November 14, 2017

Why the Vikings Disappeared

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Feb 2017

The Vikings were infamous in the Middle Ages for their raids against the coasts of Northern Europe. Their age however was quite brief in the span of time, only 300 years. What caused the end of the Vikings?

February 27, 2017

“Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold”

Filed under: Americas, History, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Debunking the Greenland myth in the Smithsonian:

Those tough seafaring warriors came to one of the world’s most formidable environments and made it their home. And they didn’t just get by: They built manor houses and hundreds of farms; they imported stained glass; they raised sheep, goats and cattle; they traded furs, walrus-tusk ivory, live polar bears and other exotic arctic goods with Europe. “These guys were really out on the frontier,” says Andrew Dugmore, a geographer at the University of Edinburgh. “They’re not just there for a few years. They’re there for generations — for centuries.”

So what happened to them?


Thomas McGovern used to think he knew. An archaeologist at Hunter College of the City University of New York, McGovern has spent more than 40 years piecing together the history of the Norse settlements in Greenland. With his heavy white beard and thick build, he could pass for a Viking chieftain, albeit a bespectacled one. Over Skype, here’s how he summarized what had until recently been the consensus view, which he helped establish: “Dumb Norsemen go into the north outside the range of their economy, mess up the environment and then they all die when it gets cold.”


But over the last decade a radically different picture of Viking life in Greenland has started to emerge from the remains of the old settlements, and it has received scant coverage outside of academia. “It’s a good thing they can’t make you give your PhD back once you’ve got it,” McGovern jokes. He and the small community of scholars who study the Norse experience in Greenland no longer believe that the Vikings were ever so numerous, or heedlessly despoiled their new home, or failed to adapt when confronted with challenges that threatened them with annihilation.

“It’s a very different story from my dissertation,” says McGovern. “It’s scarier. You can do a lot of things right — you can be highly adaptive; you can be very flexible; you can be resilient — and you go extinct anyway.” And according to other archaeologists, the plot thickens even more: It may be that Greenland’s Vikings didn’t vanish, at least not all of them.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

April 17, 2015

Viking Greenland during the Little Ice Age

Filed under: Americas, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charlotte Persson looks at what happened to the Viking settlers in Greenland as the Little Ice Age set in:

In the middle of the 13th century the Vikings who had settled in Greenland encountered no less than ten years of harsh and cold winters and summers. The Norsemen, who were living as farmers, bid farewell to many of their cattle during that period.

The Greenland Vikings were also prevented from setting sail to fetch supplies from their homelands in Europe because they didn’t have enough timber to build trading ships. So when Scandinavian traders didn’t happen to pass by they were left entirely on their own.

But this didn’t knock them out; on the contrary they lived with the worsening climate for almost 200 years during what we later would call the Little Ice Age. This is the conclusion of a new Ph.D. thesis.

“The stories we have heard so far about the climate getting worse and the Norsemen disappearing simply don’t hold water. They actually survived for a long time and were far better at adapting than we previously thought,” says the author of the new study, Christian Koch Madsen, Ph.D. student at the National Museum of Denmark.

September 22, 2011

“A piece of half-baked speculation had simply been used without checking because, well, it seemed true enough”

Filed under: Americas, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

Tim Black on the recent Times Atlas gaffe over the Greenland ice sheet:

For those all too inclined to believe the worst in the warmest of all possible worlds, there was no need to question the Times Atlas’s revelation. It merely told them what they already knew — that our nasty industrialised ways are destroying Earth.

But among those who actually know a little about ice sheets, the atlas’s findings were a little too much of a revelation. First up were researchers from the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, who promptly wrote to the atlas’s editors: ‘There is to our knowledge no support for this [15 per cent] claim in the published scientific literature.’ Other scientists in the field were quick to back up the Cambridge researchers. ‘The claims here’, said Graham Cogley from Trent University, ‘are simply not backed up by science; this pig can’t fly’. Others agreed. Jeffrey Kargel of the University of Arizona, principal scientist on a project involving the mapping of ice and glaciers from space, was unequivocal: ‘These new maps are ridiculously off base, way exaggerated relative to the reality of rapid change in Greenland. I don’t know how exactly the Times Atlas produced their results, but they are not scientific results.’

So how exactly did the Times Atlas cartographers produce their results? More kindly commentators have suggested that the atlas bods foolishly relied on the National Snow and Ice Data Center-maintained online resource, the Atlas of the Cryosphere. This apparently shows the thickness of the central part of the ice sheet over Greenland, but it does not show the thickness of the ice sheet’s periphery. The cartographers presumably interpreted this to mean that the peripheral ice did not exist — that it had melted. Other critics have been less generous, with one suggesting they might have been just a little too reliant on that bastion of truth, Wikipedia.

While it’s fun to pile on when a respected publication gets caught out trying for sensation instead of presenting facts, Black also sounds a note of caution:

Yet such over-eager triumphalism on the part of climate-change sceptics is misplaced. This is not because advocates of climate change are not frequently making mistakes. And it is not because the climate-change narrative, demanding so many facts to fit its story of manmade doom, is not fundamentally flawed. No, the problem with celebrating every scientific, factual refutation of the climate-change thesis as the beginning of the end for what remains the dominant narrative of our times, despite growing public indifference, is that climate change is not primarily a scientific issue. It was not born in science labs or in meteorology centres. And likewise, it will not be defeated by scientists or meteorologists, either.

That is because climate change is principally a political issue, not a scientific one. Climate-change alarmism is about channelling a vision of the future in which man, producing too much and consuming far more, is conceived as a problem. And the only way to challenge this widespread political and moral outlook is by coming up with something a little less human-hating — a political vision in which humanity’s needs and desires, our productive capacities and our consuming wants, are championed rather than denigrated. To rely on the mistakes of climate-change advocates to undermine their own cause is no substitute for the long-awaited, never-seen political debate about climate change.

September 20, 2011

New Times Atlas vastly overstates Greenland ice sheet shrinkage

Filed under: Americas, Books, Environment, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

You know it’s a major gaffe when even the BBC’s Environment correspondent is saying things like this:

The part of News Corporation that makes Times Atlases is currently taking the same kind of kicking from scientists that some of its newspapers took from the general public over phone-hacking.

What it’s being kicked for is for claiming, in the edition that came out last week, that the Greenland ice sheet has shrunk by 15% over 12 years, necessitating the re-drawing of its boundaries.

[. . .]

The problem is, it’s not true; and glaciologists have been queuing up to say why not.

“In the aftermath of ‘Himalayagate’, we glaciologists are hypersensitive to egregious errors in supposedly authoritative sources,” said Graham Cogley from Trent University in Canada.

“Climate change is real, and Greenland ice cover is shrinking. But the claims here are simply not backed up by science; this pig can’t fly.”

As Professor Cogley was the scientist who raised the alarm over “Himalayagate” — the erroneous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contention that Himalayan glaciers could largely melt away by 2035 — he is well placed to make the comparison.

Update: Breaking! James Delingpole discovers the advance plans for the next Times Atlas:

Following its controversial decision to produce a map suggesting that Greenland has lost 15 per cent of its ice cover in the last twelve years — a loss rate disputed by most credible scientists: and even, amazingly, the Guardian agrees on this — the Times Comprehensive Atlas Of The World has decided to take its new role as cheerleader for Climate Change alarmism a step further. In its upcoming 14th edition, unconfirmed rumours suggest, it will completely omit Tuvalu, the Maldives and major parts of Bangladesh in order to convey the “emotional truth” about “man made climate change.”

“All right, it may not be strictly geographically accurate to say the Maldives and Tuvalu will definitely have disappeared in about ten years time when our next edition appears,” said Times Atlas spokesman David Rose. “But did you see that picture of the Maldives cabinet holding a meeting underwater? If the Maldives government says the Maldives are drowning, they must be drowning. And frankly I think it’s despicable, all those deniers who are saying it was just a publicity stunt, cooked up by green activist Mark Lynas, to blackmail the international community into giving the Maldives more aid money while simultaneously trying to lure green Trustafarians to come and spend £1500 a night in houses on stilts with gold-plated organic recyclable eco-toilets made of rare earth minerals from China. Why would a government lie about something as serious as climate change?”

June 1, 2011

More on the Greenland settlements

Filed under: Americas, Environment, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the end of the Viking settlements in Greenland, Sonya Porter provides more historical background:

In 891 AD. Eric The Red set off from Iceland with a few followers to explore a land to the west which they had probably spotted some time before while sailing out in their longboats, and then returned three years later with about 500 fellow Vikings. At first they settled on the south-east coast, close to the tip of this new land and then, as the population grew, created a further settlement to the south-west. They called their new home ‘Greenland’.

It has been said that this name was a ‘spin’, a publicity stunt to entice more Vikings to come to join the new settlers, but this would have been pointless if it had been impossible for them to survive. They must at least have been able to create their own dwellings, build their own fires, make their own clothes and above all, grow their own food. The settlers might have been able to trade such things as polar bear-skins and fox furs for iron and other necessities on occasional trips to Europe, but their compatriots in Denmark and Iceland would have been neither able nor willing to row their longboats out each month with groceries.

At present, the temperatures in Greenland range from a maximum of 7C in July to -9C in January. This is too cold for grain such as wheat and even rye to grow and ripen in the short summer of such northern latitudes. Nor are sheep and cattle happy at those temperatures. Hill sheep might be able to nibble away at moss and short grass, but cattle need lush meadows and hay to fatten and live through a winter. Solid wood is needed for building, boat building and warmth, but only bushes and such weak trees as birch now grow in Greenland.

In 1991, two caribou hunters stumbled over a log on a snowy Greenland riverbank, an unusual event because Greenland is now above the treeline. (1) Over the past century, further archaeological investigations found frozen sheep droppings, a cow barn, bones from pigs, sheep and goats and remains of rye, barley and wheat all of which indicate that the Vikings had large farmsteads with ample pastures. The Greenlanders obviously prospered, because from the number of farms in both settlements, whose 400 or so stone ruins still dot the landscape, archaeologists guess that the population may have risen to a peak of about five thousand. They also built a cathedral and churches with graves which means that the soil must have been soft enough to dig, but these graves are now well below the permafrost (2).

May 31, 2011

A bit of climate-change panic juxtaposition

First, the panic:

In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley on why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future, and how adapting to the inevitable might be our only option.
[. . .]
From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone. Which means you haven’t seen anything yet. And we are not prepared.

And, in the interests of balance, the eeeevil climate change denier:

Greenland’s early Viking settlers were subjected to rapidly changing climate. Temperatures plunged several degrees in a span of decades, according to research from Brown University. A reconstruction of 5,600 years of climate history from lakes near the Norse settlement in western Greenland also shows how climate affected the Dorset and Saqqaq cultures. Results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [from Brown University] — The end of the Norse settlements on Greenland likely will remain shrouded in mystery. While there is scant written evidence of the colony’s demise in the 14th and early 15th centuries, archaeological remains can fill some of the blanks, but not all.

What climate scientists have been able to ascertain is that an extended cold snap, called the Little Ice Age, gripped Greenland beginning in the 1400s. This has been cited as a major cause of the Norse’s disappearance. Now researchers led by Brown University show the climate turned colder in an earlier span of several decades, setting in motion the end of the Greenland Norse.
[. . .]
The researchers also examined how climate affected the Saqqaq and Dorset peoples. The Saqqaq arrived in Greenland around 2500 B.C. While there were warm and cold swings in temperature for centuries after their arrival, the climate took a turn for the bitter beginning roughly 850 B.C., the scientists found. “There is a major climate shift at this time,” D’Andrea said. “It seems that it’s not as much the speed of the cooling as the amplitude of the cooling. It gets much colder.”

The Saqqaq exit coincides with the arrival of the Dorset people, who were more accustomed to hunting from the sea ice that would have accumulated with the colder climate at the time. Yet by around 50 B.C., the Dorset culture was waning in western Greenland, despite its affinity for cold weather. “It is possible that it got so cold they left, but there has to be more to it than that,” D’Andrea said.

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