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Viking mystery


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#61    poetofsheba

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Posted 18 September 2012 - 07:53 PM

I agree with some of the other posts that the most logical reason would be that the vikings didn't bring any infectious diseases and if they did had very little contact with the natives.

We know for sure that vikings reached Greenland in 982 when Erik the red was made an outlaw in Iceland and he set out to find the mountains/cliffs that sailors had seen in the distance when they sailed north west of Iceland (Canadian finds dated around 900-950 AD suggest that vikings had discovered Canada at that point, so it's possible that some of theses sailors did reach Greenland earlier, but we have no proof). The small viking community on Greenland didn't have much contact with Iceland and Scandinavia, maybe 5 merchant ships a year so they were pretty isolated.
About two decades later Leif Ericson (Erik's son) decided to investigate the land that Bjarni Herjolfsson stumbled on when he sailed of course trying to get to Greenland. and he reached "Vinland" "Markland" and Helluland" which is believed to be located on modern day Newfoundland.
At some point they built houses and stayed the winter in this new land - they had a few skirmishes and a little trade with the natives before giving up on settling this new land alone and returned to Greenland. A few vikings later made the journey to Vinland but a new settlement was never really established.
In 1500 the viking settlements on Greenland had disappeared and in the last centuries before that contact with Iceland and Scandinavia had diminished and finally stopped - archaeologist believe that harsh conditions combined with no longer getting essential wares from Scandinavia made the population fall and finally disappear.

Diseases such as smallpox would have been deadly to the natives - but smallpox spread from Africa to the south west parts of Europe around 700-800 AD it didn't really spread to the rest of Europe until the Crusades -> long after the Vikings reached Canada/America. Even if some had contracted a disease such as smallpox and travelled to Scandinavia we know it didn't spread much in Scandinavia because it DIDN'T establish itself in the rest of Europe until the crusades. It's a disease which began in a much warmer climate (and many diseases are very specialised, they need a certain environment to spread or they'll just die out) and without time to mutate it couldn't survive in the cold climates in Scandinavia, so very few Vikings would have had the disease. (most other epidemic diseases also spread from warmer countries meaning Scandinavia was almost always hit last)
Aside from that the vikings were very hygienic, they washed/bathed once a day, combed their hair and beards (when they settled in England the locals found them annoying and self absorbed with their cleanliness because "they caught they eye's of all the local girls" lol ).

So from a large Scandinavian population where almost no one carried any of the times epidemic diseases (which was almost all localized around southern/western Europe, Asia and Africa) a few sailed out and settled Iceland, there's a very small probability more than one carried the disease if any at all.
A few years later an even smaller group leaves for Greenland - making it highly unlikely anyone's carrying a disease. And from those settlers a few ships leave for Vinland. It's really improbable that any of these Vikings who were in contact with the natives only briefly carried a disease at this point.

1)So we're in the year 1000 AD standing on the coasts of vinland trading with the natives --- simultaneously in Europe --- diseases such as smallpox haven't even reached Scandinavia yet.
2) A few more settlers from Greenland visits the coasts of Vinland --- smallpox still haven't reached Scandinavia
3) and probably a few more explores goes to Vinland --- Scandinavia lose contact with the colonies on Greenland.
4) vikings leaves Vinland for good
5) some time later the colonies on Greenland dies out and no one else settles there for years.

When the Spanish settlers reached America they came from a warm climate and reached an area with warm climate, they established large colonies and conquered the natives - all the conditions needed for a disease to spread rapidly were there.

Almost same enviroment = next to no mutation needed.
Large amount of permanent settlers, including slaves and animals = many carriers of the disease.
Conquering the natives = long exposure and living side by side unlike the vikings brief encounters.

I don't think there's much of a mystery here but that's just my opinion.

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#62    Bavarian Raven

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Posted 20 October 2012 - 10:56 PM

Quote

I agree with some of the other posts that the most logical reason would be that the vikings didn't bring any infectious diseases and if they did had very little contact with the natives.

Not to dig up a dead thread, but with each new archeological find it appears the norse had a decent amount of contact with the natives (norse greenlanders were visiting the shores of north america for at least 400+ years, harvesting timber, hunting, trading, exploring, etc). But like has been pointed out numerous times before, it was the lengths of the voyages that spared the natives from epidemics. It was a 2-3 week sail to Markland (labrador/newfoundland) and even longer to Vinland (Acadia region). Anyone with a serious disease would have likely perished over this time. Not to mention Smallpox had not even reached Iceland, let alone Greenland during this era. Finally, with the Northern European kings doing their best to keep the knowledge of North America a secret, it ensured that traders from other parts of europe did not venture west and bring with them infectious diseases.

On the note of health/washing/etc. Pagan Germanic tribes were usually uber-strick about washing and hair-cutting and grooming. It was the introduction of christianity that led to the decline in cleanliness and helped spread disease.

Cheers.


#63    Uncle Sam

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Posted 22 October 2012 - 05:00 AM

Another theory that the Vikings did not encounter the Small Pox at that time, so they didn't have any way to transfer it to the natives. Because their trip was so brief and short, there wasn't any chance of the natives even being introduced to the small pox.

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#64    DieChecker

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Posted 23 October 2012 - 06:45 PM

View PostBavarian Raven, on 20 October 2012 - 10:56 PM, said:

Not to dig up a dead thread, but with each new archeological find it appears the norse had a decent amount of contact with the natives (norse greenlanders were visiting the shores of north america for at least 400+ years, harvesting timber, hunting, trading, exploring, etc). But like has been pointed out numerous times before, it was the lengths of the voyages that spared the natives from epidemics. It was a 2-3 week sail to Markland (labrador/newfoundland) and even longer to Vinland (Acadia region). Anyone with a serious disease would have likely perished over this time. Not to mention Smallpox had not even reached Iceland, let alone Greenland during this era. Finally, with the Northern European kings doing their best to keep the knowledge of North America a secret, it ensured that traders from other parts of europe did not venture west and bring with them infectious diseases.

On the note of health/washing/etc. Pagan Germanic tribes were usually uber-strick about washing and hair-cutting and grooming. It was the introduction of christianity that led to the decline in cleanliness and helped spread disease.

Cheers.
I think if I was a Vikiing of that time, and was on a ship, and found out one of the others was sick, I think the crew might have simply thrown them overboard. You can't have the whole ship dying from some plague, so it is better to drown one then to have everyone die.

I don't think it directly was Christianity. I think it was the Medical Science of the time that said that getting water on you was unhealthy and promoted sickness. The opposite of what was true. Same thing with the Black Plague, they said it was the cats that were spreading it somehow, and killed them off allowing the rats who carried the fleas that spread the Plague free reign. (Or is that just a myth?)

Edited by DieChecker, 23 October 2012 - 06:47 PM.

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