In the past two months there have been several articles written indicating that the demise of the Greenland Vikings may have been weather related; specifically the worsening winter weather of Greenland with the advent of the Mini-ice Age beginning in about the 11th century. Some of the articles are posted on this Blog.
As you may know from reading the Axe of Iron posts, I have made mention of the fact that the Viking Age began with the warming weather of the Medieval Warm Period in the 8th century, ending during the Mini-ice Age in the 12th century. I also have long held that the disappearance of the entire Greenland Viking population was a gradual trend that began soon after the establishment of the two known settlements around the year 986. Some of the population remained to the end of the Eastern Settlement in the 15th century.
Here is what I wrote on the subject, excerpted from the Historical Perspective of Axe of Iron: The Settlers, the first novel of the Axe of Iron series of historical fiction novels:
“The two known Norse Greenland colonies prospered into the late fifteenth century. The population eventually swelled to as many as four thousand people at any given time, spread among farms in the areas around these settlements.
At some point late in the fourteenth or early in the fifteenth century, all settlement attempts and trading voyages to Greenland from Iceland and other points to the east were abandoned. Sometime in the middle of the fourteenth century (Western Settlement), and just after the turn of the fifteenth century (Eastern Settlement), the Greenland populations disappeared without a trace.
Perhaps most of the inhabitants of the Greenland settlements had already moved west having migrated to successful settlements already established by other Northmen with the native populations of North America over the ensuing years.
In any case, I maintain they eventually gave up the sea. Like thousands of their compatriots in Europe, they settled ashore. All impetus and desire for undertaking the perilous voyages became a thing of the distant past.
Around 1450, winters became colder in the far north, a lot colder. The ice in the harbors and fjords began remaining well into summer, and then it just remained. Greenland became uninhabitable for the Northmen. The Medieval Warm Period ended. A mini–ice age gripped the Arctic and northern portions of North America for the next four hundred years, into the last half of the nineteenth century.
During the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, a Catholic Prelate voyaged to Greenland, ostensibly to check on his flock. Although a few domestic animals grazed the hillsides, he found no people, living or dead. No ships, supplies, or tools remained. The people and their possessions had simply vanished into the mists of time.
The Icelandic bishop Gisli Oddsson, quoting church records, stated in the sixteenth or seventeenth century (the exact date is unknown) that the Norse Greenlanders joined the natives of America in 1342, giving up Christianity in the process. The record notes a firm date for the migration, not sometime in the fourteenth century.
We know three things for certain if one considers the disappearance of these people objectively: They did not sail to Iceland or Europe; they did not remain on Greenland until they died of hunger or exposure; they did not simply disappear. No, they had been migrating slowly to North America for five hundred years. Assimilation with the indigenous peoples became, over time, the Norse Greenlanders’ only option for survival. It is the only logical answer to the one-thousand-year-old mystery.
Since their assimilation, almost everything the Northmen left behind on this continent has turned to dust, become locked under the permafrost, or disappeared under many feet of debris in the forests and along the seashores of North America.
I have attempted to tell a tale of what might have happened, what could have happened, and considering the options available, what probably did happen to the Norse Greenlanders.
More than 40–generations have elapsed since they came to this continent. Now their very existence, everything they accomplished, has faded from the collective memory of all the peoples they contacted and lived among.
I prefer to believe the four thousand live on however, their genetic makeup diluted by the intervening centuries of time. They are still here, smiling back at us from the faces of the Inuit Greenlanders, Cree, Ojibwa, and Iroquois with whom they joined so long ago.”
Jones, 95, 111.
Thomas H. McGovern, The Demise of Norse Greenland (Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, DC 2000) 327.
History Channel, The Vikings Fury From The North (A&E Television Networks, New York, NY, 2000) VCR Tape.
This new data seems to indicate that the winters on Greenland worsened and the summers became shorter and colder much sooner than originally thought, perhaps as early as the beginning of the 11th century. As a result the dates indicated in the Historical Perspective are off by at least 300-years.
The Greenland Vikings did not disappear, they left Greenland to survive. As a pastoral/littoral society, life in Greenland became untenable with the shorter and colder summers. The exodus began as a trickle in the late 10 and early 11 century’s and continued each year until every single one of those remaining on Greenland had migrated to North America as the fury of the Mini-Ice Age enveloped the far North.
J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2011 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved