Greenland Norse/Inuit Collapse

By: Andrew Knight

Thesis

Although the Norse could not adapt to their surroundings and relied on Europe to provide resources to trade, the Inuit's knew how to provide for themselves and were able to survive and adapt in Greenlands harsh living conditions.

Background

The Medieval Warming Period brought warmer temperatures to ancient civilizations but, it also brought new agricultural technology to Europe resulting in a population increase. This new increase in population fueled explorations through frozen channels that thawed due to the warmer temperatures. Europeans then began to settle in Iceland. In 984 an Icelander named Eric the Red killed a man and was banished from Iceland. He then searched for new land and came across Greenland, which had been previously discovered by the Norse.

Environment

The location where the Norse and Inuit lived allowed them to flourish by having rich marine life living in the area . Also when the channels were not frozen it allowed easy access to surrounding areas. When the climate changed and became colder it became difficult to grow and harvest crops due to shorter growing seasons. The Geography of Greenland worked against the Norse and Inuit because of the cold climate, not a lot of fertile land to farm on, and the frozen channels that acted as a barrier to the outside world. Changes in Geography happened when the Norse and Inuit civilizations over farmed in one area and cut down trees for firewood. This led to soil depletion and deforestation. Overall the greatest threat to the Norse and Inuit civilizations was the environmental factor working with the harsh climate Greenland provided.

Economy

Trade in Greenland drove the Norse economy by trading with Europe and the Inuits. Many resources that the Norse relied on to survive had to be imported from Europe Some of these imports were timber, iron, and salt. When they traded with the Inuits they relied on Ivory from animals and other hunting products. The resources that the Norse needed to be self-sufficeint were hunting tools and knowing how to hunt in general. This was a major aspect in the survival of civilizations living in Greenland at the time. The Inuits knew how to be self-sufficient because they knew how to hunt marine life and they acquired their own resources. This helped the Inuits in the long run because when the channels froze the Norse could not get any assets from Europe. This caused the downfall and led to the collapse of the Norse while the Inuits provided for themselves and were able to survive longer than the Norse.

Starvation

Due to colder weather that was experienced in Greenland, the Norse did not know how to adapt to these changes and this eventually led to starvation and the collapse of their society. The cold weather made it even harder to grow crops and shortened their growing season. Before the cold weather came about their growing season only lasted about 3-4 months. This made it extremely hard to rely on growing crops. They also had to feed their livestock and since they could not farm as well as they could their livestock soon disappeared. Since the freezing temperatures chilled the water the fish soon swam to warmer water causing the Norse to soon die off due to starvation.
Norse History in Greenland