I am currently writing an article on climate change in medieval Ireland and its impact. When I finished this graph the results were pretty stark and a perhaps a little alarming given the current changes in our climate today.
Medieval Europe experienced climate change in the late 13th and early 14th century. Scientists generally divide the period into two distinct climates – the medieval climate anomaly, a period of relatively warm weather between c. 750 C.E. and 1250 C.E. and the Little Ice Age which lasted between 1350 C.E. and 1750C.E. Between these two periods the climate obviously changed, but finding evidence of this is not easy.
I first examined medieval annals looking for evidence of an increase in inclement weather. The results did show an increase in poor weather but it wasn’t conclusive. Then I decided to look at famine between 1050 – 1350 C.E. Famine is intrinsically linked to climate – poor weather results in poor harvests which in turn leads to famine. There are some famines caused directly by war so I discounted any results which explicitly stated this. The results were pretty conclusive. In the period where we know the climate was changing the frequency famine shot up. In terms of what we face today there is some solace in the fact that we are by no means as vulnerable to famine than our ancestors.
The numbers on the vertical represent the famine years in a given decade.
- The graph is not scientific but does indicate increased famine resulting from weather conditions in the later 13th and early 14th century. The results are based on searches using the terms “famine”, “dearth”, “starvation/starve/starving”, “hunger” and “scarcity”.
- Famine which are explicitly said to be caused by war were excluded.
- Data was taken from the Annals of Ulster, The Annals of the Four Master, The Annals of Tigernach, Grace’s Annals, The Annals of Loch Ce, The Annals of Connacht, The Annals of Inisfallen, The three surviving fragments of Mc Carthy’s book and the Dominican Annals of Roscommon all available here.
- Some later annals such as the Annals of the Four Masters are in part based on some of the earlier Annals, so only one famine was entered per year.
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