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Economic, identity issues `may have driven Vikings out of Greenland`

Last Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013 - 14:03

Berlin: Economic and identity issues, rather than starvation and disease, drove Viking descendent out of Greenland back to their ancestral homes in the 15th century, researchers say.

The descendants of the Vikings had persevered in their North Atlantic outpost for almost 500 years, from the end of the 10th century until the mid-15th century, ABC News reported.

The Medieval Warm Period had made it possible for settlers from Norway, Iceland and Denmark to live on hundreds of scattered farms along the protected fjords, where they built dozens of churches and even had bishops.

Their disappearance remains a mystery to this day, and until now many experts had assumed that the cooling of the climate and the resulting crop failures and famines had ushered in the end of the Scandinavian colony.

But now a Danish-Canadian team of scientists believes that it can refute this theory of decline.

The scientists conducted isotope analyses on hundreds of human and animal bones found on the island. Their study, published in the Journal of the North Atlantic, paints the most detailed picture to date of the Nordic settlers’ dietary habits.

As the research shows, hunger could hardly have driven the ancestors of the Vikings out of their settlements on the edge of the glaciers. The bone analyses prove that, when the warm period came to an end, the Greenlandic farmers and ranchers switched to a seafood-based diet with surprising rapidity.

From then on, the settlers focused their efforts on hunting the seals that appeared in large numbers off the coasts of Greenland during their annual migrations.

When settlement began in the early 11th century, only between 20 and 30 percent of their diet came from the sea. But seal hunting played a growing role in the ensuing centuries.

According to team member Jan Heinemeier from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, the Viking decedents ate more and more seal meat, with the animals constituting up to 80 percent of their diet in the 14th century.

Fellow team member Niels Lynnerup from the University of Copenhagen confirms that the Vikings of Greenland had plenty to eat even as the climate grew colder.


First Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 - 14:03
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