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Why did Viking settlers leave Greenland ?

Posted on Monday, 14 January, 2013 | Comment icon 22 comments | News tip by: the L

Image credit: Jason Vanderhill

Viking settlements in Greenland persisted for over 500 years, so why did they decide to leave ?

It's a question that has puzzled researchers for years. For several centuries the descendants of the Vikings etched out a living in settlements across Greenland only to pack up and abandon the country at the end of the 15th century. Some believe that disease and starvation may have pushed the settlers in to returning to their ancestral homes, but research in to what they left behind has shown that they would have had plenty to eat, switching to hunting seals when the Medieval Warm Period had come to an end.

Instead it is now believed that economic issues and isolation may have been the deciding factors in their return to Scandinavia. Increasingly cut off from their ancestral homes and finding it more and more difficult to attract traders, circumstances would have eventually become sufficiently intolerable to make returning to their homelands the only viable option.

"For years, researchers have puzzled over why Viking descendents abandoned Greenland in the late 15th century."

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #13 Posted by the L on 16 January, 2013, 5:59
How come that Iniuts didnt abandoned Grenland? How come they survive? Vikings ruin themselves due their greed and social turmoil. Climate chaange just speed up things. It can be reason. Some historians like natural catastrophe as explaination why civilization fall. Such as drought. But reasons are ALWAYS complex. Vikings on Grenland didnt vanished due Atlantis scenario. Natural catastrophes are NEVER reason why one civilization fall. Climate just push things. If they wanted to surivive,to adopt to new climate they would survive. But their greed ruin them before climate. Then they became re... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by TheSearcher on 16 January, 2013, 10:56
Actually natural catastrophes can be the reason of the fall of a civilisation. For example, The Mycenaean conquest of the Minoans occurred in Late Minoan II period, not many years after the eruption of Thera, and many archaeologists speculate that the eruption induced a crisis in Minoan civilization, which allowed the Mycenaeans to conquer them easily. The Olmec decline is blamed on environmental changes caused by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. You are trying to bring it all down to one cause, trying to simplify it way to much. Besides bringing it all down to greed and moral decline is... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by the L on 16 January, 2013, 11:28
Hi Searcher! Im glad that beside Swede, checker and Raven , one gerat poster join to debate, you. Sorry but actually you say that is only one reason-climate change. Natural catastrophe are never reason of the fall of civilization. I stated that civilization ALWAYS fall due complex reasons. There isnt only one reason. There are always few reasons which differs from culture and civilization. But one that persist and its pattern are: Greed and social turmoil. There are few examples where this isnt case but historians for those still dont know reasons. Natural catastrophe often get people... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by DieChecker on 16 January, 2013, 20:23
Is it a myth that Greenland was named so that people that visited there would think that Iceland was even worse, and thus not be worth invading?
Comment icon #17 Posted by Swede on 17 January, 2013, 0:33
As you are aware, the "Inuits" were relative newcomers to Greenland (post-Scandinavian). However, bear in mind that the Thule Culture (antecedents of the Inuit), and also the antecedents of the Thule culture themselves, had a long history of adaptation to, and survival in, polar/sub-polar environments. These adaptations included the full array of culturally adapted mechanisms ranging from domestic accoutrements to survival skills to social structure. And they were quite well adapted to a diet and procurement strategy based upon larger sea mammals. Thus, they were, both technolog... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by woopypooky on 17 January, 2013, 12:08
they were terrorised by polar bears
Comment icon #19 Posted by Bavarian Raven on 17 January, 2013, 23:22
About the erossion bit, the Norse settlers had surprisingly good farming techniques. Up until the last few decades, the soil in most of the Norse fields was improving. That being said, the lack of trees was a serious problem and one of the reason for the numerous trips into Markland and beyond for supplies.
Comment icon #20 Posted by the L on 19 January, 2013, 20:56
Inuits were parallel culture in Grenland. Vikings have had time to adopt. And more imprortantly they have role model. But their standards and ego didnt allow them. Greed and good life. They learn to harvest more then they actually need. They were not rational. They spent more then they could earn. Luxory ruined them. Climate just push their down fall. They cut all.
Comment icon #21 Posted by Bavarian Raven on 19 January, 2013, 22:55
they were very rational... hence, why the younger generations began to leave 'en mass to "warmer" regions when the climate began to worsen. and hence why the later generations had diets almost identical to the Inuit towards the end. But when the youngsters are leaving faster then they are being produced, a city/colony/region is doomed...
Comment icon #22 Posted by Swede on 20 January, 2013, 23:58
This would not be an accurate assessment. As previously noted, the Inuit and their ancestral lineage had an extensive period of adaptation to the arctic/subarctic regions. A brief and simplified summary: The Inuit are descendants of the Yupik speaking groups that initially appear in the record in eastern Siberia: Yupik Thule Tradition Thule Culture Inuit. Some sources date the presence of the Yupik speakers in the Bering Sea area as early ca 10,000 BP. By ca 3000 BP the progenitors of the modern Yupik speaking groups were present in western Alaska. The Thule Tradition began ca 2000 BP... [More]

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