Resource Depletion: Reason for Collapse of Norse Greenland?

An elaborately carved ecclesiastical walrus ivory plaque from the beginning of the medieval ivory trade (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge)

Did Over-Hunting Walruses Fuel the Collapse of Norse Greenland?

By Brigit Katz/

In 985 A.D., Erik the Red arrived on the shores of Greenland after setting sail from Iceland with a fleet of 14 ships. Norse outposts blossomed on this new North Atlantic territory, where settlers hunted, farmed and built structures that can still be seen today. But after some 500 years of occupation, the Norse settlements of Greenland were abandoned—and centuries later, experts remain unsure why.

An oft-cited theory posits that climate change was to blame. Vikings arrived on Greenland during a relatively warm period, but as temperatures dropped during the “Little Ice Age” in the early 14th century, they were unable to adapt to the frigid climate, or so the theory goes. Recent research suggests the reality was likely more complex, with multiple factors—among them climactic fluctuations, conflicts with the Inuit and a dwindling walrus trade—influencing the decline of the region’s Norse colonies.

Walrus hunting and trade’s role in the settlers’ disappearance has long intrigued James H. Barrett, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. For a new study published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, Barrett and his colleagues analyzed walrus remains from across Europe. The researchers concluded that the “serial depletion” of walruses caused by overhunting …..Read More:


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