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Archaeology & History

Why did Viking settlers leave Greenland ?

By T.K. Randall
January 14, 2013 · Comment icon 22 comments

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.[!gad]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. But archaeologists now believe that economic and identity issues, rather than starvation and disease, drove them back to their ancestral homes.


Source: Spiegel.de | Comments (22)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #13 Posted by the L 11 years ago
Thats what this article said. Why did they switch to sea food? Also we often forget that they didnt want to adopt to new situation. Inuits survived. 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 ... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by TheSearcher 11 years ago
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 relaxe... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by the L 11 years ago
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 a bit... [More]
Comment icon #16 Posted by DieChecker 11 years ago
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 11 years ago
How come that Iniuts didnt abandoned Grenland? How come they survive? 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 u... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by woopypooky 11 years ago
they were terrorised by polar bears
Comment icon #19 Posted by Bavarian Raven 11 years ago
When they arrived on Grenland it was green. So Vikings start to harvest natural goods.Birds, fish, grass, wild life. Vikings start to enjoy. with that enjoyment they ruin envoirment. When they came they burn wood for pasture land. They start destroying nature plant life, ground erossion, cutting green lawn. Cut trees for building and fire. Trees coudnt regenerate because on that area livestock was walking. And Vikings cut them. Vikings felt strong,secured. About the erossion bit, the Norse settlers had surprisingly good farming techniques. Up until the last few decades, the soil in most of the... [More]
Comment icon #20 Posted by the L 11 years ago
Thus, they were, both technologically and culturally, in a qualified and experienced position to make advantageous use of the resource base that resulted from the climatic change which occurred during the time period under consideration. 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. About th... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Bavarian Raven 11 years ago
They were not rational 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 11 years ago
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. 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... [More]


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