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Climatic, biogeomorphic or economic? The decline and fall of Norse Greenland – palaeoenvironmental investigation of an iconic event

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J E Schofield
    Prof K Edwards
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

The Viking/Norse settlement of Greenland was of relatively short duration (ca AD 1000-1500), yet the Norse abandonment of Greenland has become an iconic episode in the history of the North Atlantic, attracting commentary from many disciplines. The causes advanced for the end of European colonization – ’a catastrophe of total cultural and biological extinction’ – are multi-faceted, including: climate change – especially the accentuation of climate cooling within the so-called Little Ice Age, together with shorter growing seasons and shifting patterns in animal migration; biogeomorphic impacts – vegetation mat destruction and soil erosion consequent upon the imposition of shrub clearance and pastoral agriculture; economic and social collapse – relating to climatically-caused loss of contact with Iceland and mainland Europe (e.g. from enhanced sea-ice), economic change in Europe, and possible conflict with Inuit (Thule) groups over access to natural resources. The episode of Norse occupation is clearly visible in, for instance, the microfossil- and sedimentologically-based palaeoecological and archaeological records. Many of the above causes can be investigated directly and indirectly by a range of approaches including palynology, palaeoentomology, sedimentology, radiocarbon age modelling, tephrochronology and environmental archaeology.

An exhaustive and critical consideration of the available published evidence will be followed by a palaeoenvironmental investigation of selected sedimentary basins in the most populated and last occupied area of Norse Greenland – the Eastern Settlement. These will focus upon palaeoecological methods and associated proxies. Three principal hypotheses (and their corollaries) will be tested, viz. that the end of Norse settlement:
1. was ubiquitous;
2. was abrupt and contemporaneous;
3. had a demonstrably physical cause.

Applicants should possess a background in geography, archaeology or environmental science, be willing to undertake fieldwork overseas, and be familiar with one or more standard palaeoecological techniques (e.g. pollen analysis, plant macrofossil analysis).

Essential Background: Equivalent of 2.1 Honours Degree in Geography, Geoscience, Environmental Science

Knowledge of: Palynology, ideally having experience with absolute dating techniques (e.g. radiocarbon, tephrochronology) and related palaeoenvironmental proxies (e.g. plant macrofossils, sedimentology).

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting There is NO funding attached to this project. You can find details of living costs and the like by visiting


This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of Geography. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for PhD in Geography, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. Please ensure that you quote the project title and supervisor on the application form.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr J E Schofield ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).

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