Why did the first Viking settlers on Greenland disappear – there are many theories


Initially, it was thought that they colonized the sub-arctic island searching for fresh farmland, but a fresh theory suggests that the hunt for walrus ivory is what really made them go there.

The walrus population in Iceland for example, was almost wiped out after the new settlers arrived. Ivory was highly desired across Europe and brought a huge fortune to the Vikings who were the largest exporter of this good.

a “berserker” chess figure made of walrus Ivory ( made in Norway, about AD 1150-1200 Found on the Isle of Lewis) / Photo credit

Chemical analyses on human bones from Norse graveyards in Greenland showed that their diet included marine animals, which proved that they weren’t only dependent on farming and livestock. In fact, the Vikings lived a long and sustainable life in the harsh environment for hundreds of years.

Their way of life started to change when the climate in those areas drastically changed. After the year 1250 AD, the global temperature declined for about a degree, during the period which scientists call “the Little Ice Age.”

The temperature drop caused troubles to every society that was dependent on the sea, and especially to those living near the Arctic Circle.  Vikings were especially affected because they used to hunt seals and walrus on the open ocean around Greenland, while the Inuit hunted in the fjords, close to the shore.

Kangertittivaq in eastern Greenland / Photo credit

The weather had an impact on farming too: the growing season became even shorter and the pastures became scarce. Norsemen tried to improve the situation by fertilizing, but their efforts were in vain.

This whole situation disturbed the balance in their whole community and it significantly decreased the ivory trade. The Norse found themselves in a desperate situation.  According to this theory, the Norse Greenlanders were forced to abandon their settlements and return back to the mainland or move to Iceland.

This offers another explanation about the demise of the first Viking Greenlanders – one that doesn’t involve starvation and death.

Farmland in Southern Greenland / Photo credit

Even with these new discoveries in mind, archaeologists are still not 100% certain about what really happened and excavations at the old settlements still continue.Today, 500 years later, the settlements are under a new threat, but this time not from the cold.

More great viking history from us: 1,000-year-old Viking sword found lying on the ground in Iceland

Global warming is rapidly melting the ice layers on Greenland and unless the archaeological sites are not unearthed quickly, crucial evidence will start to decay.