Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age Impacts on Prehistoric Human Migrations in the Eastern North American Arctic

Monday, 15 December 2014
Sarah A Finkelstein, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada and Max Friesen, University of Toronto, Department of Anthropology, Toronto, ON, Canada
The eastern North American Arctic has a complex 5,000-year prehistory, during which many human population movements occurred over large distances. Archaeologists have interpreted these movements as resulting from many factors, however the effects of climate change are often hypothesized as primary drivers that can “push” human groups to leave some regions, or “pull” them to move to others. In this paper, we will examine climate change over the past millennium-and-a-half, and in particular at the two widespread, though variable, climate change events known as the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. We synthesize the latest paleoclimatological information on the timing and magnitude of these periods across the eastern Arctic, and assess the degree to which they coincide with current understanding of major population movements. In particular, we assess climate’s potential impact on 1) the expansion of Late Dorset Paleo-Inuit to the High Arctic; 2) the migration of Thule Inuit from Alaska to the eastern Arctic; and 3) the abandonment of northern regions and new settlement of southern regions by Inuit in the mid-second millennium AD.