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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe


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This article demonstrates how tree-ring material can be applied to historical research using the climate-driven crises of the fourteenth century as a case study. Medieval northeastern Europe is a promising case study for such a purpose, because climate-sensitive tree-ring data are readily available for this period and region. Whereas large areas of western Europe were affected by continuous heavy rains and bitter winters during the 1310s, this dendrochronological evidence suggests that northeastern Europe was not. Favorable climatic conditions prevailed in northeastern Europe in the late 1310s, and, more generally speaking, during the first half of the fourteenth century, as well. The juxtaposition of this new information from tree-ring analyses with the established understanding of the development of the region challenges the view that the crises of the fourteenth century reached the northeasternmost corner of Europe. The case study demonstrates how teleconnections of climate and society, like the crises of the early fourteenth century, can materialize on a societal level very different ways in different locations.
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Heli Huhtamaa
Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth
Century in Northeastern Europe
Abstract: This article demonstrates how tree-ring material can be applied to histori-
cal research using the climate-driven crises of the fourteenth century as a case study.
Medieval northeastern Europe is a promising case study for such a purpose, because
climate-sensitive tree-ring data are readily available for this period and region. Whereas
large areas of western Europe were affected by continuous heavy rains and bitter winters
during the 1310s, this dendrochronological evidence suggests that northeastern Europe
was not. Favorable climatic conditions prevailed in northeastern Europe in the late 1310s,
and, more generally speaking, during the first half of the fourteenth century, as well. The
juxtaposition of this new information from tree-ring analyses with the established under-
standing of the development of the region challenges the view that the crises of the four-
teenth century reached the northeasternmost corner of Europe. The case study demon-
strates how teleconnections of climate and society, like the crises of the early fourteenth
century, can materialize on a societal level very different ways in different locations.
Keywords: Climate, The Great Famine of 1315, Novgorod, Finland, Russia, Tree Rings,
Medieval Agriculture, Food System Resilience
1 Introduction
Medievalists are increasingly addressing topics of climate history. Studies on past
human responses to variations in climate have arguably never been more needed
than in the present context of ongoing anthropogenic climate change. Using written
sources – for example chronicle records of different weather and climate-related phe-
nomena – historians can reconstruct past variations of climate and weather and their
impacts on society, which contributes to understanding of current climatic variations.¹
Written source material, however, for such detailed information from the pre-modern
era is available only for limited areas. As an alternative, climate-sensitive natural data,
so-called proxy data, allow to detect past climate variability where written sources are
not available. Climate and weather anomalies can be reconstructed, for example, from
1Rudolf B et al., Historical climatology in Europe. State of the art, in: Climatic Change 70
(2005), pp. 363–430.
Dr. Heli Huhtamaa, University of Bern, Institute of History and the Oeschger Centre for Climate
Change Research, Länggassstrasse 49, 3012 Bern, Switzerland,
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 81
study of tree rings, ice cores, and speleothems.² Recent decades have witnessed a notable
increase in the number, sophistication, and accessibility of such climate reconstruc-
tions, and entirely new archives have opened for medievalists. In particular, tree-ring
based reconstructions have become an invaluable resource for historians of pre-modern
times who aim to detect the impacts of past climate anomalies on society. The advantage
of tree ring-based climate reconstructions is that these reconstructions can be dated to
exact calendar years and, therefore, directly compared to written sources.
Already in 1914, Andrew E. D proposed that a series of climate-sensitive
tree rings could provide novel material to study the environmental conditions of his-
torical events. Harold C. F et al. addressed the historical community in 1980
and introduced modern tree-ring research and the information it made available to
historical scholars.³ However, it took several decades before the historians took full
advantage of the information captured in the tree rings. For a long time, it was left
to natural scientists to tell the story of past climatic variations and their relationship
to historical events. Bruce M. S. C was one of the first historian to include
tree-ring data alongside written sources in his study on the connections between
environment and society in pre-modern England. Since then, tree-ring data have
increasingly been used as a source of supplementary material in historical research.
For example, the “Old World Drought Atlas” provides evidence of the hydroclimatic
conditions which prevailed over Europe and contributed to the large-scale crop fail-
ures and the outbreak of the Great Famine (13151317/1322) (Figure 1).
The reliability, validity and relevance of climate reconstructions based on natural
sources like tree rings should be evaluated as carefully and critically as written sources.
Using the fourteenth-century crises in northeastern Europe (modern-day Finland and
North-West Russia, Figure 2) as a case study, this article demonstrates how tree-ring
data can be used as historical source. Medieval northeastern Europe is a particularly
interesting case study for such research because climate-sensitive tree-ring data are
widely available from this area. The written historical record from this region, on
the other hand, especially along the northern shores of the Gulf of Finland and Lake
2Eugene R. W/ David F, Evidence of Environmental Change from Annually Resolved Prox-
ies with Particular Reference to Dendrochronology and the Last Millennium, in: John A. M
(ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Environmental Change, vol. 1, London 2012, pp. 320–345.
3Andrew E. D, A method of estimating rainfall by the growth of trees, in: Bulletin of the
American Geographical Society 27 (1914), pp. 321–335, here p. 322; Harold C. F/ G. Robert L-
/ Geoffrey A. G, Past climate reconstructed from tree rings, in: The Journal of Interdiscipli-
nary History 10 (1980), pp. 773–793.
4Bruce M. S. C, Nature as historical protagonist. Environment and society in pre-industrial
England, in: The Economic History Review 63 (2010), pp. 281–314.
5Edward R. C et al., Old World megadroughts and pluvials during the Common Era. Science
Advances 1 (2015), pp. 1–9.
6On the Great Famine see the introduction of B/ S and the contributions of C,
K/ P/ S et al., L, N, P-K/ M, S, and V in this volume.
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82 Heli Huhtamaa
0° 20°
Drier Wetter
40°0° 20° 40° 20° 40°
1315 1316
Figure 1:Tree-ring reconstructed summer season variations of drought and wetness, 1314–1316.
Thegreen shades indicate wetness and the brown drought.7
Ladoga, is quite limited, which has hindered the research on this area. The inclusion of
scientific data in historical research thus presents an opportunity to expand scholars’
understanding of the history of the region. At the same time, detailed Russian chron-
icles for the southern parts of the study area – including, for example, the ‘Novgorod
First Chronicle’, – allow for a direct comparison of written sources and tree-ring data.
This study focuses on the northeastern corner of Europe, where Sweden (to the
west) and Novgorod (to the east) were the dominating powers in the fourteenth century.
The northwestern parts of the study area – i.e., roughly the areas covered by modern-day
southern and western Finland – were gradually incorporated into the Swedish Realm in
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The urban center of the area was Veliky Novgo-
rod, the heart of the Novgorod principality and the easternmost post of the Hanseatic
League. Karelia in the northeast was of interest to both Sweden and Novgorod. Although
trade was an important part of the economy in the Russian towns of Novgorod, Pskov,
and Ladoga, the majority of the population in the area studied here relied on agriculture
and fishing for their livelihoods with supplementary herding and hunting.
2 Tree-Ring Series as a Primary Source
Tree rings hold annually resolvable climate proxies that can be transformed, for
example, into estimates of growing season temperature, precipitation, and cloud
cover variability. By combining tree-ring series from living, historical, archeologi-
cal, and fossil materials, dendrochronologies can extend back thousands of years.
7The variations of drought and wetness are indicated with self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity
Index (−6, ..., +6). See C et al. (note 5) for details.
8The Chronicle of Novgorod 10161471, ed. Robert M/ Nevill F, London 1914, p. 119.
9Vladimir L. I, Medieval Novgorod, in: Maureen P (ed.), The Cambridge History of Russia,
vol. 1, From early Rus’ to 1689, Cambridge 2006, pp. 188–210, here pp. 198–201. Livonia (i. e. modern
day Estonia and Latvia) have been excluded from this analysis.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 83
Figure 2:The area of this study and the approximate sampling sites (triangles) of the tree-ring
material used in this study: S-Fin (southern Finland, reconstructed May–September temperature¹ and
May–June precipitation¹¹), C-Swe (central Sweden, April–September temperature¹²), N-Fen (northern
Fennoscandia, June–August temperature¹³), P-Sib (Polar Siberia, June–July temperature¹), Nov
(Novgorod, February–May temperature¹), and W-Eur (western Europe, April–June precipitation¹).
To reconstruct past climate variability from these series, first a statistical relationship
between the tree-ring proxy and climate needs to be established. This relationship
can be then calibrated over a period when the tree-ring proxy and instrumental
10Samuli H et al., A palaeotemperature record for the Finnish Lakeland based on microdensi-
tometric variations in tree rings, in: Geochronometria 41 (2014), pp. 265–277.
11Samuli H/ Jouko M/ Heikki T, Multicentennial megadrought in
northern Europe coincided with a global El Niño–Southern Oscillation drought pattern during the
Medieval Climate Anomaly, in: Geology 37 (2009), pp. 175–178.
12Björn E. G/ Hans W. L/ Anders M, Improving a tree-ring reconstruc-
tion from west-central Scandinavia. 900 years of warm-season temperatures, in: Climate Dynamics
36 (2011), pp. 97–108.
13Vladimir M/ Samuli H, Testing long-term summer temperature reconstruction
based on maximum density chronologies obtained by reanalysis of tree-ring data sets from northern-
most Sweden and Finland, in: Climate of the Past 10 (2014), pp. 1473–1487.
14Keith R. B et al., Reassessing the evidence for tree-growth and inferred temperature change
during the Common Era in Yamalia, northwest Siberia, in: Quaternary Science Reviews 72 (2013), pp.
8 3 –1 0 7.
15Samuli H et al., Something old, something new, something borrowed. New insights to
human-environment interaction in medieval Novgorod inferred from tree rings, in: Journal of Archae-
ological Science: Reports 13 (2017), pp. 341–350.
16Ulf B et al., 2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility, in: Sci-
ence 331 (2011), pp. 578–582.
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84 Heli Huhtamaa
meteorological measurement series overlap. With these established statistical rela-
tions, the proxy measurements can be translated into climate reconstruction which
extends beyond the time of meteorological record keeping. The reconstruction
approach is based on the assumption that the relation between the proxy and the
climate variable in question was the same in the past as it is in the calibration period.
Which climate variables can be reconstructed from the tree rings depends on where
the trees grew and the parameters measured. For example, tree-ring width (TRW) of
Scots pine in southern Finland can indicate hydrological variability in early summer,
whereas in northern Finland TRW is primarily an indicator of temperature fluctua-
tions during the summer season. However, measuring tree-ring maximum density
(MXD) instead of TRW in the southern Finnish tree-ring material results in a series
that is more indicative of mean temperature variability during the growing season.¹
Dendroclimatologists are working on a variety of matters which may influence
the reconstruction, like data homogeneity, growth coherence and removal of non-
climatic trends out of tree-ring chronologies, among other things. Historians who incor-
porate dendrochronological research into their own studies can hardly be expected
to have the same scientific skills. Nevertheless, they should apply the critical source
assessment common in their own discipline to the natural sources, as well to define
what exactly the tree-ring studies indicate and whether these findings are relevant and
valid for exploring their own research questions.
The first step in using dendrochronological data as historical source material is
to define the “response window” of the reconstruction. In other words: what climate
component(s) (e.g., temperature or precipitation) are reconstructed over which
period (e.g., early spring or whole growing season)? Once this has been established,
the indications of the “reconstruction skill” should be considered. Reconstructions
estimate climate variability with varying degrees of accuracy. Scientists commonly
test the reconstruction skill by correlating tree-ring series with measured observa-
tions from nearby meteorological stations. Furthermore, it is also essential to pay
attention to the results of calibration and verification statistics. In the calibration-
verification approach, which is standard in dendroclimatological research, the period
of overlapping tree-ring data and station data is divided into two subperiods. One
period is used to calculate the reconstruction model (calibration) and the other as
an independent check for the model (verification). Commonly, the calibration-
verification approach is applied to the data in two steps in which both subperiods are
checked against eachother.
Additionally, the “spatial domain” of the reconstruction can be explored by cor-
relating the tree-ring series with field data (see Figures 3a and 3b). Tree-ring data are
17Stefan B/ Christian P/ Sam W, Archives of nature and archives of societies,
in: Sam W/ Christian P/ Franz M (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Climate
History, Basingstoke, Hampshire 2018, pp. 27–36, here p. 34; H et al. (note 11), pp. 175–178.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 85
commonly collected in locations where tree growth is most sensitive to the climatic
variable being examined, that is, from marginal areas of tree-growth. For example,
reconstructions of temperature are often based on tree-ring material from along
the timberline. Therefore, reconstructions commonly cover peripheral areas which
are far away from the medieval population centers. Thus, it is important to define
whether – and how well – the tree-ring reconstruction explains the climate variabil-
ity in the area of interest.
The last thing that historians should consider when drawing on dendrochron-
ological research is the “sample replication,” that is, the number of tree-ring meas-
urement series used to calculate the mean tree-ring chronology. In general, the more
samples the better. The number of samples commonly declines moving back over
time. A lower number of samples might, in turn, limit the reconstruction skill and
create uncertainty over the earlier centuries. Although the tree-ring mean chronology
might perform well when correlated with station data (because the sample replication
is commonly high over recent centuries, for which meteorological measurements are
also available), the declining sample number may influence the reconstruction back
in time. This matter is especially a concern of medievalists, as tree-ring based climate
reconstructions with a sufficient sample replication extending throughout the Middle
Ages are available only from few locations. Additionally, the results of the expressed
population signal (EPS) statistics indicate how well a chronology based on a limited
number of trees represents the hypothetical perfect chronology.¹
In this study the analysis of several selected regional dendrochronological climate
reconstructions is used to evaluate whether northeastern Europe was affected by an
unfavorable climate in the 1310s, and more generally in the fourteenth century as a
whole. There are a variety of reconstructions available for this period of regional, con-
tinental, and hemispheric scope.¹ Although large-scale – i.e., continental and hem-
ispheric – reconstructions provide invaluable material for comparisons of ongoing
climatic change with past changes, historians are typically interested in regional
reconstructions which cover their areas of interest. Several tree-ring based recon-
structions are available for northeastern Europe, including the center of the study
area, the city of Novgorod (see Figure 2).
18Harold C. F, Tree Rings and Climate, London, New York, San Francisco 1976, pp. 15–23; Jan
E et al., Ranking of tree-ring based temperature reconstructions of the past millennium, in: Qua-
ternary Science Reviews 145 (2016), pp. 134–151; Ulf B et al., Effects of sample size in dendro-
climatology, in: Climate Research 53 (2012), pp. 263–269.
19For summary on available reconstructions, see, e. g.: Lea S et al., Revising midlatitude
summer temperatures back to AD 600 based on a wood density network, in: Geophysical Research
Letters 42 (2015), pp. 4556–4562; Rob W et al., Last millennium northern hemisphere summer
temperatures from tree rings. Part I: The long term context, in: Quaternary Science Reviews 134
(2016), pp. 1–18.
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86 Heli Huhtamaa
Figure 3:Field-correlations (Pearson correlation coefficient) between the CRU TS 3.24 data set²
a) averaged May–September temperatures and reconstructed temperature²¹ and b) May–June
precipitation sum and TRW reconstructed precipitation²² variability. The triangles indicate the
average sampling site of the tree-ring material. The city of Novgorod (N) is marked on the maps.
Reconstructed annual (orange, green) and long-term (red, blue) c) temperature and d) precipitation
anomalies over the past millennium with respect to the 1961–1990 mean (same data as in a and b);
e) the reconstructed winter Arctic Oscillation (AO, bars, scale on left)²³ and winter North Atlantic
Oscillation (NAO, dashed line, scale on right)² indexes over the past millennium (see Chapter 4); f)
temperature, precipitation, and the AO and NAO index anomalies over the fourteenth century with
respect to the century mean.
20University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, Ian C. H/ Philip D. J, CRU TS3.23.
Climatic Research Unit (CRU) Time-Series (TS) Version 3.23 of High Resolution Gridded Data of Month-
by-month Variation in Climate (Jan. 1901- Dec. 2014). Centre for Environmental Data Analysis, 09 No-
vember 2015 [].
21H et al. (note 10).
22H et al. (note 11).
23Guoqiang C et al., Snow anomaly events from historical documents in eastern China during the
past two millennia and implication for low-frequency variability of AO/NAO and PDO, in: Geophysical
Research Letters 35 (2008), pp. 1–4. Valérie T et al., Persistent positive North Atlantic Oscillation
mode dominated the medieval climate anomaly, in: Science 324 (2009), pp. 78–80.
24Valérie T et al., Persistent positive North Atlantic Oscillation mode dominated the medieval
climate anomaly, in: Science 324 (2009), pp. 78–80.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 87
Tree-ring width series from the region of Novgorod correlate with late winter and
spring temperatures. Consequently, TRW series that have been compiled using arche-
ological material from the medieval city of Novgorod indicate February–May temper-
ature variability.² However, the Novgorod chronology is not continuous: it has a gap
of almost five hundred years from the fifteenth to nineteenth century. Moreover, the
TRW series explains only 32 percent of the measured temperature variance, which is
considerably lower than other reconstructions from the adjacent areas. The recon-
structions with the highest reconstruction skill over the studied area and sufficient
fourteenth-century data originate from southern Finland (Figures 3a and 3b). From
these, the growing season (May–September) temperature reconstruction² attained
from MXD data explains up to 60 percent of the measured twentieth-century vari-
ance, and the early summer (May–June) precipitation reconstruction² from TRW
series accounts for 40 percent of the measured precipitation variance. The tempera-
ture reconstruction shows high spatial coherence over the whole study area, whereas
the spatial coverage and the reconstruction skill of the precipitation reconstruction is
less coherent (Figure 3b). This is because precipitation variability has weaker spatial
synchrony over long distances than temperature. Moreover, the tree-ring response
25H et al. (note 15).
26H et al. (note 10).
27H et al. (note 11).
Figure 3(continued)
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88 Heli Huhtamaa
to precipitation is more dominated by “noise” and local site influences than the
response to temperature.²
In certain circumstances, tree-ring data can be used not only as a climate proxy
but also to estimate past harvest fluctuations. This is because in marginal areas of
crop cultivation, like northeasternmost Europe, the same climatic components
largely determine tree growth and crop yields: the length and thermal conditions of
the growing season. Consequently, the pre-industrial crop yield variability correlates
strongly and significantly with the mean temperatures during the growing season,
as does the tree-ring density (MXD) data.² Thus, annual yield ratio (harvested seed
in relation to sowed seed) anomalies have been reconstructed from MXD series. This
reconstruction explains approximately 50 percent of the pre-industrial crop yield
variability in central and northern Finland (north of 62° N).³ In addition, tree-ring
based temperature reconstructions from northern Scandinavia,³¹ central Sweden,³²
and Polar Siberia³³ were used for comparison along with precipitation reconstruction
from western Europe.³ The average sampling sites of the reconstructions are indi-
cated in Figure 2.
3 The Great Famine
There is a longstanding debate among historians over the extent to which climate
contributes to famine.³ The Great Famine (1315–1317/1322) is one of the few cases in
which they commonly agree that there is a strong association with adverse climate.
28Keith R. B et al., Tree-ring width and density data around the Northern Hemisphere.
Part 1: local and regional climate signals, in: The Holocene 12 (2002), pp. 737–757, here p. 746; Jari
H/ Samuli H, Little Ice Age farming in Finland. Preindustrial agriculture on the edge
of the Grim Reaper’s scythe, in: Human Ecology 37 (2009), pp. 213–225, here p. 221.
29Heli H et al., Crop yield responses to temperature fluctuations in 19th century Finland:
provincial variation in relation to climate and tree-rings, in: Boreal Environmental Research 20 (2015),
pp. 707–723, here pp. 713–715.
30Heli H/ Samuli H, Reconstructing crop yield variability in Finland. Long-term
perspective on the cultivation history in the agricultural periphery since 760 AD, in: The Holocene
27 (2017), pp. 3–11. See, Figure 2 (S-Fin and N-Fen series) for the approximate sampling sites of the
tree-ring data.
31M/ H, (note 13).
32G/ L/ M (note 12).
33B et al. (note 14).
34B, (note 16).
35Philip S, Climate and famines. A historical reassessment, in: WIREs Climate Change 7 (2016),
pp. 433–447, here pp. 435–438.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 89
A series of harsh and stormy winters combined with rainy summers and flooding
in 1314–1316 caused harvests to fail in large parts of Europe and indirectly affected
animal husbandry, which triggered the famine among vulnerable groups of socie-
ties.³ The famine coincided with a period of exceptionally warm sea surface tem-
peratures in the North Atlantic that provided abundant moisture for the rains.³
Although the famine and its association with extreme precipitation in northwest-
ern Europe have been investigated in detail, the northeastern extent of the famine
remains undefined. Henry S. L concluded that although the written historical
record from Scandinavia and northern Russia is scarce on the topic, the climatic con-
ditions troubling northwestern Europe must have prevailed further east, as well.³
Later, Wolfgang B proposed that the famine “reached from the British
Isles to Russia and from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean,”³ whereas William C.
J suggested that “the far eastern Baltic was not affected directly by harvest
3.1 Climate, Harvest and Hunger in the 1310s
According to the reconstructed drought-wetness index, the northeast did not expe-
rience consecutive wet summers like western Europe did (Figure 1). Whereas the
early summer precipitation increased from 20 to 40 percent in northwestern Europe
during 13141316, in the northeast, precipitation levels remained close to or below the
fourteenth-century mean (Figure 4a). The tree-ring material thus indicates that the
adverse conditions did not extend to the northeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, suggest-
ing the opposite what L has proposed.
36William C. J, The Great Famine. Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century,
Princeton 1996, pp. 15–21; Henry S. L, The Great European Famine of 1315, 1316, and 1317, in:
Speculum 5 (1930), pp. 343–377, here pp. 345–351; Philip S, The 1310s event, in: Sam W/
Christian P/ Franz M (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Climate History, Basing-
stoke, Hampshire 2018, pp. 495–515, here p. 497; Timothy P. Newfield, A cattle panzootic in early
fourteenth-century Europe, in The Agricultural History Review 57 (2009), pp. 155–190, here p. 172;
Sam G, The Great Famine in the county of Flanders (1315–17): the complex interaction between
weather, warfare, and property rights, in: The Economic History Review 71 (2018), pp. 1048–1072,
here p. 1069.
37A. G. D et al., Greenland (GISP2) ice core and historical indicators of complex North Atlantic
climate changes during the fourteenth century, in: The Holocene 17 (2007), pp. 427–434, here p. 433.
38L (note 36), here p. 347.
39Wolfgang B, A Cultural History of Climate, Cambridge, Malden 2010, p. 104.
40J (note 36), here p. 12.
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90 Heli Huhtamaa
On the other hand, rainfall alone may be a fairly insignificant factor: hydro-
logical anomalies were not the primary cause of severe, large-scale crop failures
in the studied area. As precipitation trends vary greatly from one place to another,
drought and excessive rain usually caused crop failures only on a local scale in
the northeastern Europe. Moreover, along the northern margin of arable cultiva-
tion, fluctuations in crop yields are influenced more by temperature than by pre-
cipitation. In these areas, especially, it was the onset and thermal conditions of
the growing season that determined the success of the harvest. A late start to the
growing season or a cool summer delayed the ripening of the grain and in turn
increased the chances that an early autumn night frost (in August/ September)
should cause the crop to fail. Trends in temperature during the growing season
were fairly consistent over larger areas, meaning that in years of especially short,
cool growing seasons, frosts could cause severe, widespread crop failures close to
the harvest time.¹ If the onset of the growing season was delayed and summer
remained unusually cold in one part of the studied region, the situation was likely
similar all over the region. Cool spring and summer temperature anomalies delayed
the ripening of crops everywhere in the area to a period when the risk of frost at
night was increased. In cases of rainfall destroying the harvest in one location,
however, the hydrological conditions in other regions might have been more favora-
ble, so that the harvests were only locally affected.
Over the early 1310s, the growing season of 1314 was extremely cool (Figure 3f),
indicating that the ripening of the grain must have been delayed in that year. However,
during the second half of the 1310s, the temperature reconstructions indicate rather
favorable conditions. In southern Finland, the mean temperature during the growing
seasons between 1315–1320 was slightly warmer than the fourteenth-century mean. In
the adjacent regions of northern Scandinavia and polar Siberia, the 1315–1320 mean
summer temperatures were almost one Celsius degree warmer than the century mean.
Further east, in temperate East Asia, summer temperatures overall were distinctly warm
between 1314–1327, possibly even comparable to late twentieth-century (19611990)
conditions. Moreover, the spring (February–May) temperature reconstruction compiled
from the archeological wood material from the city of Novgorod indicates that springs
during the mid-1310s were slightly warmer than the late-fourteenth-century average
(Figure 4b).²
41H et al. (note 29), pp. 713716.
42Temperature reconstructions (respectively): H et al. (note 10); M/ H
(note 13); B et al. (note 14); C et al., Tree-ring reconstructed summer temperature anom-
alies for temperate East Asia since 800 CE, in: Climate Dynamics 41 (2013), pp. 2957–2972; H
etal. (note 15).
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 91
Figure 4:a) Southern Finland precipitation³ (solid black line) and western Europe precipitation
(dashed grey line); b) Novgorod February–May temperature; and c) Finland crop yield ratio
anomalies. All series are standardized over the fourteenth century. The years 1315–1322 are
While there is some evidence that Sweden and Livonia to the west may have
faced severe food shortage, or even famine, in the second half of the 1310s, written
sources documenting the crisis’ extent further east and north are scant. Early autum-
nal frost most likely caused considerable crop damage in Pskov in 1314. As discussed
above, the growing season in 1314 was extremely cool, which most likely contributed
to the severity and extent of the frost damage.
The ‘Novgorod First Chronicle,’ which is based on the annals of the city of Novgo-
rod, mentions that bread was expensive in the winter of 1314–1315 in Novgorod and
that, in Pskov, men were “looting villages […] and storehouses.” However, the
accounts of the food shortage in 1314 differ markedly from other famine narratives
43H et al. (note 11).
44B et al. (note 16).
45H et al. (note 15).
46H/ H (note 30).
47Gustaf U, Climatic fluctuations and population problems in early modern history, in:
Donald W (ed.), The Ends of the Earth. Perspectives on Modern Environmental History, Cam-
bridge 1988, pp. 39–79, here pp. 52–53 n. 37. Ericus O (died 1486) writes that in 1314 Sweden suffered
from famine, see O, Chronica Erici Olai, ed. Erik M. F/ Erik G. G/ Johan H. S
(Scriptores Rerum Suecicarum Medii Aevi 2), Uppsala 1828, p. 92 and six years later, a letter that is
dated 26th of August 1320 documents that Stockholm was still in great need of grain, see Rainhold
H, Finlands medeltidsurkunder vol. 1, Helsinki 1910, no. 295.
48Balthasar R (died 1600) writes how horrifying famine ranged in Livonia from 1315 for
three years, as each year both rye and barley froze on the fields, see Balthasar R, Chronica
der Prouintz Lyfflandt, Rostock 1578, pp. 32–33. Also Bartholomäus H (died circa mid-14th
century) and Hermann von W (died 1380) documented Livonia suffering from famine in
1315, see Bartholomäus H, Die jüngere Livländische Reimchronik 1315–1348, ed. Konstantin
H, Leipzig 1872, p. 1; Hermann von W, Chronicon Livoniae, ed. Ernst S,
Leipzig 1863, p. 50.
49Matthias A, Utdrag ur Ryska annaler, Suomi – Tidskrift i fosterländska ämnen 1848, Hel-
sinki 1849, pp. 1–284, here p. 83.
50The Chronicle of Novgorod 10161471 (note 8), p. 119.
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92 Heli Huhtamaa
in the chronicle. For example, the chronicle describes how a century earlier, when a
severe famine afflicted the region, the population consumed unwholesome famine¹
and taboo² foods, even resorting to cannibalism, and mothers traded their babies
for bread.³ All of these are typical motifs of famine events in the chronicle, but the
entry for 1314 includes none of them. Moreover, the chronicle makes no mention of
food scarcity or high prices from 1315–1322, when western Europe was in the grips
of the famine. There is no written evidence from Finland or Karelia documenting
a famine or the absence of one. However, reconstruction of central and northern
Finland yield ratios based on tree-ring density data corroborate the chronicle’s claim
that the harvest in 1314 was poor (Figure 4c). In fact, the reconstruction estimates that
the yield ratio for 1314 was the lowest of the entire century.
Northeastern Europe thus seems not to have experienced the excessive rainfall
that regions further west did (Figures 1 and 4a). Nevertheless, growing conditions
in 1314 were unfavorable throughout the studied area. In Pskov, frost damaged the
fields before the peasants had harvested them. Further north, crop yields reached
the lowest point of the century. The price of bread rose over the Novgorodian lands
for the following year. These adverse conditions, however, did not last into the
second half of the 1310s, which raises the question as to whether one bad year was
enough to trigger a famine. In other words, could the anomalously cold year 1314
paralyze the food system(s) and cause a severe shortage of food?
3.2 Food System Resilience to Adverse Climate and Weather
Food systems are dynamic systems that encompass the production, processing, dis-
tribution, preparation, and consumption of food. Food systems in the area under
study here differed from region to region in the fourteenth century. In northern and
central Finland, the semi-nomadic Sámi people relied primarily on fishing as the
source of their livelihood and supplemented this by herding reindeer and hunting
game. The forest dwellers of Finland and Karelia practiced small-scale crop cultiva-
tion, fishing, and hunting, while the sedentary farmers on the shores of the Baltic
Sea supplemented their livelihood with fishing and seal hunting. Residents of the
51Such as moss, snails, pine-bark, lime-bark, lime and elm-tree leaves.
52Horseflesh, dogs and cats.
53The Chronicle of Novgorod 10161471 (note 8), p. 75.
54However, the chronicle (Ibid., p. 120) mentions enemy troops dying of hunger in 1316 while retreat-
ing and getting lost on the lakes and the swamps. Yet, it is rather clear that the hunger was temporary
and resulted from military activities. Thus, connecting the hunger incident to the European Great
Famine would be rather questionable.
55Peter J. G/ John S. I. I/ Mike B, Climate change and food security, in: Phil-
osophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 360 (2005), pp. 2139–
2148, here pp. 2141.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 93
hinterlands of Novgorod and Ladoga cultivated a number of diverse crops on a larger
scale. The food systems in the urban centers relied primarily on grain production in
their hinterlands and only secondarily on trade over longer distances.
As a result of this diversity of food systems, the adverse conditions of 1314 affected
only those areas where food systems depended on crop cultivation – roughly the
southern parts of the area studied. Moreover, even within those areas with agrarian
food systems, the diversity of crops cultivated could increase the resilience to unfa-
vorable climatic conditions. In Novgorod and Ladoga, for example, the variety of cul-
tivated crops was up to three times larger than in Livonia on the west at the same time.
Because different crops are sensitive to different climatic factors, total failure rarely
struck all the cultivated species simultaneously. Moreover, different agricultural prac-
tices, such as slash-and-burn cultivation and the cultivation of winter crops, reduced
the vulnerability of the food system in the area. Vegetables grown in home gardens in
the countryside and towns also supplemented the daily diet.
A single year of crop failure thus hardly ever paralyzed the food system. Instead,
severe food shortages in the Middle Ages were usually a product of back-to-back failed
harvests. Written sources do not show any sign of a shortage of food in 1315–1322,
and the tree-ring evidence suggests favorable conditions – warm growing season with
moderate rainfall – for this period (Figure 4).
Further north, the food systems were simpler: barley and rye were the only crops
routinely cultivated, which increased sensitivity to climate and weather. However, in
these areas, grain products constituted only one part of the daily diet; wild resources
were important components of the food system, as well. Much of the areas studied
relied on fishing as a key element of food production in addition to the cultivation of
crops and vegetables. The number of lakes and waterways throughout Finland and
56Heli H, Climatic anomalies, food systems, and subsistence crises in medieval Novgorod
and Ladoga, in: Scandinavian Journal of History 40 (2015), pp. 562–590, here pp. 565–566; Jukka K-
, Migratory Lapps and the population explosion of Eastern Finns. The early modern colonization
of Eastern Finland reconsidered, in: Charlotte D/ Janne S (eds.), Networks, interaction
and emerging identities in Fennoscandia and beyond, Helsinki 2012, pp. 241–261, here p. 247; Mi-
chael M/ Penny J, Plants, people and environment. A report on the macro-plant remains
within the deposits from Troitsky site XI in medieval Novgorod, in: Mark B/ David G
(eds.), Novgorod. The archaeology of a Russian medieval city and its hinterland, London 2001, pp.
113–117, here p. 116; Eljas O, Keskiajan maatalous, in: Viljo R/ Eino J/ Anneli
M-A (eds.), Suomen maatalouden historia 1. Perinteisen maatalouden aika esihistoriasta
1870-luvulle, Helsinki 2003, pp. 87–114, here pp. 106114.
57H (note 56), p. 577; R. E. F. S/ David C, Bread and salt. A social and eco-
nomic history of food and drink in Russia, Cambridge, 1984, pp. 8–9.
58H (note 56), pp. 575, 580; Bruce M. S. C/ Cormac Ó G, Harvest shortfalls,
grain prices, and famines in preindustrial England, in: The Journal of Economic History 71 (2011),
pp. 859–886, here pp. 865–868; Bruce M. S. C, The European mortality crises of 1346–52 and
advent of the Little Ice Age, in: Dominik C/ Maximilian S (eds.), Famines During the Little
Ice Age (1300–1800), Cham 2018, pp. 19–41 here pp. 20, 29–33 .
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94 Heli Huhtamaa
Karelia (see Figure 2) made fish an important source of nutrition, as archeological
evidence from southeast Finland and Novgorod and its hinterlands confirms.
Yet, cold summers, like the one in 1314, can be unfavorable for some fish species,
including cyprinids and pike perch, which were the most frequently consumed
fish in Novgorod. Because fry and juvenile fish are more vulnerable to climate than
mature fish, the effects on fish populations usually lags from a few years to a decade
behind. Therefore, although the year 1314 was most likely unfavorable for the fish,
it took likely several years before the consequences began to show in the fish catch.
Similarly, the effects of climate on game are often delayed, as the impact of climate on
game populations are commonly indirect (for example, through the variations in the
availability of food).¹
A further factor affecting food availability was the variety of techniques used in
processing food. For example, in Finland drying was the principal form of preserv-
ing fish until the availability of salt increased after the mid-fourteenth century, after
which salting slowly became the main method of preservation.² Consequently, the
food system was connected to the salt-producing areas, which meant local climate
and weather were no longer the sole factors affecting the food system, but the condi-
tions at the origin of salt also played a role. This is evident, for example, in the case of
the Finnish famine of the 1690s: adverse weather conditions in southwestern Europe,
where the salt originated at the time, caused a shortage of salt. As a result, people
in Finland could not preserve fish for the winter.³ In the early fourteenth century,
however, the food systems in Finland and Karelia were not connected to the regions
in western Europe affected by the rainy weather and resulting salt deficiency. The
59Mark M, From Alces to Zander. A summary of zooarchaeological evidence from Novgorod,
Gorodishche and Minono, in: Mark A. B/ Nikolaj A. M/ Evgenij N. N (eds.), The
archaeology of medieval Novgorod in context. Studies in centre/ periphery relations, Oxford 2012, pp.
351380, here pp. 366–369; Elena A. R, The birch-bark letters. The domestic economy of medi-
eval Novgorod, in: Mark B/ David G (eds.), Novgorod. The archaeology of a Russian
medieval city and its hinterland, London 2001, pp. 127–131, here pp. 128–129; Mia L-A/
Ville L/ Teija A, Archaeobotanical remains from inhumation graves in Finland, with spe-
cial emphasis on a 16th century grave at Kappelinmäki, Lappeenranta, in: Journal of Archaeological
Science: Reports 13 (2017) 132–141, here p. 138.
60Jakob K/ Jyrki L/ Lauri U, Influence of temperature on size and abun-
dance dynamics of age-0 perch and pikeperch, in: Fisheries Research 53 (2001), pp. 47–56; Erik J-
 et al., Impacts of climate warming on lake fish community structure and potential effects on
ecosystem function, in: Hydrobiologia 646 (2010), pp. 73–90; H (note 56), p. 567.
61Chuan Y et al., Linking climate change to population cycles of hares and lynx, in: Global Change
Biology 19 (2013), pp. 3263–3271, here p. 3268.
62Tapio S, Vantaan ja Helsingin pitäjän keskiaika, Vantaa 2013, p. 493.
63J. N/ S. L, Great historical events that were significantly affected by the weather:
4, The great famines in Finland and Estonia, 1695–1697, in: Bulletin American Meteorological Society
60 (1979), pp. 775–787, here pp. 780.
64S (note 36), p. 501.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 95
northern food systems were overwhelmingly local, with foodstuffs produced, gath-
ered, and consumed within a limited area.
Novgorod, on the other hand, was integrated in some respects into a continental
food system. The city of Novgorod was located at the crossroads of the main trade
routes between Europe and the East. Still, Novgorod was not dependent on imported
grain; archeological evidence suggests that the grain consumed in the city was pro-
duced locally. The fact that the main component of the food regime, grain cultivation,
did not rely on the affected areas in the west that were suffering from adverse weather
over three years in 1314–1316 protected Novgorod from the worst of the famine.
In summary, the harvest in 1314 was most likely extremely poor throughout the
area studied here, but the food systems in some parts of the northeast were more
diverse and in other parts less dependent on crop cultivation than many contempo-
rary western systems. Although the food systems in the north – among the Finnish,
Karelian and Sámi populations – were distinctly different from the food systems over
the Novgorodian lands in the south, all of these had components that made them
resilient to short-term weather anomalies. Moreover, as it was commonly back-to-
back harvest failures that produced severe food shortages, it is thus rather unlikely
that the crop failure in 1314 would have escalated to a famine comparable to the Great
Famine that was raging in the west.
4 Crises of the Fourteenth Century in the Northeast?
The Great Famine, however, is only one component of the climate-related crises of the
fourteenth century. The 1314–1316 weather anomalies were likely connected to a wider
climatic shift taking place over the fourteenth century. After the subsequent rainy
summers of the 1310s, large parts of Europe experienced increased climatic instability
over the following decades. This increased instability is commonly associated with
changing patterns of climatic modes, mostly in the patterns of the North Atlantic
Oscillation (NAO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO), witch, in turn, influence temper-
atures, precipitation, winds and storminess in large parts of Europe. Coinciding this
period of climatic instability, the commoners’ entitlement to food decreased and the
rulers across Europe were involved in a number of territorial wars. It became more dif-
ficult to maintain the existing socio-ecological balance as a result, and European eco-
nomic systems became more vulnerable. By mid-century, the tipping point had been
65Michael M/ Penny J, Perspective on non-wood plants in the sampled assemblage
from the Troitsky excavations of medieval Novgorod, in: Mark A. B/ Nikolaj A. M/
Evgenij N. N (eds.), The archaeology of medieval Novgorod in context. Studies in centre/periph-
ery relations, Oxford 2012, pp. 283–320, here p. 317; I (note 9), p. 201.
66S (note 36), p. 508.
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96 Heli Huhtamaa
reached, so that the sudden worsening of growing conditions and the plague which
reached Europe around this same time both contributed to a pan-regional crisis.
Bruce M. S. C has demonstrated how the environmental downturn of
the mid-fourteenth century is evidenced in tree-ring material across Eurasia. In
accordance with his findings, tree-ring density series from northernmost Scandina-
via and central Sweden indicate the downturn. In Novgorod and southern Finland,
however, climatic conditions in the mid-fourteenth century seem to differ. These local
reconstructions suggest that drier and warmer summers prevailed in northeastern
Europe in mid-century (Figure 3). Moreover, a spring (February–May) temperature
reconstruction based on archeological tree-ring width series from the city of Novgo-
rod indicates that, from the beginning of the fourteenth century, cold springs were
less frequent than in the earlier centuries.
In addition, reconstructed winter NAO and AO indexes – negative NAO phase
and lower pressure over Arctic – suggest that winters in the area studied were mild
in the fourteenth century, especially mid-century (Figure 3). Winter weather and the
onset of the growing season in northeastern Europe are dictated to a great degree
by atmospheric dynamics, particularly the NAO and the AO. Years of positive winter
NAO-phases, when the pressure difference between the Azores and Iceland is strong,
experience milder winters in the northeast due to stronger westerly winds, while
winters with negative NAO are associated with colder winters in this area. The NAO
patterns, which are more regional, usually resemble the patterns of the more general
AO. The AO is characterized by differences in atmospheric pressure between the Arctic
and the surrounding lower latitudes. When lower pressure prevails over the Arctic,
the westerlies are stronger and the cold air is trapped in the polar region, whereas
higher than usual pressure over the Arctic results in weaker westerlies, allowing the
cold Arctic air to penetrate into mid-latitudes. The severity of winter, and especially
the duration of the snow cover (which partly dictates the onset of the growing season),
is strongly associated with variations of the AO in the studied area.¹
67Bruce M. S. C, The Great Transition. Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval
World, Cambridge 2016, pp. 135, 267–286¸ G (note 36), here p. 1069.
68Ibid., pp. 277–279; C, (note 58), 32.
69M/ H (note 13); G et al. (note 12).
70H et al. (note 15).
71Samuli H/ Jari H, Spring temperature variability relative to the North Atlantic
Oscillation and sunspots. A correlation analysis with a Monte Carlo implementation, in: Palaeogeog-
raphy, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology326–328 (2012), pp. 128–134; James W. H et al., An
overview of the North Atlantic Oscillation. The North Atlantic Oscillation: Climatic Significance and
Environmental Impact, in: James W. H et al. (ed.), The North Atlantic Oscillation. Climatic sig-
nificance and environmental impact, Washington DC, 2003, pp. 1–35; Ignatius G. R/ John M. W-
/ Roger L. C, Response of sea ice to the arctic oscillation, in: Journal of Climate 15 (2002),
pp. 2648–2663; Sergio M. V-S et al., Role of atmospheric circulation with respect to the
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 97
Overall in the fourteenth century, and especially in the 1310s and the mid-century, the
winter NAO was in a positive phase and lower than normal pressure prevailed over the
Arctic. In fact, the winter AO reconstruction indicates that the lowest pressure over the last
millennium prevailed over the Artic in the mid-fourteenth century (Figure3). This meant
stronger westerly winds that brought milder winters to the area studied. Milder winters,
warmer springs, longer growing seasons, and warmer summers are all favorable condi-
tions for agriculture in the region covered in this study. As discussed above, in the northern
margin of crop cultivation, the most severe production failures were commonly a result of
an unusually short and/or cold growing season. Milder winters were associated with an
earlier onset of the growing season, which meant that crops ripened earlier and were less
likely to be damaged by early autumn frost.
The tree-ring studies thus suggest that growing conditions became, in fact, more
favorable for agriculture in northeastern Europe over the first half of the fourteenth
century. This was most likely due in part to the prolonged period of the positive mode
of the NAO and the weakened AO, which strengthened the westerly winds that brought
warm air masses to the area in winter. In other words, the very same modes of climate
variability that favorably influenced conditions in the northeast brought likely the
torrential rains and storms to the west.²
The term teleconnections refers in climate sciences to the appearance of statisti-
cal relations between climate anomalies in distant locations.³ These anomalies may
occur simultaneously or with a delay, and they can influence the local weather very
differently, as they did in the early fourteenth century. In this volume, the definition
of teleconnections is expanded to include manifestations of these climatic anomalies
on a societal level. The social consequences can also materialize with some delay and
vary significantly between different locations. Various socio-environmental dynam-
ics – including livelihood strategies, food systems, trade networks, and land use –
dictate whether, when, how, and to what extent climatic anomalies influence social
It was commonly believed that the crisis of the fourteenth century extended into
the northeasternmost regions of Europe. Yet , recent analysis had suggested an increase
in animal husbandry and crop cultivation in the northern forest areas over the course
of the century. In addition, as discussed above, the more diverse food systems of the
interannual variability in the date of snow cover disappearance over northern latitudes between 1988
and 2003, in: Journal of Geophysical Research. Atmospheres 112 (2007), pp. 1–15.
72C (note 67), pp. 258, 285; D et al. (note 37), p. 430.
73Anders Å, Teleconnections of climatic changes in present times, in: Geografiska Annaler
17 (1935), pp. 242–258; Heinz W et al., North Atlantic Oscillation. Concepts and studies, in: Sur-
veys in Geophysics 22/4 (2001), pp. 321–382.
74Jukka K, The World of Ladoga. Society, trade, transformation and state building in the
eastern Fennoscandian boreal forest zone c. 1000–1555, Münster 2008, p. 218; Vladimir K,
Thousand-year history of northeastern Europe exploration in the context of climatic change. Medieval
to early modern times, in: The Holocene 26 (2016), pp. 365–379, here p. 372.
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98 Heli Huhtamaa
region were less dependent on crop cultivation than many of their neighbors’ systems
to the west. Moreover, because permanent agriculture was introduced into the region
much later than in western Europe, the natural environment had not experienced the
same level of degradation as in the west, and the agroecosystem was more resilient as
a result. The economy of the urban center in Novgorod strengthened notably in the
early fourteenth century. Novgorod had been able to avoid the military devastation
of the Golden Horde – unlike the other Rus’ principalities – and resist the Swedish
and Teutonic Order’s aggressions on the west. Consequently, Novgorod became the
region’s dominant economic power. This economic growth and agricultural expan-
sion suggest that, unlike in the rest of Europe, the subsistence systems in the north-
east did not became more vulnerable over the first half of the century. The ‘Novgorod
First Chronicle’ supports this assumption, as the chronicle does not mention a single
incident of frost, crop failure, expensive prices, food shortage, or famine between the
year 1315 and the early fifteenth century.
In addition to the written sources and social factors, the tree-ring records pre-
sented here provide strong evidence that one of the key drivers of the European crisis
of the fourteenth century – adverse climatic conditions for crop cultivation – did not
extend to the most northeastern corner of Europe. The region was not able to avoid
the crises completely, however, only to postpone them. Records of social unrest, war,
and plague become more frequent in the Novgorodian chronicle over the second half
of the fourteenth century. During the first half of the fifteenth century, coinciding with
major changes in the behavior of the NAO and AO, the summers became wetter and
cooler (Figure 3). Novgorod suffered what were probably its most severe late-medieval
famines in the first half of the fifteenth century and gradually lost its dominating
position over the region.
5 Conclusions
This exploration of whether the climate-driven crises of the early fourteenth century
affected the northeastern corner of Europe has sought to demonstrate the potential
of incorporating tree-ring data into historical research. The various sources analyzed
here suggest that the adverse climatic conditions, winter storms, and heavy rains that
troubled western Europe in the first half of the fourteenth century did not reach the
area studied. In fact, tree-ring reconstructions suggest favorable conditions for agri-
culture – warm growing seasons and moderate precipitation – in the late 1310s. On
the other hand, both tree-ring data and written sources indicate that the harvest in
75H (note 56), pp. 577.
76I (note 9), p. 201.
77D et al. (Note 37), p. 433; K (note 72), pp. 372–373.
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Climate and the Crises of the Early Fourteenth Century in Northeastern Europe 99
1314 was extremely poor all over the studied area. Yet, the food systems in the north-
east were rather diverse, which made them resilient to short-term climate anomalies.
Therefore, it is rather unlikely that the single bad harvest in 1314 would have triggered
a famine comparable to the crisis in the west. Moreover, the written sources do not
indicate any shortage of food over the years 1315–1322.
Interestingly, it appears that it was perhaps the same changes in the behavior of
modes of climate variability, mostly in the winter NAO and AO, that brought adverse
conditions to the west and favorable conditions to the northeast over the first half of
the fourteenth century. This demonstrates how climatic teleconnections can mate-
rialize on a societal level in very different ways in different locations. Prior studies
have suggested that this region experienced agricultural expansion and economic
strengthening early in the century. Tree-ring material provides supplementary infor-
mation on the climatic conditions of the period. The first half of the fourteenth century
was marked by short, mild winters and warm summers with moderate rainfall – ideal
conditions for crop cultivation in the region. Combined with the fairly resilient food
systems of the region, this makes it likely that northeast Europe was able to escape, at
least temporarily, the crises that western Europe was struggling with in the first half
of the fourteenth century.
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In the fourteenth century the Old World witnessed a series of profound and abrupt changes in the trajectory of long-established historical trends. Transcontinental networks of exchange fractured and an era of economic contraction and demographic decline dawned from which Latin Christendom would not begin to emerge until its voyages of discovery at the end of the fifteenth century. In a major new study of this 'Great Transition', Bruce Campbell assesses the contributions of commercial recession, war, climate change, and eruption of the Black Death to a far-reaching reversal of fortunes from which no part of Eurasia was spared. The book synthesises a wealth of new historical, palaeo-ecological and biological evidence, including estimates of national income, reconstructions of past climates, and genetic analysis of DNA extracted from the teeth of plague victims, to provide a fresh account of the creation, collapse and realignment of Western Europe's late medieval commercial economy. Major new account of the fourteenth-century crisis when climate change, disease and a transformation of the military and political balance of power reshaped the medieval world Provides a fresh account of the creation, collapse and realignment of Western Europe's late medieval commercial economy Synthesises a wealth of new historical, palaeo-ecological and biological evidence.
Plant remains from graves shed light on the usage of plants as part of the burial customs, economy or diet of the past. The aim of this interdisciplinary study was to examine what new information can be acquired from graves by combining archaeobotanical and pollen data with archaeological results. The study material consisted of soil samples from 158 graves of nine different archaeological sites in southern Finland, dated from the Iron Age to the 16th century. Archaeobotanical results from the graves were generally rather modest. However, remarkable results were gained from a 16th century grave at the Kappelinmäki cemetery in Kauskila, Lappeenranta. The grave gave evidence of the deceased's last meal, since a large number of raspberry seeds and some fish bones were discovered. Pollen analysis of the same grave gave evidence of funeral practices and ritual usage of plants. Due to local soil conditions, plant material was generally not preserved in the inhumation graves. Preserved plant material can be associated with the graves with well-preserved human bones and / or the graves containing plentiful metal artefacts.
A reconstruction of past spring temperatures was analysed and compared to long-term records of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and sunspots. This palaeoclimate reconstruction, built previously using multiple proxy evidence of historical and natural sources from southwest Finland, explained approx. 70% of the instrumental temperature variance over a spring season (February–June) and covered the time period from 1750 to the present. Correlations between the NAO and sunspots appear markedly high and, based on Monte Carlo tests, statistically significant (p < 0.01) since around 1925. Correlation between sunspots and temperatures appeared notably high over the past 50 years, but this association could not be confirmed by the significance test. Correlations between the NAO and temperatures were high and statistically significant. However, the pre-1860s NAO–temperature correlations were lower than the correlations after that date. Previous studies have emphasized the possibility of enhanced solar forcing on NAO variability over the past 30–40 years broadly operative on decadal scales (with so far unresolved explanatory mechanisms). Our results correlate with this view to a statistically significant extent (p < 0.01) in the context of the past two centuries of regional climate variability. The NAO–temperature correlations were clearly stronger than the correlations between sunspots and temperatures. Moreover, the correlations were stronger between decadally filtered records. Consequently, the potential solar forcing on regional temperatures may have operated on decadal scales and been augmented by the NAO–temperature association.
The classic 10-year population cycle of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus, Erxleben 1777) and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis, Kerr 1792) in the boreal forests of North America has drawn much attention from both population and community ecologists worldwide; however, the ecological mechanisms driving the 10-yr cyclic dynamic pattern are not fully revealed yet. In this study, by the use of historic fur harvest data, we constructed a series of generalized additive models to study the effects of density dependence, predation and climate (both global climate indices of North Atlantic Oscillation index (NAO), Southern Oscillation index (SOI) and northern hemispheric temperature (NHT) and local weather data including temperature, rainfall and snow). We identified several key pathways from global and local climate to lynx with various time lags: rainfall shows a negative, and snow shows a positive effect on lynx; NHT and NAO negatively affect lynx through their positive effect on rainfall and negative effect on snow; SOI positively affects lynx through its negative effect on rainfall. Direct or delayed density dependency effects, the prey effect of hare on lynx and a 2-yr delayed negative effect of lynx on hare (defined as asymmetric predation) were found. The simulated population dynamics is well fitted to the observed long-term fluctuations of hare and lynx populations. Through simulation, we find density dependency and asymmetric predation, only producing damped oscillation, are necessary but not sufficient factors in causing the observed 10-yr cycles; while extrinsic climate factors are important in producing and modifying the sustained cycles. Two recent population declines of lynx (1940-1955 and after 1980) were likely caused by on-going climate warming indirectly. Our results provide an alternative explanation to the mechanism of the 10-yr cycles, and there is a need for further investigation on links between disappearance of population cycles and global warming in hare-lynx system. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Data collected by the International Arctic Buoy Programme from 1979 to 1998 are analyzed to obtain statistics of sea level pressure (SLP) and sea ice motion (SIM). The annual and seasonal mean fields agree with those obtained in previous studies of Arctic climatology. The data show a 3-hPa decrease in decadal mean SLP over the central Arctic Ocean between 1979-88 and 1989-98. This decrease in SLP drives a cyclonic trend in SIM, which resembles the structure of the Arctic Oscillation (AO).Regression maps of SIM during the wintertime (January-March) AO index show 1) an increase in ice advection away from the coast of the East Siberian and Laptev Seas, which should have the effect of producing more new thin ice in the coastal flaw leads; 2) a decrease in ice advection from the western Arctic into the eastern Arctic; and 3) a slight increase in ice advection out of the Arctic through Fram Strait. Taken together, these changes suggest that at least part of the thinning of sea ice recently observed over the Arctic Ocean can be attributed to the trend in the AO toward the high-index polarity.Rigor et al. showed that year-to-year variations in the wintertime AO imprint a distinctive signature on surface air temperature (SAT) anomalies over the Arctic, which is reflected in the spatial pattern of temperature change from the 1980s to the 1990s. Here it is shown that the memory of the wintertime AO persists through most of the subsequent year: spring and autumn SAT and summertime sea ice concentration are all strongly correlated with the AO index for the previous winter. It is hypothesized that these delayed responses reflect the dynamical influence of the AO on the thickness of the wintertime sea ice, whose persistent `footprint' is reflected in the heat fluxes during the subsequent spring, in the extent of open water during the subsequent summer, and the heat liberated in the freezing of the open water during the subsequent autumn.
In the years 1694 to early 1697, cold winters and cool and wet springs and autumns led to extreme famine in northern Europe, particularly in Finland, Estonia, and Livonia. It is estimated that in Finland about 25-33% of the population perished (Jutikkala, 1955; Muroma, 1972), and in Estonia-Livonia about 20% (Liiv, 1938). As far as is known the population disasters associated with the famines of the 1690s in France, Italy, and Scotland; 1816-17 in western Europe; 1845-46 in Ireland; and 1867-68, again in Finland; were all notably smaller than those of Finland, Estonia, and Livonia in 1695-97. A reconstruction is attempted of the coarse features of weather conditions in northern Europe in the years preceding the famine. This is based on previous work by other investigators (especially Jutikkala), and on contemporary documents and literature examined by the present authors.Records indicate that in the absence of an appropriate diet, the population consumed unwholesome and partly or fully indigestible foods' which led to widespread diseases and epidemics (diarrhea of sorts, including lientery, dysentery, etc.). There were even some cases of cannibalism, The greatest rise in mortality took place in spring and early summer of 1697, when weather conditions were already in the process of improving. Somewhat paradoxically, city residents suffered less than the utterly poor landless peasants and small peasants. Many of the farms were abandoned during the crisis, either through the death of either all or some members of the family concerned, or through migration (where migration included begging). The number of people who turned to begging was massive. The abandoned farms were reoccupied, shortly after the crisis, by landless peasants and by others.
Fish play a key role in the trophic dynamics of lakes, not least in shallow systems. With climate warming, complex changes in fish community structure may be expected owing to the direct and indirect effects of temperature, and indirect effects of eutrophication, water-level changes and salinisation on fish metabolism, biotic interactions and geographical distribution. We review published and new data supporting the hypotheses that, with a warming climate, there will be changes in: fish community structure (e.g. higher or lower richness depending on local conditions); life history traits (e.g. smaller body size, shorter life span, earlier and less synchronised reproduction); feeding mode (i.e. increased omnivory and herbivory); behaviour (i.e. stronger association with littoral areas and a greater proportion of benthivores); and winter survival. All these changes imply higher predation on zooplankton and macroinvertebrates with increasing temperatures, suggesting that the changes in the fish communities partly resemble, and may intensify, the effects triggered by eutrophication. Modulating factors identified in cold and temperate systems, such as the presence of submerged plants and winter ice cover, seem to be weaker or non-existent in warm(ing) lakes. Consequently, in the future lower nutrient thresholds may be needed to obtain clear-water conditions and good ecological status in the future in currently cold or temperate lakes. Although examples are still scarce and more research is needed, we foresee biomanipulation to be a less successful restoration tool in warm(ing) lakes without a strong reduction of the nutrient load. KeywordsAquatic food webs-Sub-tropical lakes-Piscivory-Planktivory-Benthivory-Eutrophication-Salinisation-Biomanipulation