikings in Greenland.

France did not surrender despite facing Viking attacks, and the British Isles defended themselves. The Vikings were assimilated into Slavic communities in Russia, and after their defeat in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, their influence began to wane.

By the fifteenth century, the Vikings had to abandon the Greenland lands they had inhabited for many years. According to researchers, the cold brought adverse living conditions that nearly halted agricultural activities, prompting the Vikings to leave southern Greenland in search of new lands.

Three Years to Gather Evidence

According to research conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and noted by distinguished geosciences professor Raymond Bradley, “Before this study, there was no data on Viking settlements, which created a significant problem.” Previous studies used data from over 1,000 kilometres north and more than 2,000 meters higher elevation to reconstruct historical temperatures in Greenland. The new research, which examined how the climate near Scandinavian farms changed and the duration of these changes, produced surprising data.

Bradley and his colleagues went to Lake 578, adjacent to an old Scandinavian farm, and spent three years collecting sediment samples from the lake. They then analyzed these samples using two different methods: In the first method, a lipid known as BrGDGT can measure temperature. Isla Castañeda, a geosciences professor at UMass Amherst and one of the study’s authors, stated, “If you have a sufficiently complete record, you can directly link the changing structures of lipids to changing temperatures.” Another indicator derived from the waxy coating on plant leaves helps determine the rate of water loss due to evaporation in grasses and other plants feeding livestock, indicating dry conditions.

Boyang Zhao, who conducted the lake research for his doctoral thesis and is the lead author of the study, stated: “What we discovered is that while the temperature remained almost unchanged during the Scandinavian settlement in southern Greenland, the environmental conditions became increasingly drier.”

In the fifteenth century, Scandinavian farmers increasingly relied on stored feed to winter their animals. Even in relatively good weather years, the animals often remained weak. Under these conditions, the impact of drought was severe. Along with other economic and social pressures, prolonged drought made it unsustainable to maintain balance in Greenland, leading to the abandonment of the land.

This article is from 2022. To read the original Turkish article, click here.

Main image: Steinar Engeland/Unsplash
Source: Science

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