Then conditions started to deteriorate. Some time between 1200 and 1250 the Norwegian settlers in southern Greenland met Inuit people for the first time. Members of a culture that was widespread in eastern Canada, previously the Inuit had not ventured so far south. There is archaeological
Start of the deterioration
evidence to suggest that Inuit people belonging to a different culture had proved more successful at hunting, forcing them to move away from the region of Qaanaaq (Thule) where they had lived until then. At the same time, however, the sea ice was advancing southward and game—seals and walrus—were becoming scarcer. The climate was growing colder.
The Inuit and Norsemen traded peacefully, but around 1350 a ship from 0sterbygd visited Vesterbygd and found the settlement deserted, with sheep wandering freely. Everyone had died, perhaps from plague, and the settlement remained abandoned. 0sterbygd continued, but it was in decline. Skeletons that have been examined show that in the early years of the settlement the average height of adult men was 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m), but by the early 1400s it was only 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m). This is a clear sign of deteriorating diet. Food was often scarce.
There was a regular trading route by sea between Greenland and Iceland. Ships sailed along the 65th parallel. Around 1340, however, the route was shifted to the south because of the increasing amount of sea ice. In
Belgium, the Netherlands, and eastern England, where sea levels rose during the medieval
1369 one of the ships involved in the trade was wrecked and after that there were no more regular sailings. Around 1500 all contact between Greenland and Norway was lost. Traders visited Greenland occasionally in the years that followed, but in 1540 a ship from Hamburg was blown off course and landed near 0sterbygd. The Germans found one body but no living inhabitants. The Norse colonization of Greenland had ended and it was not until 1720 that permanent posts were established there again, by the Danish-Norwegian government.
Conditions were also harsh in Iceland. According to tax records, in 1095 the population was 77,500, but it was reduced to about 72,000 by 1311. Icelanders were also going hungry—like the Greenlanders, they were becoming shorter in stature. Sea ice often surrounded the island for months at a time, destroying the shellfish and making sea fishing impossible because boats could not put to sea. The same ice brought polar bears as far south as Iceland, however, and they provided meat and furs. Polar bear skins were used to carpet churches. Sometimes the spring and summer were so cold the grass failed to grow. Farmers were unable to make enough hay and thousands of sheep died.
Europe and North America were becoming colder and southern Asia was becoming wetter. The Khmer empire fell, and around 1300 the forest reclaimed the region around Angkor.
The medieval optimum had ended.
Increasingly severe storms
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