It escapes me why anyone would concern themselves, 1000-years or so after the event – when some hungry Norseman killed the last Icelandic walrus on earth – but, here we have an article on just that concern.
Norsemen killed or produced everything they ate, there were no grocery stores to go shopping in for food. So, did they kill lots of animals? You bet, and so would you if you were hungry. Oh, and they even ate their dogs when necessary, and probably each other - only when necessary, of course.
Whoever was able to kill the last walrus on Iceland, I say well-done, I am certain the fat and meat fed your family for quite some time. (Ed.)
|Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia|
Ancient DNA says the extinct Icelandic walruses were a genetically distinct population.
KIONA N. SMITH - 11/4/2019, 7:24 AM
There are no walruses in Iceland, but, at one time, there were hundreds. The timing of the walruses' disappearance suggests that the population's loss may be one of the earliest known examples of humans driving a marine species to local extinction.
The ghost of walruses past
Walruses used to be a major feature of life in Iceland. Several settlements and landmarks along Iceland’s coast still bear names that refer to walruses, and a few of the medieval Sagas (the stories of the island’s early settler families) even mention them. The Saga of Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson, written down sometime in the late 1100s, tells the story of a chieftain who killed a walrus and brought its tusks and skull to Canterbury Cathedral in England. But the walruses themselves have been reduced to only a few ancient bones and tusks.
Did the walruses disappear before or after the Norse arrived? In other words, did the Norse kill off Iceland’s walruses, or did the population die of natural causes? Because Iceland has no living walruses today, historians have debated whether the place names referred to places where walruses were living when people arrived or just places where settlers found the skulls and tusks of long-dead animals. The walrus tusks that Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson delivered to England could have been part of a thriving Icelandic walrus population, but it could also have been only a lost wanderer from more distant shores.
To learn more about Iceland’s pinniped past, evolutionary genomicist Xenia Keighley of the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues radiocarbon dated and sequenced DNA from 34 samples of bones and tusks from walruses in the Icelandic Museum of Natural History. The DNA studies also showed that Iceland’s long-lost walruses were a distinct branch of the walrus family. The oldest walrus remains in the museum, dating to 5502-5332 BC, were related to the ancestors of today’s Atlantic walrus population. More recent samples, though, belonged to a separate mitochondrial branch of the walrus family tree, genetically distinct from every group that’s known in the North Atlantic—including the older Icelandic walruses.
“I would suspect that the most recent clade represent a colonization event that replaced the lineage represented by the old sample, rather than the old sample being a direct ancestor to the more recent clade,” co-author Morten Olsen, also an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Copenhagen, told Ars.
Radiocarbon dates of the bones, combined with the walruses’ genomes, provided an estimate of the size of their breeding population, which suggested that walruses had lived on Iceland’s coasts for around 7,500 years. Although their numbers had been small—perhaps around 1,000 walruses at any one time—their foothold on the island had been pretty stable until around 1213-1330 AD, well after Norse settlement began in 870 AD.