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Marine climatic seasonality during medieval times (10th to 12th centuries) based on isotopic records in Viking Age shells from Orkney, Scotland

Authors
Journal
Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology
0031-0182
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.07.003
Keywords
  • Medieval Warm Period
  • Oxygen Isotope Ratios
  • Patella Vulgata
  • Late Holocene
  • Quoygrew
  • Sea Surface Temperature
Disciplines
  • Archaeology

Abstract

Abstract Seasonal sea-surface temperature (SST) variability during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA), which corresponds to the height of Viking exploration (800–1200AD), was estimated using oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) obtained from high-resolution samples micromilled from archaeological shells of the European limpet, Patella vulgata. Our findings illustrate the advantage of targeting SST archives from fast-growing, short-lived molluscs that capture summer and winter seasons simultaneously. Shells from the 10th to 12th centuries (early MCA) were collected from well-stratified horizons, which accumulated in Viking shell and fish middens at Quoygrew on Westray in the archipelago of Orkney, Scotland. Their ages were constrained based on artifacts and radiocarbon dating of bone, charred cereal grain, and the shells used in this study. We used measured δ18OWATER values taken from nearby Rack Wick Bay (average 0.31±0.17‰ VSMOW, n=11) to estimate SST from δ18OSHELL values. The standard deviation of δ18OWATER values resulted in an error in SST estimates of ±0.7°C. The coldest winter months recorded in the shells averaged 6.0±0.6°C and the warmest summer months averaged 14.1±0.7°C. Winter and summer SST during the late 20th century (1961–1990) was 7.77±0.40°C and 12.42±0.41°C, respectively. Thus, during the 10th to 12th centuries winters were colder and summers were warmer by ~2°C and seasonality was higher relative to the late 20th century. Without the benefit of seasonal resolution, SST averaged from shell time series would be weighted toward the fast-growing summer season, resulting in the conclusion that the early MCA was warmer than the late 20th century by ~1°C. This conclusion is broadly true for the summer season, but not true for the winter season. Higher seasonality and cooler winters during early medieval times may result from a weakened North Atlantic Oscillation index.

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