Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Disappearance of Greenland's Vikings

[Again my profuse apologies for not keeping up the blog. I have gotten into another project over the past several days, and it is incredibly easy to simply forget about these things, and then all of a sudden you look up and four or five days have passed without posting. - HAC]

The Weird Aryan History Series - Lesson #17

The Disappearance of Greenland's Vikings

Over a thousand years ago, the Viking Eric the Red sailed to Greenland around 985 A.D., while in temporary exile from his Iceland home for homicide. He returned to Iceland with fabulous tales of pastures and valuable wild animals in a land he named Greenland.

Twenty-five boats with some 500 people are said to have returned with him, eventually building two settlements on the big island, with typical Norse long houses and enclosed barns, etc. made out of fitted stone, many of which still stand today and some of which are actually still in use.

The exact details are lost to history, but the outlines of this story has been proven true by archeologists this century who have excavated Viking remains at two sites on Greenland's west coast. It needs to be born in mind that the period of Norse settlement was prior to the "Little Ice Age" which set in around the beginning of the fourteenth century, and that in the days of the first Scandinavian settlements, the climate was much warmer even than it is today, (grapes grew in England in those days) and Greenland most likely really was green. The climate was milder and crops could be grown as well as the abundant animal life hunted.

Greenland's two outposts together, called the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement, had about 2,500 inhabitants at their peak. For more than 400 years they lived primarily on meat and milk from sheep, goats and cows. Interestingly, for those of us who envision Vikings constantly quaffing ale and mead and whatnot, they had no beer or ale and had to trade for it; what grain was available was far too precious for fermenting and had to be used for food. For wood and iron implements they traded polar bear and caribou skins and walrus hides and tusks. The Greenlanders launched at least one expedition to North America, landing in modern-day Newfoundland and setting up a short-lived colony.

But for a variety of reasons, probably including the devastation of the Black Plague in Europe and a waning interest in Greenland's luxury products, the settlements lost touch with the old country. Recent studies of ice cores from Greenland show that the 15th century, when the colonies probably died out, was a period of climate deterioration across the Atlantic. When the "Little Ice Age" set in around the beginning of 1300, the ice floes from the Arctic pressed in, the sailing season in the northern hemisphere became much shorter, and the seas became more unnavigable and dangerous. Trade and communication with Greenland dropped away. But these researchers say their explanation must be more nuanced than simply: "it got cold and they died." For starters, that wouldn't explain why the Eskimos survived these lean years. It has been proven that human beings, including White men, can if necessary survive and even thrive on an all-meat, high-protein diet, as witness the latest Atkins Diet craze.

But beyond this, for reasons which have always remained mysterious, people in Europe seem simply to have forgotten about Greenland. Various Popes used to agitate their Norwegian bishops to send out priests to the colonies, but it seems volunteers to go off to the far reaches of the earth were kind of scarce and Norwegian church prelates seem to have grown quite adept and avoiding or obfuscating the subject. One gets the impression they just couldn't be bothered. At one stage Greenland falcons were very fashionable among the nobility, but the fashion seems to have changed, and as far as Europe was concerned Greenland seems to have fallen off the edge of the earth. The last known record of the Greenland Vikings was in 1408, when a traveler reported a wedding there. Several centuries later, in 1721, Hans Egede, a Norwegian-born missionary, sought out the colonies. To his surprise, they were gone; this seems to have been the first time anyone noticed that they were gone. It is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. There is one fascinating story, though, which I have to quote from memory, since it's been years since I've read this.

Greenland was actually re-discovered, independently, by the English sailors John and Sebastian Cabot in the late 15th century, and sometime in the sixteenth century the great Elizabethan sailor and first Arctic explorer Martin Frobisher first arrived. Frobisher recorded in his log that as he and his men came ashore on the rocky beach, they found a dead White man lying there face down, wearing only furs, who had apparently only just died of unknown causes. They buried him and went on to find an empty settlement of stone huts. Did Frobisher and the modern world just miss the last of the Greenlanders by a few hours?

Researchers and history buffs have offered many possible explanations for the disappearance of the Greenland Vikings, including raids by Eskimos or European pirates, assimilation into Eskimo communities and starvation. Modern DNA testing shows no apparently genetic Norse strain in modern Greenland Inuit, though. Neither do the settlement remains show any signs of fire or violence or destruction, although these would not necessarily be present. From the Greenlanders' point of view, one day the ships just--stopped coming. Archaeological excavations which have been carried out in recent yeares on grave tumuli which still dot the rocky hillsides show evidence of physical degeneration due to poor nutrition and inbreeding. The last Greenlanders seem to have been dwarf-like people, sick and often deformed, who dressed in uncured skins, had no metal tools, and could not have fought off the Eskimos.

Ever want a chill down your spine? Envision what life in the Greenland settlements must have been like during the last fifty years or so before the end--completely isolated at the end of the world, always cold and probably starving, always looking to the east over the icy water for the ships that never came.

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