Recent research has found that climate change is threatening the cultural history of the Arctic region including Greenland, areas in which Vikings had established numerous settlements in the past. Of all the archaeological sites in Greenland, Norse settlements previously established around Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk, are said to be most at risk of rotting away as the Arctic temperatures rise. The lead scientist of the study, Jørgen Hollesen, suggests that ‘if we do nothing to protect the archaeological sites in the Arctic, we will lose irreplaceable human and environmental records of the past’. Along with his team, he examined how increasing rates of temperature may degrade a unique record of remarkably preserved material including wood, bone, hair, DNA, textiles and other organic materials at seven different archaeological sites around the region. The findings reveal that increasing future air temperatures, and thus higher soil temperatures and longer thaw seasons, lead to microbes attacking and breaking down such organic materials, leaving only rot behind.
The researchers estimate that 35 percent of the organic materials at these Viking sites could completely disappear in a mere 30 years. Such a loss would be a significant blow to research surrounding Viking historical studies, especially because Greenland is unique in the Viking world for preserving hair, textiles, animal bones and other fragile material; these materials are said to ‘open windows on aspects of society that would otherwise be invisible’. The archaeologist, Douglas Bolender, has also voiced his concerns on the issue: ‘when we lose certain kinds of materials, and especially the organics, we actually erase the experience of certain kinds of people’.
Students applying to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, as well as those applying for Archaeology and Anthropology, may consider the potentially detrimental consequences of climate change for research on Norse Viking studies and other groups of societies previous established in the region.