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Disequilibrium, Adaptation, and the Norse Settlement of Greenland

Jackson, Rowan, Arneborg, Jette, Dugmore, Andrew, Madsen, Christian, McGovern, Tom, Smiarowski, Konrad, Streeter, Richard
Human ecology 2018 v.46 no.5 pp. 665-684
archaeology, climate change, climatic factors, cooling, diet, ecosystems, farmers, landscapes, meteorological data, surveys, synanthropes, Arctic region, Greenland
There is increasing evidence to suggest that arctic cultures and ecosystems have followed non-linear responses to climate change. Norse Scandinavian farmers introduced agriculture to sub-arctic Greenland in the late tenth century, creating synanthropic landscapes and utilising seasonally abundant marine and terrestrial resources. Using a niche-construction framework and data from recent survey work, studies of diet, and regional-scale climate proxies we examine the potential mismatch between this imported agricultural niche and the constraints of the environment from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries. We argue that landscape modification conformed the Norse to a Scandinavian style of agriculture throughout settlement, structuring and limiting the efficacy of seasonal hunting strategies. Recent climate data provide evidence of sustained cooling from the mid thirteenth century and climate variation from the early fifteenth century. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Norse made incremental adjustments to the changing sub-arctic environment, but were limited by cultural adaptations made in past environments.