November 29, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 3:29 pm

Ancient Greenland mystery has a simple answer, it seems

The Greenland Norse colonized North America 500 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” it, establishing farms in the sheltered fjords of southern Greenland, exploring Labrador and the Canadian Arctic, and setting up a short-lived outpost in Newfoundland.

But by 1450, they were gone, posing one of history’s most intriguing mysteries: What happened to the Greenland Norse?

There are many theories: They were starved off by a cooling climate, wiped out by pirates or Inuit hunters, or perhaps blended into Inuit society as their own came unglued.

Now scientists are pretty sure they have the answer: They simply up and left.

“When the climate deteriorated, and their way of life became more difficult, they did what people have done throughout the ages: They looked for a more opportune place to live,” says Niels Lynnerup, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who studies the Norse.

I didn’t think there were any real competing hypotheses.


  1. Yes. Jared Diamond (Of Guns Germs and Steel) made the Greenland Norse the centerpiece of his “mess with nature and don’t adapt and you’ll be wiped out” argument.

    Comment by CamArchGrad — November 30, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  2. You know, I started to type in some comments on Diamond’s use of the Norse in his book, but I haven’t read the book so I don’t know exactly what use he made of it. I had read in a couple of places that he made that a chapter of the book.

    In that case, I don’t really see it as a “failure” to adapt, but an unwillingness to do so. I’m guessing that crop failures caused many to die, but in the end they chose to leave and be Norse elsewhere rather than stay and become Inuit.

    Comment by Anthony — November 30, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  3. Well his argument was that by importing a suite of Medieval European agriculture technique and animal husbandry the Norse degraded the landscape and by keeping to the suite of European techniques, as part of their cultural heritage the onset of the little ice age tipped them over the edge.

    In a way, difference is semantic between JD’s and this article. I n both cases whether extinction or migration the Norse were forced out.

    Comment by CamArchGrad — November 30, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

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