First evidence of cryptotephra in palaeoenvironmental records associated with Norse occupation sites in Greenland

Blockley, S. P.E., Edwards, K. J., Schofield, J. E., Pyne-O'Donnell, S. D.F., Jensen, B. J.L., Matthews, I. P., Cook, G. T. , Wallace, K. L. and Froese, D. (2015) First evidence of cryptotephra in palaeoenvironmental records associated with Norse occupation sites in Greenland. Quaternary Geochronology, 27, pp. 145-157. (doi:10.1016/j.quageo.2015.02.023)

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Abstract

The Norse/Viking occupation of Greenland is part of a dispersal of communities across the North Atlantic coincident with the supposed Medieval Warm Period of the late 1st millennium AD. The abandonment of the Greenland settlements has been linked to climatic deterioration in the Little Ice Age as well as other possible explanations. There are significant dating uncertainties over the time of European abandonment of Greenland and the potential influence of climatic deterioration. Dating issues largely revolve around radiocarbon chronologies for Norse settlements and associated mire sequences close to settlement sites. Here we show the potential for moving this situation forward by a combination of palynological, radiocarbon and cryptotephra analyses of environmental records close to three ‘iconic’ Norse sites in the former Eastern Settlement of Greenland – Herjolfsnes, Hvalsey and Garðar (the modern Igaliku). While much work remains to be undertaken, our results show that palynological evidence can provide a useful marker for both the onset and end of Norse occupation in the region, while the radiocarbon chronologies for these sequences remain difficult. Significantly, we here demonstrate the potential for cryptotephra to become a useful tool in resolving the chronology of Norse occupation, when coupled with palynology. For the first time, we show that cryptotephra are present within palaeoenvironmental sequences located within or close to Norse settlement ruin-groups, with tephra horizons detected at all three sites. While shard concentrations were small at Herjolfsnes, concentrations sufficient for geochemical analyses were detected at Igaliku and Hvalsey. WDS-EPMA analyses of these tephra indicate that, unlike the predominantly Icelandic tephra sources reported in the Greenland ice core records, the tephra associated with the Norse sites correlate more closely with volcanic centres in the Aleutians and Cascades. Recent investigations of cryptotephra dispersal from North American centres, along with our new findings, point to the potential for cryptotephra to facilitate hypothesis testing, providing a key chronological tool for refining the timing of Norse activities in Greenland (e.g. abandonment) and of environmental contexts and drivers (e.g. climate forcing).

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cook, Professor Gordon
Authors: Blockley, S. P.E., Edwards, K. J., Schofield, J. E., Pyne-O'Donnell, S. D.F., Jensen, B. J.L., Matthews, I. P., Cook, G. T., Wallace, K. L., and Froese, D.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Quaternary Geochronology
Publisher:Elsevier B.V.
ISSN:1871-1014
ISSN (Online):1878-0350
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V.
First Published:First published in Quaternary Geochronology 27:145-157
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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