Historical documents

Historical documents have been considered to be one of the most accurate sources for reconstructing recent glacier variations. In addition, this information has been used to calibrate data on glacier variations further back in time. The Icelandic Sagas (ad 870-1264) seem to be the oldest documents mentioning glacier variations. Some of the oldest historical data do not, however, fulfil modern scientific standards and must not be looked upon uncritically.

In Iceland, Norway and the Alps, agricultural land was abandoned due to expanding glacier fronts during the Little Ice Age (e.g. Grove, 1988). Around Jostedalsbreen in western Norway, historical evidence shows that the advances of Nigardsbreen in Jostedalen and Brenndalsbreen in Olden caused the most severe damage, and that which affected the farm Tungoyane in Olden was the most severe. The destruction of Tung0yane took place over a period of about 40 years when the glacier front of Brenndalsbreen was situated in the vicinity of the farm, causing a series of avalanches and floods over the farmland. On 12 December 1743 the farm was totally destroyed by an avalanche from the glacier, and all but two persons on the farm were killed (Nesje, 1994). Information about the Little Ice Age glacier damage in Norway has been obtained through records of tax reductions (for further details, see Grove and Battagel, 1983; Nesje, 1994).

From the seventeenth century onwards, several persons visiting the glaciers left paintings, drawings and photographs providing material for reconstruction of glacier positions and later fluctuations. In the Swiss Alps, for example, the Lower Grindelwald Glacier has 323 illustrations to document its former extent, and together with written evidence, this forms the basis for a detailed reconstruction of the glacier back to ad 1590.

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