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ICE Case Studies
Number 94, June 2001

The Vikings in North America:

Long-Term Climate Change, Environment, Trade, and Conflict,

James R. Lee

Case Background
Environment Aspect
Conflict Aspect
Environment Conflict Overlap
Related Information


1. Abstract

One policy issue that climate change presents is that it will force or lead to migrations of peoples from areas that are advantaged by the new climatoligical conditions and those that are disadvantaged by it. This is not a new concern. Climate change and the conflict associated with it has been an issue, even if it was unrecognized, for millenia. The incursion of the Vikings from Europe to North America was a classic example. Warming climate conditions around 1,000 AD enticed Vikings (and made it possible) to travel to North America. When they arrived there, they found that the land was populated by people who both traded with them and went to war. In the end, the combination of changing climate and hostile receptions forced the Vikings out of North America.

2. Description

Push and Pull Factors

There were both push and pull factors involved in the expansion of the Vikings from Scandinavia into the rest of Europe and later even into North America. The push factor was a fast rising population that quickly overwhelmed the meager arable land that was available. The push factor also lead to enhanced technological refinements of sea faring. Commerce was possible only through sea travel and sea resources were vital to supplement food needs especially in the long winters. "The motivating force for the Norwegians sailing west, the colonization of the lesser Atlantic islands, and thereafter of Iceland and Greenland, and the attempted settlement of America, was a need for land and pasture." (Jones, 269)

The pull factor was the finding of new lands, some already inhabited some uninhabited, through a series of expeditions. These lands were often rich in many types of resources valuable to commerce at that time. These lands were new areas for settlement to meet the surplus population problem.

The story of rise and decline of the Vikings, especially in North America, is driven by an external factor, a burst of climate change that led to an eventual cooling of the planet's northern extremes and thus rendering uninhabitable many of the places the Vikings had settled. This was particularly true in Greenland, which was the way station for expeditions to the New World. With the abandonment of Greenland, needed supplies no long made their way to the way station point in North America, a place known as Vineland, so named for the Vikings claims of finding wild grapes there. This is further evidence of a warmer climatic period compared to today, since these areas are now too cold for wild grapes. Battling the changes in weather was not the only issue they faced. They interacted with the Native Americans who lived there, in terms of both commerce and conflict. The conflict was probably short-lived while the commerce went on for 500 years.

Who Were The Vikings?

A vik is a bay or harbor in Old Norse. Vikings were people who would go to these places for plunder and profit. This way of livelihood became a way of life. This was a reaction to the lack of arable lands and alternative means to survive. Fishing was not a major occupation for them until the Middle Ages. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 14)

The word Vikings is also somewhat of a misnomer since it indicates men from Scandinavia who ventured out to see not only for expansion to acquire new lands, but to loot and rob as an occupation. The modern view of the Viking is largely caricature. On the one extreme is the golden god of Thunder, Thor, the super-mensch with a mighty hammer called Ur. Thor has had his own comic book for nearly 40 years. We of course honor him weekly, since it is from his name that the day "Thursday" comes from. On the other extreme is the newspaper comic character Hogar the Horrible, who is a brute and a lout. In fact, contrary to stereotype, the Vikings were some of the greatest inventors of sea travel who were centuries ahead of the rest of the world.

The Vikings really came into being as a distinct group around 780 and rapidly spread out into many directions. To the east, they conquered and traded throughout Russia and into the Ukraine. "A Viking guard was even established by the Emperor in Constantinople. Towns such as Novgorod and Kiev were ruled by the Vikings." (Logan, 180) Some allege that the word for Russia is from Russian word for the Swedes (the "Rus"). The Vikings also had extensive trade relations with the Middle East.

The Vikings were infamous raiders and looters, but they were also farmers and herders at home and no less sophisticated in arts and invention than other medieval Europeans…They were successful ship builders who engaged in ever-widening trade, east to Russia and south to Rome and Baghdad. In their Iceland colony at the end of the 10th century, these people created the first democratic parliament. Their further western expansion brought about the first tenuous contact between the Old World and the New. " (Wilford, 2000).

The forms that propelled these people outwards has many explanations and range from political to demographic to religous. "Many theories have been advanced to explain the events that propelled Vikings outward from their northern homelands: developments in ship construction and seafaring skills; internal stress from population growth and scarce land; loss of personal freedom as political and economic centralization progressed; and the rise of Christianity over traditional pagan belief have all been cited. Probably all are correct in degrees; but the overriding factor was the awareness of opportunities for advancement abroad that lured Norsemen to leave their home farms." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 17)

Norse artifacts are found in many parts of northeastern North America, on Greenland and other sites such as Ellesmere and Baffin Islands in Canada.

Who Were the Native Americans?

Unlike Iceland and Greenland, people were living in North America when the Vikings arrived. The people there may themselves have been rather recent arrivals (the Inuit) who in the 1200-1400 AD period began to replace the older Dorset culture of 1000 ad. Unlike the first inhabitants who crossed the Bering Straights from the west, this group came from Greenland in the East.

The Norsemen encountered both peoples known as Native Americans and Eskimos. The Eskimos came to North America during the 11th century, much later than the Native Americans. The Native Americans were "probably Beothuk, related to the Algonkians who occupied the coastal regions of Newfoundland during the summer, fishing and hunting sea mammals and birds - these would be puffins, gannets and related species - from birchbark canoes." (Wahlgren, 16). The Eskimos were of the Thule culture.

Who was more surprised? The Norse had seen "Karelians" (Northeast Russia from the Karleian Peninsula) or Lapplanders in the Artic who were seemingly more Asiatic in ancestry. The Native American, however, had probably never encountered anyone like these tall, blond, blue-eyed people. TheNorse military technology was somewhat superior to theirs and their sailing mastery was a technological step beyond them. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 11)

Norse products wound up in the hands of the Native Americans with the appearance of metal arrowhead points sometime replacing stone. They were acquired from the Norse. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 21)

The Demise of the Greenland Colony and the Role of Iceland

Soon after the arrivals of the Viking in Greenland, the few trees of birch, willow and elder were soon wiped out and replaced with casual alien species such as sorrel, yarrow and wild tansy that arrived with them. When the colony vanished these trees soon returned. Both a cooling climate and human overuse of resources hurt the Viking chances for survival. As domesticated animals started to die off, the cattle and sheep, "the colonists grew more dependent upon seal for subsistence." (Wahlgren, p. 74) In Greenland, "Animals were even more destructive than people in changing local vegetation and ultimately whole landscapes, reducing forest and shrub lands, and through time, by overgrazing, converting grasslands to wastelands. These ecological stresses grew more difficult to manage in the harsher climates to the northwest and accumulated over time, more rapidly as the climate deteriorated generally after 1350." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 19)

The demise of all Greenlanders probably took a very long time, some suggesting that Europeans lived there into the early 1500s. Toward the end, the Eskimos massacred many Greenlanders. Of course, in 1492 Columbus arrived in North America and announced its discovery.

A combination of forces honed in on the Greenlanders. "I propose, therefore, that there was thus a conjunction of debilitating forces, environmental (the waxing cold), economic (increasing denudation of the soil, the wasting away of cattle and the few crops, the dwindling supply of fuel, the pressing competition with the Eskimos for marine game), psychological (a gradual reduction in the birth rate) and spiritual (religious deprivation and lack of cultural stimulus." (Wahlgren, p. 176).

In Greenland, "The Western Settlement was the first to be deserted. After 1349, the time of the Black Death, the Eastern Settlement' ties were hard-pressed. Norway, whose dependency Greenland had become, were loosened." (Wahlgren, p. 97)

As always, the church played a key role. Europeans re-colonized Greenland with the help of the cleric Hans Egede, who traveled from Copenhagen in 1721 to the island. (Wahlgren, p. 13) "Submitting to the nominal authority of Norway's Kind Hakon the Old in 1261, the Greenlanders were now subject of special clerical concern. Records show that a large part of the best land owned by the Greenlanders had gradually come into the possession of the church." (Walgren, p. 12)

The story of Greenland is also tied up with the story of Iceland and questions of where the Icelanders came from. One interesting fact that identifies the origin of Icelandic people is in mice. Mice from Iceland and Norway have identical DNA and no doubt rode the ships with the Vikings. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 12)

Iceland also had to develop a trade policy. Iceland however quickly became overpopulated and protecitonist in its economic policies. "It has been forbidden, for instance, to import horses into Iceland since the twelfth century. This law was stimulated by the flood of Arabian horses that appeared in Europe at the end of the Crusades, threatening to swamp the gene pool of the specially bred Icelandic horse, which was better suited to the local conditions." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 19)

The Road to Vinland

The Vikings also controlled large parts of France, Britain, Scotland, the Shetland Islands and Ireland. Irish priests settled in the Faroe Island around 700 AD. Iceland was discovered and settled between 860 and 870. By 930, all suitable land had been occupied (Jones, p. 277) In 962, Eric the Red, who had been kicked out of Norway and two places in Iceland for murder, was banished and headed west where he happened to find Greenland. He called it "Greenland", but even with relatively warmer conditions then, this was quite an exaggeration or a public relations stunt to attract settlers. By 986, he returned with 450 that grew to 4,000, all from Iceland.

"According to the sagas, Ericson's party first headed northwest across Baffin Bay and came upon a rocky coast they called Helluland, present-day Baffin Island. Then they sailed south, hugging the shore, to the wooded place they named Markland, probably Labrador. Finally, they entered a shallow bay and waited for high tide to bring them ashore to a green meadow. Here at L'Anse aux Meadows, they established a base camp, their beachhead in Vinland." (Wilford, 2000) Adam of Bremen wrote in 1070 that in Vinland "there grow grapes." Archaeological research suggests that grapes never grew in Newfoundland, but probably did grow in Nova Scotia and it was this source of food that lead to the name of the land.

Eric the Red knew someone lived in North America. There were artifacts they found in Greenland and Northeast Canada, and as they sailed south along the coast they could see plumes of smokes that indicated human presence. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 11) Bjarni Bardarson accidentally reached North America 986 where he was on a voyage to Greenland but lost his way. Leif Ericsson took an expedition further south in 1002; going as far south as New Foundland as a place he called "Vineland". "It has been suggested that the motive for such voyages [to North America in 1347] was more likely for the acquisition of timber for Greenland's construction needs." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 241)

Of the Wineland Voyages of Thorfinn and His Companions (from the Saga of Eric the Red)

"A renewed discussion arose concerning a Wineland voyage; and the folk urged Karlsefni to make the venture, Gudrid joining with the others. He determined to undertake the voyage, and assembled a company of sixty men and five women, and entered into an agreement with his shipmates that they should each share equally in all the spoils of the enterprise. They took with them all kinds of cattle, as it was their intention to settle the country, if they could. Karlsefni asked Leif for the house in Wineland; and he replied that he would lend it, but not give it. They sailed out to sea with the ship, and arrived safe and sound at Leifs-booths, and carried their hammocks ashore there. They were soon provided with an abundant and goodly supply of food; for a whale of good size and quality was driven ashore there, and they secured it, and flensed it, and had then no lack of provisions. The cattle were turned out upon the land, and the males soon became very restless and vicious: they had brought a bull with them. Karlsefni caused trees to be felled and to be hewed into timbers wherewith to load his ship, and the wood was placed upon a cliff to dry. They gathered somewhat of all of the valuable products of the landgrapes, and all kinds of game and fish, and other good things." (Modern History Sourcebook: The Discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson, c. 1000, from The Saga of Eric the Red, 1387)

The Historical Significance of these Contacts

As the environmental conditions more or less "invited" the encounters between Europe and North America due to these prevailing climatological conditions, the question of conflict would naturally occur. The fact that there were differences in quality of military technology (favoring the Vikings) and the quantity (favoring the Native Americans) also added to the eventual outcome, where the latter was superior. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 11)

It must also be noted that the theories of contact and migration to the Americas are undergoing a fundamental revision. Multiple sources of migration are now thought by many to be plausible in the populating of the hemisphere. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 11)

There are also some who see the meeeeting of peoples as an historic occasion. "Thanks to recent advances in archaeology, history and natural sciences, the Norse discoveries in the North Atlantic can now be seen as the firs step in the process by which human populations became reconnected into a single global system. After two million years of cultural diversification and cultural dispersal, humanity has finally come full circle."" (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 12)

The fortuitous climate also played an inviting role. "The Norse arrived in the new world in A.D. 1000, a time of diverse social and political landscapes for the peoples living on the western shores of the North Atlantic. Members of several different ethnic groups-the Dorrset people of the eastern Canadian Arctic and northern Greenland, the ancestors of the Labrador Innu, the Newfoundland Beothuk, and the Maliseet and Micmac of the southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Nova Scotia-had divided this territory into a multicultural region of discrete homelands where their ancestors lived for many generations. After A.D. 1200, another people, the Thule-ancestors of the Inuit---would also arrive n the scene." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 193)

The Dorsets, in turn, had displaced Maritime Archaic peoples, the latter who had been there since 6,000 B.C. It is also possible they interacted with the Algonquin peoples who generally lived south of the Saint Lawrence River. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 194)

There is the suggestion that the Vikings failed to adapt their technology to the new circumstances and follow the lead of the Native Americans. (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 255)

"In Greenland, emigration could be the result of "the Norse population reached the carrying capacity of the habitat, which may itself have been decreasing." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 291)

The Thule displaced the Dorsets under similar conditions to the conflicts with the Norse. "Armed with lances and with bows powered by a cable of twisted sinew, as well as with warlike traditions developed in the large competing communities of coastal Alaska, such a band of warriors would have been a formidable enemy. They could have easily displaced the small and poorly armed communities of Dorset people from prime hunting localities, forcing then to retreated to more marginal areas." (Fitzhugh and Ward, p. 243)

3. Duration: 950-1450 AD

4. Location

Continent: North America

Region: Northern North America

Country: Canada

5. Actors: Vikings and Native Americans

The Role of Commerce

Around 980 AD, Eric the Red had explored and established a colony that eventually grew to 3,000 in size. Over the next 400 years, trade and people traveled from North America, Greenland, Iceland, and Europe. Principal trading products included furs and ivory from walrus and sometimes wood they used to make new ships that plied the Atlantic Sea. Moreover, a growing body of archaeological evidence suggests Viking traders regularly exchanged goods with some of the ancestors of today's Native Americans between 1050 to 1350.

"An explanation that stresses climatic changes and plays down politico-economic factors probably lies as near to the truth as we can get at the moment. In 1261, this small, self-governing land came under the control of the kind of Norway, who, it is often said, restricted trade. Since much of Greenland's livelihood depended on the export of goods such as homespun clothe, skins of oxen. Sheep and seals, walrus rope, walrus tusks, and polar bears as well as the importation of timber, iron, and grain, in particular. Such trade restrictions, it is argued, made life difficult." (Logan, p. 77)

Globalization also played a role in the demise of the western outposts of the Vikings. "The increased trade in furs in Russia, the growth of the English and Dutch cloth trade as against Greenland woolens, and the preference of French workshops for elephant ivory over the inferior walrus tusk, helped price Greenland, and especially the remoter settlement, out of the market." (Jones, p. 309)

Dr. Gisli Sigurdsson, a Norse scholar at the Arni Magnusson Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland, concluded that the end of the colony was due to conflict with Native Americans, along with conflicts within the group. This may have been the high mark or most extreme mark of the Vikings in North America, but they did later return. The Vikings regularly came to North America to trade and to obtain wood fur and food resources.

Eric's saga is summed up nicely. ""They settled here [south of Markland]; no snow came that winter, but in the spring there came the skraelings, first to trade - first the trade ---- skraeling pelts for Viking clothes -- and later to do battle." (Logan, p. 91)

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Climate Change

The Role of Climate Change

The demise of the Vineland colony was a direct result of the demise of the settlement in Greeenland. "In 1347 dire events were happening in Greenland, presaging the destruction of the colonies. In time, they carry us far beyond the Viking Age; in every other sense they provide it with a poignant epilogue. Wise after the event, we can now see that everything about the Greenland settlements was temporary and marginal." (Jones, p. 307) Gwyn Jones notes three factors that would have doomed the new Greenlanders in the long run. First, as Pope Alexander I would later note, they were at the "end of the world" and therefore lived on a tenuous pipeline to Europe for key commodities. Second, the Eskimo was probably better suited for living in Greenland. In fact, the Vikings arrived during a warmer period where it may have been actually greener than compared to today. Third, the lean times in the colonies were exacerbated by internal tensions. (Jones, p. 307) This combination of climate and political factors was re-enforcing. "By the early 15th century, the Norse also had to abandon Greenland. After centuries of relative warmth, which had favored North Atlantic travels, the global climate took a frigid turn, and the colony's trade with Norway declined sharply." (Wilford, 2000)

As the Viking period in North America ended with extreme cold, it was opened up by extreme warmth. "The great voyages or Eirik the Red, Leif, and Karlsefni all took place at a time when a favorable climate. "Although the saga of Eric the Red says that the land [was called] "Greenland" to make it sound more enticing to prospective settlers, the truth is that the land in the southwest around the cape was verdant, and promised abundance and growth, and that the climate was undoubtedly warmer than today and, despite moderating trends, somewhat warmer than it is today." (Logan, p. 73) However, after 1200, it began to grow colder, and by the middle of the fifteenth century, it was very cold indeed. Over much of Europe the glaciers were advancing, the tree line fell lower, vegetation and harvest diminished by the cold, and the alpine passes were sealed for longer periods. The northern coast of Iceland grew increasingly beleaguered by drift ice; and off Greenland as the sea temperatures sank there was a disabling increase in the ice which comes south from the East Greenland Current to Cape Farewell, and then swings north to enclose first the Eastern and then the Western settlement." (Jones, p. 308)

"Climatologists have reinforced what the sagas tell us: during the eleventh and twelfth centuries ice was virtually unknown in the waters between Iceland and the Viking settlements in Greenland, and the temperature in these settled areas was 2 degrees centigrade to 4 degrees warmer than at present. From the beginning of the 13th century a mini-ice age affected the northern hemisphere, plunging the seawater temperature to between 3 degrees centigrade and 7 degrees (about 23 degrees below the present day temperature). This change was enough to bring the ice further and further south. Seasonal ice floes began to appear in the sailing lanes and near the settlements; their quantity increased, the ice season lengthened, and the ice floes were followed by ice bergs." (Logan, p. 78)

This period of Viking expansion was different than earlier ones. In essence, they were forced into domestication and agriculturalists and settled lifestyles. "The era of Viking marauding had long since passed. To some scholars the Norman invasion of England in 1066 was the last great Viking raid; many Normans were descended from helmeted Vikings who had earlier seized their land." (Wilford, 2000)

"During the 13th century the climate appears to have deteriorated, though the facts regarding this are not fully agreed upon. Climatic tables indicate, after a level, comparatively ice-free period 860-1200, a sharply rising level of marine ice in the years around 1260, declining thereafter only to rise again after 1300." (Wahlgren, p. 24-5)

7. Type of Habitat: Temperate, then Cool

8. Act and Harm Sites: Global and Canada (present-day)

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Inter-state

The First Attack on the Skraelings (from the Saga of Eric the Red)

"They then returned to the ship, and discovered on the sands, in beyond the headland, three mounds: they went up to these, and saw that they were three skin canoes with three men under each. They thereupon divided their party, and succeeded in seizing all of the men but one, who escaped with his canoe. They killed the eight men, and then ascended the headland again, and looked about them, and discovered within the firth certain hillocks, which they concluded must be habitations. They were then so overpowered with sleep that they could not keep awake, and all fell into a [heavy] slumber from which they were awakened by the sound of a cry uttered above them; and the words of the cry were these: "Awake, Thorvald, thou and all thy company, if thou wouldst save thy life; and board thy ship with all thy men, and sail with all speed from the land!" A countless number of skin canoes then advanced toward them from the inner part of the firth, whereupon Thorvald exclaimed, "We must put out the war-boards on both sides of the ship, and defend ourselves to the best of our ability, but offer little attack." This they did; and the Skrellings, after they had shot at them for a time, fled precipitately, each as best he could. Thorvald then inquired of his men whether any of them had been wounded, and they informed him that no one of them had received a wound. "I have been wounded in my armpit," says he. "An arrow flew in between the gunwale and the shield, below my arm. Here is the shaft, and it will bring me to my end. I counsel you now to retrace your way with the utmost speed. But me ye shall convey to that headland which seemed to me to offer so pleasant a dwelling-place: thus it may be fulfilled that the truth sprang to my lips when I expressed the wish to abide there for a time. Ye shall bury me there, and place a cross at my head, and another at my feet, and call it Crossness forever after." At that time Christianity had obtained in Greenland: Eric the Red died, however, before [the introduction of] Christianity. (Modern History Sourcebook: The Discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson, c. 1000, from The Saga of Eric the Red, 1387)

The Skraelings Attack the Vikings (from the Saga of Eric the Red)

"In the summer succeeding the first winter Skrellings were discovered. A great troop of men came forth from out the woods. The cattle were hard by, and the bull began to bellow and roar with a great noise, whereat the Skrellings were frightened, and ran away with their packs, wherein were gray furs, sables, and all kinds of peltries. They fled towards Karlsefni's dwelling, and sought to effect an entrance into the house; but Krlsefni caused the doors to be defended [against them]. Neither [people] could understand the other's language. The Skrellings put down their bundles then, and loosed them, and offered their wares [for barter], and were especially anxious to exchange these for weapons; but Karlsefni forbade his men to sell their weapons, and, taking counsel with himself, he bade the women carry out milk to the Skrellings, which they no sooner saw than they wanted to buy it, and nothing else. Now the outcome of the Skrellings' trading was that they carried their wares away in their stomachs, while they left their packs and peltries behind with Karlsefni and his companions, and, having accomplished this [exchange], they went away. Now it is to be told that Karlsefni caused a strong wooden palisade to be constructed and set up around the house. It was at this time that Gudrid, Karlsefni's wife, gave birth to a male child, and the boy was called Snorri. In the early part of the second winter the Skrellings came to them again, and these were now much more numerous than before, and brought with them the same wares as at first. " (Modern History Sourcebook: The Discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson, c. 1000, from The Saga of Eric the Red, 1387)

The Conflict with the Skraelings

After the hostile engagement with Native Americans, or Skraelings as they were called (meaning "screechers" or "uglies"). Thorfin Karlsefni returned several years later with 160 men to start a settlement that was to be a trans-shipment point to other areas of colonization. (Jones, p. 269-311)

At that time, European military technology was not markedly superior to that of the Native Americans. Given that they were also in a new environment and landscape to them, they often were at a considerable military disadvantage. This was of course a completely different situation in 1492 when Europe was the ascendant home of technology in the world. After all, both the Inca and the Aztec Empires fell to Spaniard forces numbering only in the thousands at most. "The outbreak of hostilities between Skraelings and Norsemen was decisive for the Vineland venture. The Norsemen had no marked superiority of weapons, their lines of communication were thin and overlong, and there was an insufficient reservoir of manpower back in Greenland." (Jones, p. 303). The attempt at colonization probably lasted only until about 1020.

By 1350, the Vikings abandoned the Western settlement of Greenland, which the Skraeling or Eskimos soon took over, and retreated to the Eastern Settlement. They survived until 1500 where they were attacked by the Skraelings who killed off most of the Norse Greenlanders, save for a few slaves. Greenland had little help during these hard times. In Europe, in 1349, the bubonic plague killed a third of Norway' s (and Europe's) population.

Some of the decline of the settlement was surely due to internal dissension. "One member of Eric's family, however, is not praised in the Greenlander's Saga. And that is Freydis, Eric's daughter. In partnership with two Icelanders she sailed to Vinland and the Leif site. Disagreements broke out there, and Freydis had her partners and their mates killed, she herself slaying five women with the sharp end of an ax." (Logan, p, 90)

The conflict was only part of a more complex relationship with the Native Americans. "They settled here [at Vineland]; no snow came in the winter, but in the spring came the skraelings, first to trade ---- skraeling pelts for Viking cloth - and later to do battle. (Logan, p, 91) While the L'Anse aux Meadows is on Newfoundland Island, Tharvald was killed by the skraelings in Nova Scotia. "Everything indicates that they voyagers had reached New England." (Wahlgren, p. 163)

10. Level of Conflict: Low

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

IV. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

The Vinland Archaeological Site

Archaelogists Helge and Anne Ingstad went to Newfoundland in pursuit of Vikings clues and recognized sod wall remnants as Norse in origin and which was later proven to be at least one of the Vineland sites. (Scandanavian immigrants to the Middle West would also use sod houses much later in North America). "Built in the style of Icelandic houses, the walls were six feet thick, two layers of sod between a layer of gravel for drainage. The roofs were made of turf laid over a timber frame. Radiocarbon analysis dated the artifacts at between 980 and 1020 -- the time of Ericson's and subsequent expeditions". (Wilford, 2000)

The findings at the site reveal a tapestry of Viking life at that time. "Among the 800 artifacts archaeologists also found soapstone oil lamps, a bone needle and more iron nails. Some of the smaller houses appeared to be workshops for carpenters and weavers. A spindle whorl attested to work with textiles, and since Vikings considered this women's work, at least some of the expeditions must have included women." (Wilford, 2000)

The height of Viking exploration in North American was brief in time. "Serious Viking exploration of Vinland probably lasted little more than a decade. After Ericson's single expedition, Thorfinn Karlsefni, who once led a party of 160 men and women in three ships, assumed his role as Vinland explorer. They stayed three years, and his wife, Gudrid, gave birth to a boy, Snorri, presumably the first European born in America." (Wilford, 2000)

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Multilateral

A Conceptual Perspective

Current discussion about climate change and the potential for conflict is set on the time horizon of decades. The role of climate change in the Viking story is an epic that stretched out over 500 years. This case certainly gives pause to conceiving of such problems over time and the range of impacts and complexities that occur along the way. Such a focus on mega-trends of environmental and conflict interaction also necessarily become more complex. This complexity has a multi-disciplinary flavor and involves considerable feedback between the differing parts of the complexity.

Micro-trends will have less of this complexity and breadth and be more focus on a small set of key variables. In fact, it is possible to consider such problems as decomposable or related to other problems. That is, key cases of environment and conflict can be group by the time horizon of the problem, especially if we start from a mega-trend issue that spans 500 years. First, as the finding indicate, there were macro-level climate changes trends even within that larger period, that could be broken down into cycles of 100, 50 nor even 25 years, for example. Second, the macro changes in climate no doubt included many micro impacts were the differential impact would reveal differing implications for humans. These can be either beneficial or detrimental in terms of human subsistence and economic value. For example, warmer weather in Greenland no doubt meant more trees could grow which is a benefit as a key building and fuel material. On the other hand, warmer weather may well have caused walrus to move further north, since it enjoys the colder weather, and thus were farther away from the hunters who valued them for food and resource reasons.

14. Outcome of Dispute: Conflict Loss

V. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases






16. Relevant Websites and Literature

William W. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth I. Ward (eds.), Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.

Graham-Campbell, James, ed., Cultural Atlas of the Viking World , New York:
Facts on File, 1994.

Ingstad, Helge. Westward to Vinland. Erik J. Friis, Trans. New York: St Martin's
Press, 1969.

Jones, Gwyn; A History of the Vikings. Oxford University Press, 1968.

Logan, F D.; The Vikings in History. Routledge. 1991.

Magnusson, Magnus; Vikings! E P Dutton. 1980.

Redmond, Viking Hoaxes in North America 1979.

Wilson, David; The Vikings and Their Origins. Thames & Hudson, 1970.
Kensington Rune Stone Information:

Blegen, Theodore Christian. The Kensington Rune-stone; New Light on an Old Riddle, ... St
Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1968.

Flom, George Tobias. The Kensington Rune Stone: An Address. Springfield: Phillips
Bros., 1910.

Hall, Robert Anderson. The Kensington Rune-stone is Genuine: Linguistic, Practical
Methodological Considerations. Columbia: Hornbeam Press, 1982.

Holand, Hjalmar R. The Kensington Rune Stone: The Oldest Native Document of
American History. Ephriam, WS: [Private Printing?], 1919.

......... The Kensington Stone: A Study in Pre-Columbian American History. Ephriam,
WS: Private Printing, 1932.

......... Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America, 982-1362. New York: Dover
Publications, 1940.

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Circumstances under which the Stone was Discovered. Glendale: Church Press,

Redmond, Jeffery R. Viking Hoaxes in North America. New York: Carlton Press, 1979.
Wahlgren, Erik. The Kensington Rune-stone: A Mystery Solved. Madison: University of
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........ "The Runes of Kensington". Studies in Honor of Albert Morey Sturtevant.
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Farrell, R (editor); The Vikings. Phillmore, 1982.

Washburn, W; Proceedings of the Vinland Map Conference. University of
Chicago Press, 1971.

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National Museum of Natural History, "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga."

A Viking Chapter in American History (from Smithsonian Web Site: Smithsonian Celebrates 1,000th Anniversary of New World's 'Discovery'.

F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983.

Erik Wahlgren, The Vikings and America, London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1986.

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© Paul Halsall, August 1998

Copyright 2000 , William Bakken, Last Update: Dec 28, 2000

April, 2001