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Thread: Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

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    Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

    A Prehistory of the North
    Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes

    Author: John F. Hoffecker
    Foreword: Brian Fagan
    Subject: Anthropology/Archaeology/Evolution
    Paper ISBN 0-8135-3469-0
    Cloth ISBN 0-8135-3468-2
    Pages: 224 pp. 50 b&w illus.

    Description: Praise for A Prehistory of the North
    "For the first time in recent years, we have a synthesis of the latest thinking and discoveries by a younger scholar with an authoritative grasp of the subject. This book is an important contribution to the general literature of human prehistory, unique for its comprehensive coverage of the circumpolar regions."-Brian Fagan, author of The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization

    "A uniquely authoritative, highly readable, and well-illustrated account of how stone-age people managed to colonize the Far North."-Richard G. Klein, Stanford University

    Early humans did not simply drift northward from their African origins as their abilities to cope with cooler climates evolved. The initial settlement of places like Europe and northern Asia, as well as the later movement into the Arctic and the Americas, actually occurred in relatively rapid bursts of expansion. A Prehistory of the North is the first full-length study to tell the complex story, spanning almost two million years, of how humans inhabited some of the coldest places on earth.

    In an account rich with illustrations, John Hoffecker traces the history of anatomical adaptations, diet modifications, and technological developments, such as clothing and shelter, which allowed humans the continued ability to push the boundaries of their habitation. The book concludes by showing how in the last few thousand years, peoples living in the circumpolar zone-with the exception of western and central Siberia-developed a thriving maritime economy.

    Written in nontechnical language, A Prehistory of the North provides compelling new insights and valuable information for professionals and students.

    John F. Hoffecker is a Fellow of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder and is the author of Desolate Landscapes: Ice Age Settlement in Eastern Europe (Rutgers University Press).

  2. #2
    Excerpt from A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes by John F. Hoffecker

    In AD 1000, the Earth was experiencing an episode of climate warming similar to that of the present day. Temperatures in many parts of the world seem to have risen by at least two or three degrees Fahrenheit. Although the scale of this "global warming" may seem small, its effects on human societies were profound. In Europe, several centuries of long hot summers led to an almost unbroken string of good harvests, and both urban and rural populations began to grow. These centuries are known as the Medieval Warm Period.1

    One of the more dramatic consequences of the Medieval Warm Period was the expansion of Viking settlements in the North Atlantic. From their Icelandic base (established in AD 870), the Norse people began to move west and north to Greenland, Canada, and eventually above the Arctic Circle.

    The discovery of a green stone inscribed with runic characters near Upernavik in northwestern Greenland indicates that a small party of Vikings ventured as far as 73 North (probably in the late thirteenth century). The inscription lists the names of three Norsemen and mentions the construction of a rock cairn, which was still present when the runestone was discovered in 1824. The Vikings had reached a point only 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from the North Pole. Their artifacts have been found even further north in Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but it is unclear who brought them to these locations.2

    As they established settlements along the coast of Greenland and probed further into northern Canada and the Arctic, the Norse encountered native peoples of the New World. It was the first meeting of Europeans and aboriginal Americans. Although the Vikings were inclined to lump all of these peoples into the pejorative category of skraeling, they comprised a diverse array of groups. In the southern part of the Norsemen's range (for example, Newfoundland), they found Algonquian-speaking Indians. Both the Norse sagas and archaeological evidence suggest that interactions between Vikings and Indians were relatively limited.3

    Farther north, the Vikings encountered very different sorts of people. In some places, such as northern Labrador and Baffin Island, they almost certainly met up with the last of the Paleo-Eskimo population (known to archaeologists as "Late Dorset"). These people were descendants of the earliest inhabitants of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. Although capable hunters of walrus and polar bear and fully adjusted to arctic conditions, the Dorset possessed a comparatively primitive technology. Among other things, they lacked large boats and bows and arrows. Despite the warming climate, their settlement began to shrink after AD 1000, perhaps in response to other people in the region. Evidence for contact with the Norse is scarce, and it is widely assumed that the Dorset avoided the latter as much as possible.4

    The native Americans with whom the Vikings interacted most extensively were the ancestors of the modern Inuit or Eskimo. The Inuit were themselves newcomers to the region, having spread eastward from Alaska after AD 1000. In fact, their movement into the Canadian Arctic and Greenland was probably facilitated by the same warming climates that had encouraged the Vikings to come north.

    The Inuit were a formidable people with a tradition of warfare. They hunted bowhead whales in large boats (umiaks) and moved swiftly across the landscape in dogsleds. Their hunting technology and weaponry were highly sophisticated and included mechanical harpoons and recurved bows. Their winter clothing, which was assembled from more than a hundred components, provided effective protection from extreme cold.5

    Inuit settlements were established on Ellesmere Island, northern Greenland, and other parts of the region by AD 1300. Inuit oral tradition, Norse sagas, and the evidence of archaeology suggest both trade and warfare occurred with the Vikings during the following two centuries. In many respects, this was the first serious contest between Europeans and native Americans.

    Unlike later conflicts between the two peoples, the Vikings probably did not enjoy major advantages in terms of technology or numbers. Their boats were larger and powered by sail, and they made use of iron weapons and armor (which the native Americans sometimes tried to obtain through trade). However, the Norse settlers in Greenland were not the heavily armed Viking raiders of European legend, and local sources of iron were unknown. Most important, the Vikings lacked firearms. Written and oral history sources suggest that the Inuit may have been equally-if not more-aggressive, and that at times they assembled large numbers of people for attacks on the Norse.6

    Although the victory is not widely appreciated, it is apparent that native Americans won their first contest with European invaders. By AD 1500, the Norse settlements in Greenland and elsewhere in the New World had been abandoned. The Dorset people had also disappeared by this time, and the Inuit inherited all of the arctic-and some of the subarctic-regions of the New World.

    The reason for the retreat of the Vikings from these regions has been the subject of much debate. Economic competition and warfare with the Inuit seem likely to have been factors, along with declining trade and the isolation of the settlers from the larger Norse population. The primary cause, however, probably lies in the return of colder climates that heralded the beginning of the "Little Ice Age" in AD 1450-1500. Falling temperatures were almost certainly the reason for the economic decline that took place at this time and the reduction in population that followed. Conflict with the Inuit probably exacerbated Norse problems, but did not create them.7

    The real obstacle to Viking survival in the north was their inability to adapt to colder climates during the 1400s. The Inuit were also forced to make adjustments to their way of life at this time (for example, increased focus on seal hunting), but they seem to have accomplished this without major trauma and within the larger context of their existing adaptation.

    Isotopic analyses of the skeletal remains of Greenland Vikings, combined with the study of food remains from their settlements, indicates that they gradually adopted a diet based more heavily on marine foods (and less on livestock).8 However, they never abandoned the fundamental traditions of a society and culture derived from medieval Europe. Dressed in woolen clothing, they were still struggling to maintain their farming estates as arctic climates descended on southern Greenland.9

    The Settlement of Cold Environments

    Although the Vikings could not know it, their movement north during the Medieval Warm Period of AD 1000-1400 represented a pattern that had occurred many times before in the human past. Throughout prehistory and history, peoples have shifted their range northward in response to improved climates. Conversely, they have sometimes retreated from higher latitudes during phases of colder climate.

    The initial movement of early humans above latitude 45 North roughly half a million years ago may have been largely a consequence of warmer climates. The peak of the last major glacial advance 24,000 years ago seems to have forced modern humans to abandon large areas of northern Eurasia. And rising temperatures in Siberia toward the end of the Ice Age (roughly 16,000 years ago) encouraged people to occupy the Bering Land Bridge and enter the New World.10 There are many other less spectacular examples from later prehistory and historic times.

    The pattern of northward movement during episodes of warmer climate is one aspect of the human settlement of northern latitudes. The same pattern may be found among plants and animals as they shift their range in response to changes in temperature and moisture. During the warm interval that prevailed between 7,000 and 4,000 years ago, boreal forest vegetation spread northward beyond its current limit. At the time of the last major glacial advance 24,000 years ago, many animals now confined to the arctic tundra (for example, polar fox, musk ox) extended their range hundreds of miles southward to places like southern Ukraine.11 In these cases, organisms have simply followed the shifting boundaries of their environment without developing signi.cant new adaptations. Accordingly, these organisms were forced to retreat when climate trends reversed direction and the boundaries shifted back.

    The Inuit represent a different aspect of human settlement in higher latitudes and colder regions. Unlike the Vikings, they had developed a wide range of adaptations to their arctic maritime environment. In addition to their highly sophisticated and specialized technology, the Inuit had developed organizational strategies for coping with the challenges of this environment. They had also evolved morphological traits and physiological responses that helped them conserve body heat and avoid cold injury. They were the supreme arctic specialists, and probably overwhelmed the less efficient Dorset people in addition to competing successfully with the Vikings. Like the latitudinal shifts of peoples during periods of climate change, the development of specialized adaptations to northern environments also has many parallels among other living organisms. Most plants and animals that live at higher latitudes represent taxa specifically adapted to conditions in those latitudes. These organisms have diverged from their ancestral forms, evolving new features in response to the lower temperatures, increased seasonality, reduced sunlight, and other aspects of northern environments.

    During the course of their evolution, humans produced at least one specialized northern variant in the form of the Neanderthals, who diverged roughly half a million years ago from the southern population and eventually developed a variety of cold adaptations. Since the appearance and spread of modern humans more than 50,000 years ago, however, people have adapted to higher-latitude environments primarily through cultural means (although many-like the Inuit-developed some physical adaptations without becoming genetically isolated from other modern humans).

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    Exclamation Archeology of the North

    The biggest problem in establishing a History of thr North is the fact that most documents (buildings, inscriptions.etc.) were carved out of wood: a much more ephemerous material than stone.

    This has lead Archeologists and Historians to create a preponderance of the South, to refer to it as a more "ancient" civilization, a dogma which is, in my opinion, factious.

    Another considerable mistake of the Historians is the use of Carbon 14 to date artifacts: if you find a stone axe, the radioactive Carbon will only tell you how old is the stone from which the artifact was made, not the date of the artifact itself.

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