Interdisciplinary investigations of the end of the Norse Western Settlement in Greenland

L. K. Barlow*, J. P. Sadler, A. E.J. Ogilvie, P. C. Buckland, T. Amorosi, J. H. Ingimundarson, P. Skidmore, A. J. Dugmore, T. H. McGovern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)


The loss of the Norse Western Settlement in Greenland around the mid-fourteenth century has long been taken usa prime example of the impact of changing climate on human populations. This study employs an interdisciplinary approach combining historical documents, detailed archaeological investigations, and a high-resolution proxy climate record from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) to investigate possible causes for the end of this settlement. Historical climate records, mainly from Iceland, contain evidence for lowered temperatures and severe weather in the north Atlantic region around the mid-fourteenth century. Archaeological, palaeoecological and historical data specifically concerning the Western Settlement suggest that Norse living conditions left little buffer for unseasonable climate, and provide evidence for a sudden and catastrophic end around the mid-fourteenth century: Isotopic data from the GISP2 ice core provide annual-and seasonal-scale proxy-temperature signals which suggest multiyear intervals of lowered temperatures in the early and mid-fourteenth century. The research synthesized here suggests that, while periods of unfavourable climatic fluctuations are likely to have played a role in the end of the Western Settlement, it was their cultural vulnerabilities to environmental change that left the Norse far more subject to disaster than their Inuit neighbours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-499
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1997


  • 'Little Ice Age
  • Climate impact
  • Deuterium isotopic signals
  • Fourteenth century
  • GISP2
  • Historical climatology
  • Medieval Warm Period
  • Norse Greenland
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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