Archaeologists have generally assumed it was the little ice age that put an end to Greenland’s Viking colonies, which had been established in the 10th century. New research suggests another culprit: a gradual drought that forced the Scandinavians to retreat.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts noted that the data used to reconstruct conditions at the Norse settlements came from ice cores taken from 620 millas (1,000km) to the north of the occupied area. They sought to get a better picture of conditions at the actual settlements from samples of nearby lakebed sediments.
En el estudio the researchers looked not just at temperature but also the pattern of moisture by studying the waxy coating of plant leaves. They found that temperatures remained more or less constant but the area had gradually become drier. The farmers relied on sheep, goats and cattle, which grazed on pasture. Worsening conditions meant less fodder could be stored over winter. According to historical accounts, sometimes the animals were so weak they had to be carried to the pasture when the snow finally melted.
The Norse farmers were eventually forced to abandon Greenland en total. When Europeans returned in the 18th century the only inhabitants were Inuit who lived by sealing and whaling and did not depend on rainfall.