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Norce Farmers In Greenland Essay, Research Paper
Norce Farmers in GreenlandReviewBuckland, P.C., Amorosi, T., Barlow, L.K., Dugmore, A.J., Mayewski, P.A., McGovern, T.H.,Ogilvie, A.E.J., Sadler, J.P., Skidmore, P. Bioarchaeological and Climatological Evidencefor the Fate of Norse Farmers in Medieval Greenland. Antiquity 70.267 (1996): 88-96. Norse colonization of Greenland, which began in c. AD 985, disappeared within five hundred years. The authors of this study focus on one of the two Norse colonies in Greenland; the Western Settlement. This settlement is interesting because it has been thought that the adverse climatic conditions in which a group of people must have endured to survive within a agrarian society. The authors point to previous studies that link the demise of the Norse colony with climatological data that indicate the Little Ice Age had been a principal contributor the destiny of these farmers. Buckland, et. al, argue that, while it is clear that their were periods of unusually cool temperatures during the second part of this millennium, they did not happen within the time frame of the Norse colonization of Greenland. The article provides some insight as to the background and history of the work related to the Norse farmers in the Western Settlement of Greenland. Shown are studies, primarily archaeological, historical and anthropological, that subsistence was based on milk and meat cattle, sheep and goats. The archaeological record reveals that fossil beetle faunas from recent excavation on the farms are dominated by elements introduced by humans, which lived, primarily, in stored hay. These emphasize the need to store hay crop indoors so that domesticated animals could survive during the winter season. Intensive, largely land-based hunting of seals, sea birds, and caribou were conducted to fill in the shortfall of subsistence. Buckland, et. al indicate that there is no evidence of any wide spread farming. It s because of this core subsistence, that a tightly coordinated organization existed. In order to survive, these farmers would have had to coordinate their resources which produced a community that had a complex political organization. Evidence of this can been seen in archaeological sites that produced monasteries and parish churches, as well as a cathedral at Igaliko that had bronze church bells and stained glass. This would indicate that significant pressures would have had to exist to motivate a mass , and relatively quick, exodus out of the region. This study of the Norse farmers in Greenland utilizes a multidisciplinary investigation which includes history, climatology, entomology, archaeology, anthropology, geology, biology, and others. As evidence for the climatic conditions of Greenland, the authors point to ice core drilling previously (between 1992 and 1993) conducted on the region as well as new technological advances that have resulted in unexplored insights into the climate history of the North Atlantic. The motive behind the climatic analysis related to this article is to directly substantiate the hypothesis that the Norse farmers did not endure an ice age of any caliber. The evidence within the ice core samples seem have difficulty corroborating with the hypothesis. They indicate that several environmental indicators, including calcium and sea-salt sodium, demonstrate the most abrupt and largest change for the last 8000 year between AD 1400 and 1420. While this information may be clear, the authors do not make a distinct relation between the data and their thesis. In fact, with further information on the climatic conditions, it seems that they contradict their hypothesis by showing more proof that cooler temperatures did exist during the span of the Norse farmers. They allude to calcium concentration in the ice core samples that suggest more easily erodes soils, a response to cooler climates and reduced vegetation cover. Furthermore, isotopic signals of deuterim and oxygen from the ice cores show that the temperature was lower in the 14th century than the 15th. It isn t until the last paragraph of the article that the authors imply that the extinction of the Western Settlement predated the most profound changes in atmospheric circulation. The authors go on to delineate the sudden and final end to the Western Settlement. Using entomology, they write that the remains of beetles and other insects of both people and sheep have also contributed to their theory. Studies of approximately 7,000 flies have been examined from the farms and compared with the flies from the pre-contact palaeo-Eskimo Saqqaq site north of the farms. The conclusions of these studies denotes that domesticated animals became extinct along with the farmers. They emphasize that the sanitary conditions of the farms were not unlike those of Dublin or York. The entomologists can deduce from the flies and fly larva that one particular type were bred indoors, in the warmer parts of the buildings. By examining the flies and fly larva, these scientists can discern what constituted the types of diets the inhabitants had. The authors compare and contrast those of the palaeo-Eskimo site and of the Norse farm sites. They write that the flies that breed outdoors (which are characteristic of fat and bone marrow accumulation), are almost non-existent on the Norse farms. That at the palaeo-Eskimo site indicate that meat and fat were routinely left unused there. Apparently, the Eskimos had a surplus of meat and fat that they could let rot, in contrast to the Norse who, evidently, had to eat their kills far more completely. Despite the fact that the Norse had direct contact with the Eskimos for more almost 300 years, the record shows that they did not acquire sophisticated skin clothing, harpoon and suitable equipment for hunting out on the sea ice. Therefore, they could not sea mammals as effectively as the Eskimos did. In addition, there are no Norse sites that produced evidence of fish remains and fishing equipment. Most seals the Norse used were taken from pupping areas. The Norse were not diversified in there hunting methods and any change in growing seasons or pasture productivity would have been disastrous. While the authors infer this relation, they do not explicitly state that this could have been the reason the Norse farms were not successful.
While the article uses tests from a variety of sources, the authors rely heavily on ice core samples and the study of flies. These tests can be directly linked to the hypothesis and are logically ordered. They are, however, limiting when you consider the variety of resources that may be used to obtain objective information about the Norse farmers in the Western Settlement. The authors indicate that little Eskimo-like fishing equipment and clothes were found. But they did not mention what, if any, fishing equipment was found. The fact that fishing and mammal-hunting artifacts that resembled those the Eskimos used could not be found does not mean that other implements were not employed. Another concern about the article includes the time of the Little Ice Age. There is not any indication of who subscribes to this theory and what recent evidence, if any, exists. An additional point that should be entertained when looking at why the Norse farms left, is; if the theory is that a continual decline in favorable climatic conditions caused a farming economy to decay, then what was the time span that the decline took place. If, for instance it took many generations for the decline, then why did the Norse not adapt? The answer could be answered if the climatic change took place rapidly. In their concluding statements, Buckland, et. al concede that additional work must be done to determine the fate of the Norse farmers. Among the suggestions they make is to provide evidence about what occurred in Iceland during years of grass failure. This suggestion, however, may shed little light on the Norse farmers in Greenland. The climate in Greenland versus that of Iceland may not be comparable. Furthermore, agricultural conditions and knowledge of agricultural between the two islands may be very diverse. A more appropriate approach may be to do additional studies in and around the area that the Norse farmers inhabited in Greenland. The authors failed to mention whether or not pollen samples were taken, which would have given considerable insight as to the agriculture of the area during different time spans. Additionally, the authors did not discuss the variation of climatic conditions on a year to year, or season to season basis. In analyzing soil data, they are not clear as to how the process was accomplished. If a soil core sample had been completed, we would have knowledge of the soil type and variation from season to season. The evidence brought forward in this work seems to solidly support the hypothesis. There is, however, information that could have been introduced to further strengthen the argument, or conversely, weakened it. To assume that a Norse community failed to adapt to climatic conditions that forced them to modify there subsistence from dairy and meat to sea food is difficult to accept when we consider the Norse society in whole. Historic data stipulates that the primary food source for the people who lived in Scandinavia from the 10th century through the 14th and 15th centuries were fish and sea mammals. That the colonizers that farmed in the Western Settlement came from these very same people would indicate that they could have had a history of fishing. Another question that needs to be asked is why did the Norse farmers, having close to 300 years of direct contact with the Eskimos, fail to learn the fishing techniques used by the Eskimos.