A growing body of climate data points towards a significant climate cooling in the northern hemisphere during the 6th century AD. Linked to multiple explosive volcanic eruptions between AD 536-547, the cooling event is the coldest that has been documented for the last 2000 years and seems to have persisted, to varying degrees, well into the latter half of the 6th century. Several researchers have claimed that the 6th-century cooling must have resulted in extensive crop failure throughout Scandinavia, followed by famine, plagues, and social unrest. One hypothesis suggests that the population of the Scandinavian Peninsula may have been halved as a result. The combination of prolonged cooling and presumed crop failure is often compared to Norse myths about the Fimbulwinter, but critics argue that the Fimbulwinter hypothesis is rife with the uncritical use of climate data, a lack of source criticism and deterministic conclusions. In many ways, the ongoing discourse follows in line with previous discourses in archaeology, revolving around an artificial dichotomy between crisis and continuity. In this thesis, I examine the climatic and archaeological premises for the Fimbulwinter hypothesis and discuss it against developing theoretical frameworks within the environmental humanities. By using vulnerability and resilience as analytical tools, the subsistence and settlement patterns of selected landscapes are analysed against the possibility of crop failure and famine, with emphasis on the Gudbrandsdalen valley and the Lake Mjøsa region in the inlands of eastern Norway. I conclude that climate cooling had the potential to critically impact some areas, while others were seemingly less affected. These results suggest significant regional diversity in the consequences and adaptations in relation to the 6th-century cooling event. The hypothesis of a halving of the population is up for revision, but the crisis narrative still cannot be fully discounted.
This thesis is also available in the Zenodo archive: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5782896