Learning From the Viking Age

Studying climate shifts in the Arctic and how people coped.

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For the project, the team is exploring the soil in two very different farmsteads in the same region, Reynistaður and Meðalheimur.  Reynistaður was one of the first farms settled in the area and was politically and economically prominent during the Viking Age and Medieval periods. In comparison, Meðalheimur likely was a poor sharecropper farm.

Comparing a successful large farmstead against a smaller, poorer and likely unsuccessful farmstead allows the researchers to determine the intersecting roles of landscape change, particularly since they are located in the same area of the country. It also provides information about farm production and political economy during Iceland’s early history, when the Vikings dominated the land.

“These guys were very independent people who traveled across the North Atlantic to establish their own farms,’’ Steinberg said.  “The changes in their environment ripped their social structure, and made them subject to feudalism.  This intense, violent, independent people destroyed productive land and were forced into serfdom, in part, by changes they themselves caused.

“That was the last time the Earth was as warm as it is today,” he added. “So, if we want to understand climate change, we have this great group of actors in a formerly uninhabited land doing terrible things to their environment during a period of warming. They can tell us a lot.’’

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