For centuries, Vikings plundered Northern Europe. The Scandinavian warriors sailed the North Sea destroying and raiding villages wherever they went, but by around 1000 A.D. their reign of terror was mostly finished. One of their settlements, an extremely isolated outpost in Greenland, has been a mystery for archaeologists for centuries. It was founded around the year 1000, and its inhabitants included Erik the Red and his very famous son, Leif. The Norse inhabitants lived in two main settlements, a few hundred miles apart, on Greenland for around 500 years. Then suddenly, they were gone.
Researchers have struggled for years to find out what really happened to the Vikings in Greenland, putting together theories that include climate change, invading Inuits, starvation, and even boredom for the sudden disappearance of the settlements.
Although Greenland Viking history remains somewhat murky today, scientists have at least been able to disprove a small handful of theories using archaeological evidence. But they'll need to work fast - another round of climate change means melting ice and the loss of whatever relics they have left.
In 1721, a Norwegian missionary named Hans Egede went on a missionary trip to Greenland. Although Europeans had not heard from the settlements there in 200 years, he was going to try and find them to convert them to Protestantism. However, when he arrived all he found were Inuit people, who showed him the crumbling ruins of their once-grand stone buildings. He, like many scientists still today, was very confused about where they could have gone. The only thing that was clear was that they had indeed been gone for several hundred years.
Originally, researchers believed that the Norse settlers had stripped the landscape of Greenland with their traditional farming practices. While initial data seemed to point to the Norse as being irresponsible farmers, a lot of new information has come to light. New research reveals that instead of just clearing the land of timber and depleting the soil of nutrients, the Norse were responsible and knowledgeable farmers.
They allowed the forest to grow back between clearings, and they knew how to properly irrigate and fertilize their crops. Sadly, the changes they made to their traditional methods to adapt to the increasingly cold climate were simply not enough.
Although seen as common now, during the Medieval period cows were considered status symbols. The typical Scandinavian diet consisted of staples such as milk, cheese, and a yogurt called skyr. Archaeologists have found evidence that many farms in the Greenland colonies had a cow or two, with cow bones found among the trash piles, known as middens.
The Norse settlers traded a variety of goods with other European nations, with trade making up a large part of the settlements' livelihoods. The exotic arctic goods included walrus ivory, furs, and even live polar bears. Craftsmen used tusks to create all kinds of luxury items, including an ivory chess set found in Scotland in 1831.
The Norse inhabitants of Greenland used their trading power to obtain food, supplies, and stained glass for their grand stone buildings. Ivory was worth significant amounts of dried fish and cows, which were essential for their diet.