Science: Geologists Offer New Theory Why Vikings Left Greenland

The Story:

That Greenland was inhabited by Vikings during the peak of the Norse empire in the early centuries of the second millennium is well known. Indeed, Norse Greenland was the setting-out point for expeditions that reached and created a settlement in Newfoundland. But the Newfoundland settlement lasted at most a century, and Viking Greenland itself seems to have reached a sudden although non-violent end in the early 15th century. There has been a new development in the long-standing historical/archeological debate over why it ended when it did.


Viking Greenland was not such an isolated outpost as one might imagine. Walrus-tusk ivory was much in demand among the aristocrats in Europe, and the Vikings (despite their fierce historical reputation) were canny merchants. They hunted and sold for that distant market.

Strange New Worlds:

By around 1400, the bubonic plague in Europe had much reduced the market for walrus ivory. Marisa Borreggine, a geophysicist at Harvard University believes, on the basis of a computer simulation, that the Greenland Vikings had another problem circa 1400 too, sea levels rose dramatically, inundating land that the Norse relied upon for farming and grazing. For these and other reasons, the Norse may simply have made the business decision that it would be irrational to stay. They withdrew to Iceland.


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