The final Norse settlements in Greenland ceased to exist sometime around 1500. However, new research shows that some of the settlers may have left the island centuries earlier for greener pastures, specifically, Iceland and Norway.
This theory is based on new inspection of trade items found at sites all over the old settlements. The Vikings had a lot of contact with Norway and Iceland throughout their history and if the coastal shelves were retreating as early as 1300, it would make sense that they were looking for better places to live by then.
If you’re interested in more information about Viking settlement in Greenland or what drove them away from their homes on this island, read our blog post about “Vikings may have fled Greenland”.
Here are some points discussed about How Vikings may have fled Greenland to escape rising seas-
1. So, what is the evidence that people left Greenland before 1500?
Recent research has uncovered trade goods in the abandoned settlement of Hvalsey in western Greenland, which are most similar to what was made in Iceland and Norway beginning around 1300.
2. Were there any other signs that the Norse were forced to leave?
Yes, there were other signs, too. Norse settlers were excellent farmers and their fields were productive, but when geologist Bill D’Andrea studied a tree ring record from Disko Island located just off the western coast of Greenland he found that tree growth began declining around 1350. This decline may have been due to climate change, but it is more consistent with the idea that the Norse were cutting trees and burning them for fuel, which would have contributed to a decline in local tree growth.
3. Could they have left because of their religion?
Yes, they certainly could have. In 1450, the Roman Catholic Church brought Christianity to Greenland in an effort to convert the Vikings who had settled there. However, by this time many of them had already left Greenland for Iceland and Norway after the weather had become colder and less hospitable. Once in Iceland and Norway, the Norse were forced to abandon their pagan beliefs for Christianity or face persecution.
4. Why did the climate became colder again around 1450?
Again, there is evidence that suggests that it was a result of climate change. Archaeologists have found a number of indicators that the weather in Greenland became colder, wetter, and less hospitable to human life between 1200 and 1400.
However, it’s also possible that increased sea ice cover in the North Atlantic Ocean caused it to be colder and windier in Greenland during this time. This could have made farming more difficult, which would have forced people to leave their settlements.
5. Why didn’t we know about this before?
For the most part, nobody thought to do the research. For example, while Disko Island has tree growth that begins to decline in around 1350, people never really thought to compare it with tree growth elsewhere in Greenland until recently.
The knowledge simply wasn’t there until recently. Of course, more information may still be waiting to be found!
6. Were the Vikings the first people to live in Greenland?
No. Before the Vikings settled in Greenland, an older society called the Saqqaq culture occupied it around 2400-2500. They didn’t leave any signs of permanent settlement, but did leave behind some stone houses and hunting equipment. However, modern archaeologists still believe that the Saqqaq people were nomadic.
7. How did the Vikings feel about the climate of Greenland?
The Norse settlers in Greenland were forced to adjust to the colder and less hospitable climate in a variety of ways.
As previously mentioned, they cleared forests and burned wood for fuel; this would have contributed to a decline in local tree growth. Since they also farmed, they had to adjust their farming practices.
They planted grains like barley and millet instead of the traditional Scandinavian crops, wheat and rye, which would have been better suited for growing in Greenland’s harsher climate. The Norse also built houses with more windows and skylights, which helped to keep houses warmer during the winter.
8. Have you heard of Vikings’ settlements in Ireland too?
Despite the fact that there is no evidence of Norse settlements in Ireland, Irish legend has it that the Vikings settled there because they were fleeing Iceland or Norway where they had been persecuted for their beliefs. In addition, a number of sites like Lismore and Kiltartan have been excavated over the last hundred years and have produced a great deal of information about Viking society.