“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” said George Santayana, and scientists who have been studying the past environments and archaeological remains of Greenland and Iceland believe the same thing.
Scientists including Professor Andrew Dugmore of the University of Edinburgh have studied how well the Norse responded to changes in the economy, trade, politics and technology whilst their climate changed around them. They found that the Norse populations that thrived were those that kept their options open.
Throughout the middle ages, the Norse living in Iceland embraced the economic changes that were sweepig through Europe, developed their own trade in fish and wool, and endured extremely tough times to eventually thrive.
However, the Norse in Greenland did not adapt so well, sticking rigidly to what had worked for them in the past such as trading in prestige goods such as Walrus ivory. Eventually, with changes in trade, climate and cultural contact with the Inuit, the Greenland Norse society fell.
“Our future will in part be shaped by climate change, and to prepare for it we can learn valuable lessons from how societies of the past have adapted and even flourished amid a backdrop of difficult conditions,” said Dugmore, who will be presenting the findings as part of a symposium ‘Climate Change and the long-term sustainability of societies’ at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, Canada on Sunday 19 February at 1.30pm. “Most importantly we can understand how a combination of climate and non-climate events can lead to a ‘perfect storm’ and trigger unexpected and dramatic social change.”