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Viking Farms Tell Cautionary Climate Tale
NPR ^ | 6-16-2008 | Richard Harris

Posted on 06/17/2008 1:43:08 PM PDT by blam

Viking Farms Tell Cautionary Climate Tale

Boundary walls built by Iceland's Viking farmers run through Unnsteinn Ingason's land. At some point, farmers stopped repairing the walls, and a climate change may help explain why.

Ingason's land had been farmed for hundreds of years prior to his family's ownership. Here, ruins of a stone farm house with a turf roof on a hill behind Ingason's home.

Archaeologist Adolf Fridriksson stands near the ruins of an early Viking farm. The farm was long ago abandoned, and its soil heavily eroded.

Icelandic farmers bring their sheep down from the hills for the winter. Sheep have played a large role in the degradation of Iceland's soil, through overgrazing.

One of Icelandic's oldest Viking ruins sits just behind this farm house (left) near Lake Myvatn.

Day to Day, December 3, 2007 · It's easy to see how Iceland's history could be shaped by its climate, once you experience its fickle weather.

On this September afternoon, Unnsteinn Ingason steps out of the inn he runs in northern Iceland and looks up to see whether it's sunny or snowing. In this land of frequent rainbows, it could be both.

As he crosses the family farm's rolling, grassy hills in a four-wheel-drive SUV, he's not just watching the road. He's also scanning the landscape for clues about Iceland's deep history — its Viking history.

"When you know more, you see more things," Ingason says. "In the beginning, I didn't see anything at all."

As we creep down a steep, rutted hillside, he points out the remains of a 1,000-year-old farm boundary wall built by Vikings — or, more likely, by their Irish slaves.

We hop out of the truck, and he steps up onto a hump that runs parallel to the ridge.

"The local people have known [of] this for centuries," he says, gesturing toward the wall. "But nobody knew what it was for."

Archaeologists eventually concluded that Vikings piled up turf here to corral their sheep and cows. That's an unusual image of the Vikings, who sailed their ships around Europe pillaging, murdering and terrifying the local populace.

But when Viking ships landed in Iceland around 870 A.D., the island was essentially uninhabited. Instead of doing battle, they used their sharpened axes to cut down trees.

They were "probably just peace-going farmers, not the Vikings like in the stories, robbing and killing everybody they saw," Ingason says.

Back then, Iceland's climate was warmer and milder than it is today, and that may have been one reason the Vikings settled there.

As Ingason tells this story, a brisk wind whips up and a cloud blots out the sun. I reach for my jacket zipper, but Ingason is happy in his fleece.

"You can always tell which are local people and which are tourists," he says. "Because the tourists have more clothes on."

According to one theory, he says, the boundary walls were abandoned between 1300 and 1400 A.D., probably because the climate changed. It turned cold. Animals died, farms failed and people starved, leaving no one to tend the walls.

This hump on the ground offers a glimpse of just how much climate influenced the history of these early settlers.

"It's like a giant puzzle which [we've] been putting together very slowly," Ingason said.

Archaeologists are now on that case. For the last hundred years, they've been excavating Viking ruins in the farmland surrounding Lake Myvatn. Recently, they've started asking what these remains might say about climate's effect on the rise and fall of the Viking settlers.

Adolf Fridriksson, who runs the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology, says the climate was much more attractive at first.

"When people came here first, I would think they found the place very inviting," he says. "It was covered with birch forests, and people would have soon discovered the rich fishing grounds around the island, but also the trout and salmon rivers."

One of those rivers flows through this valley, past centuries-old farmsteads. We slip behind one of these farms and pause at a long, curving hollow at the foot of a hill — a Viking ruin.

"This farm was settled very early on, probably in the late ninth century, and people lived here," Fridriksson says. "For some reason, [they] built this huge elongated house with slightly curved long walls. It's the biggest building from this period we know in Iceland."

People may have shared this space with their animals, using their cows as radiators on cold winter nights. It could also have been a temple to worship the Norse gods.

"It's all covered with grass now, but I think you can see the form," Fridriksson says.

One thing is certain: The landscape changed. First, farmers chopped down the birch trees for animal fodder and firewood, almost completely deforesting the island. And every so often, volcanic eruptions spread ash and noxious chemicals across the land, poisoning the pastures. If that weren't enough, the temperature on this blustery North Atlantic island rose and fell unpredictably. Livestock often couldn't survive that.

"When you're living at the edge of the inhabitable world, any small change may have a huge effect. Especially if you're trying to live off nature, in isolation, as over here in Iceland," Fridriksson says.

For nearly 1,000 years, Iceland's population didn't grow at all, and Fridriksson says these climatic swings may have been one reason why.

Nowadays, you can't find a Viking in Iceland. They intermarried with their Irish slaves, and today they walk the streets as native Icelanders. But hints of their climate's tumultuous history still show up in Icelandic culture today.

"Some people complain that in Iceland, they never make any plans. Maybe that's because they have learned how to adapt to new and changing situations all the time," Fridriksson says. "There is this joke, that if you're not happy with the weather, wait five minutes, it'll change. And I'm feeling bloody cold!"

We stuff our hands in our pockets and head back toward shelter. Fridriksson says you might not notice it today, but the climate is warming once again. And local farmers have told him that after centuries of absence, the birch trees are slowly returning.

"They said that they imagined that this land would become as it was when it was still untouched by humans, in the Viking period."

So the environment here is changing yet again.

Produced by Vikki Valentine.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: catastrophism; climate; climatechange; environment; farmers; godsgravesglyphs; iceland; littleiceage; medievalwarming; vikings

1 posted on 06/17/2008 1:43:08 PM PDT by blam
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To: SunkenCiv; Renfield
GGG Ping.


2 posted on 06/17/2008 1:44:41 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
And I didn't even know the Vikings had SUV's! No wonder they kicked the Limey's a$$!
3 posted on 06/17/2008 1:47:05 PM PDT by San Jacinto
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To: blam

**So the environment here is changing yet again**

Just like it always has....


4 posted on 06/17/2008 1:47:54 PM PDT by Gamecock (The question is not, Am I good enough to be a Christian? rather Am I good enough not to be?)
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To: blam

And just how much greenhouse gas were the colonies in America producing at the time? Oh, must have been those Chinese and Indians!!!!


5 posted on 06/17/2008 1:58:14 PM PDT by heywoodubuzzoff (Electile Dysfuntion -- Can not get excited about any of the candidates.)
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To: Gamecock

“Nowadays, you can’t find a Viking in Iceland. They intermarried with their Irish slaves, and today they walk the streets as native Icelanders. But hints of their climate’s tumultuous history still show up in Icelandic culture today. “

___________

So since I have Irish bood, does this mean I can go to Iceland and demand reparations?


6 posted on 06/17/2008 2:00:26 PM PDT by Tulane
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To: blam

I’ll take some Irish slaves!


7 posted on 06/17/2008 2:05:54 PM PDT by PGR88
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To: blam
Back then, Iceland's climate was warmer and milder than it is today, and that may have been one reason the Vikings settled there.

Nononononononononono! Al Gore says that today is the hottest day in world history and tomorrow will be hotter still.

8 posted on 06/17/2008 2:06:43 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Whale oil: the renewable biofuel for the 21st century.)
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To: Tulane

From whom? If you have Irish blood, there is a viking in the closet somewhere!


9 posted on 06/17/2008 2:08:30 PM PDT by patton (cuiquam in sua arte credendum)
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To: blam
Cannot decide which is more annoying. The complete lack of any sort of knowledge of history among the “global climate change” crowd, or their total lack of even a hint of clue about Economics.
10 posted on 06/17/2008 2:11:06 PM PDT by MNJohnnie (http://www.iraqvetsforcongress.com ---- Get involved, make a difference.)
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To: Tulane

Back o’ the line, fella.


11 posted on 06/17/2008 2:13:25 PM PDT by DuncanWaring (The Lord uses the good ones; the bad ones use the Lord.)
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To: blam
Fridriksson says you might not notice it today, but the climate is warming once again. And local farmers have told him that after centuries of absence, the birch trees are slowly returning. "They said that they imagined that this land would become as it was when it was still untouched by humans, in the Viking period."

Untouched by humans, but warmer.

No, no! That's impossible. The mind reels....

12 posted on 06/17/2008 2:21:29 PM PDT by Argus (Obama: All turban and no goats.)
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To: KarlInOhio

Many years ago, about 1000 A.D. I think, when the Vikings were sailing in that part of the north Atlantic, Greenland was a green land, and got its name from the green landscape. So we know there have been climate changes in the past that had nothing to do with SUVs.

When did the last ice age end, about 10,000 years ago? Couldn’t we say we’ve been having global warming ever since then? Would Al Gore prefer that half of the continental United States be covered by a glacier?


13 posted on 06/17/2008 2:21:55 PM PDT by Dilbert San Diego
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To: blam
I guess the author of this article didn't get the memo from the global warming alarmists that, "We have to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period." They are supposed to claim that it wasn't warmer than today or, if it was, that it was only a localized warmth.
14 posted on 06/17/2008 2:22:17 PM PDT by Question_Assumptions
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To: San Jacinto
I didn't know the Vikings were capable of producing fossil fuels? It's amazing to think that humans have been responsible for such dramatic changes in the global climate. We caused and then melted the Ice Age. I can't figure out how we did this when there were no cars and our population was only a fraction of what it is today. Maybe we could have the Master Of The Universe, Al Gore explain it to us.
15 posted on 06/17/2008 2:30:47 PM PDT by peeps36 (IJack and Many More)
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To: Dilbert San Diego

“Many years ago, about 1000 A.D. I think, when the Vikings were sailing in that part of the north Atlantic, Greenland was a green land, and got its name from the green landscape. So we know there have been climate changes in the past that had nothing to do with SUVs.”

Actually my understanding of the name Greenland was a real estate scam to entice people to move further west. Although there was arable land there at the time it still was cold and bleak over most of it.

“When did the last ice age end, about 10,000 years ago? Couldn’t we say we’ve been having global warming ever since then? Would Al Gore prefer that half of the continental United States be covered by a glacier?”

Yes he would, the red states (which is actually more than half of the continental United States).


16 posted on 06/17/2008 2:37:24 PM PDT by ProudFossil
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To: blam; rdl6989; IrishCatholic; Normandy; Delacon; TenthAmendmentChampion; Horusra; CygnusXI; ...
 




Beam me to Planet Gore !

17 posted on 06/17/2008 2:38:31 PM PDT by steelyourfaith
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To: blam
Back then, Iceland's climate was warmer and milder than it is today, and that may have been one reason the Vikings settled there.

Actually, that warm period probably triggered the whole Viking expansion in Europe. Warmer growing conditions caused a population explosion in Scandinavia, and the surplus went roaming in search of lebensraum.

18 posted on 06/17/2008 3:34:58 PM PDT by hellbender
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To: blam
Nowadays, you can't find a Viking in Iceland.

They're all off somewhere singing about Spam.

19 posted on 06/17/2008 4:01:22 PM PDT by Constitutionalist Conservative (Global Warming Heretic -- http://agw-heretic.blogspot.com)
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To: blam; All

“Back then, Iceland’s climate was warmer and milder than it is today, and that may have been one reason the Vikings settled there.”

That’s simply impossible. There were no CO2 belching SUVs at the time. /sarc


20 posted on 06/17/2008 4:05:38 PM PDT by Wuli
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The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 The Little Ice Age:
How Climate Made History 1300-1850

by Brian M. Fagan

Paperback

21 posted on 06/17/2008 9:50:09 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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To: blam; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 1ofmanyfree; 21twelve; 24Karet; 2ndDivisionVet; ...

· join list or digest · view topics · view or post blog · bookmark · post a topic ·

 
Gods
Graves
Glyphs
Thanks Blam.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
GGG managers are Blam, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach
 

· Google · Archaeologica · ArchaeoBlog · Archaeology magazine · Biblical Archaeology Society ·
· Mirabilis · Texas AM Anthropology News · Yahoo Anthro & Archaeo ·
· History or Science & Nature Podcasts · Excerpt, or Link only? · cgk's list of ping lists ·


22 posted on 06/17/2008 9:53:45 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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To: 75thOVI; aimhigh; Alice in Wonderland; AndrewC; aristotleman; Avoiding_Sulla; BenLurkin; Berosus; ..
Thanks blam.
 
Catastrophism
 
· join · view topics · view or post blog · bookmark · post new topic ·
 

23 posted on 06/17/2008 9:54:45 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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To: SunkenCiv
TFTL...

. . . and right next to it:


The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
by Richard B. Alley

24 posted on 06/18/2008 7:30:04 AM PDT by skeptoid (AA, UE, MBS [with oak leaf clusters])
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To: skeptoid

Might be worth getting that out of the library, although it’s hard to tell much from the two institutional reviews on the page. :’) Thanks skeptoid.


25 posted on 06/18/2008 11:42:22 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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To: blam; SunkenCiv

Wasn’t there a ‘little ice age’ that started about the end of the 1200s, probably caused by a comet/asteroid.

As I recall, the event was memorialized all over the world in writings of observers.

An icelandic farm would have become virtually unusable for crops during a year or two of perpetual darkness caused by ash in the atmosphere.


26 posted on 06/18/2008 12:29:31 PM PDT by wildbill (Don't tread on our quotations!)
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To: wildbill

The Little Ice Age kicked in fast; there was a cold, rainy spring unlike anything in memory or folklore, resulting in famine problems that year and subsequently; farmsteads dating from the medieval warming period are found at higher latitudes and altitudes than are possible now; in Iceland, polar bears appeared, having crossed the ice from Greenland. I like the idea of the LIA beginning with an impact, but haven’t pursued that yet. :’)


27 posted on 06/18/2008 12:36:09 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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To: SunkenCiv

there have been several shows on TV about it with scientists from diverse fields contributing.

this one about a Chinese document that noted the event in the sky and that one studying tree rings for growth inhibition.


28 posted on 06/18/2008 3:23:35 PM PDT by wildbill (Don't tread on our quotations!)
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To: wildbill

Interesting, send mail with whatever you remember about titles and stuff, please and thank you. :’)


29 posted on 06/18/2008 9:50:48 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_________________________Profile updated Friday, May 30, 2008)
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