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Greenland-msg - 9/28/02


Greenland history. Period points of interest.


NOTE: See also the files: Norse-msg, Iceland-msg, boat-building-msg, books-Norse-msg, fd-Iceland-msg, fish-msg, seafood-msg, stockfish-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



To: sca-cooks at ansteorra.org

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 12:31:30 -0400

From: Elizabeth A Heckert <spynnere at juno.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Re: Sca-cooks digest, Vol 1 #2332 - 15 msgs


On Tue, 27 Aug 2002 10:18:00 -0500 sca-cooks-request at ansteorra.org


> From: "Mark S. Harris" <stefan at texas.net>

> Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Re: Rhachitis


> Yes, the smaller population on Greenland would

> have increased the problems compared to Iceland as well as problems

> with the land suitable for agriculture being much less.


     It was as much a short growing season as it was the fact that the

Norsemen tried to raise cattle, especially,  but also, pigs sheep and

goats in a land unsuited to those animals' eating habits.


> I'm surprised with that short of a settlement such remains as this

> dress were there to be found. But then the Norse settlement on

> North America was also short lived and even smaller.


    Herjolfsnes was settled by Icelanders in the 980s. The settlement

died out between the first and second quarter of the fifteenth century.

Herjolfsnes cemetery yielded c. 31 coffins,  40+ garments, and about 25

skeletons; for a total of about 70-75 burials.  These burials (dated by

the clothes) come from the last century to century-and-a-quarter.


> > The genetic pool on Iceland was influenced by mainland Scandinavia

> > (at least if we are to trust the sagas, and I do) and some by northern

> > Scotland.


     In the Middle Ages there was (illegal) trading between Greenland and

Scotland.  The style of the clothing recovered from the cemetery reflects

an awareness of what was worn in Europe during the fourteenth century,

but these garments are not what the nobility wore.


> Or was this something that

> perhaps dropped off with time as the climate worsened or political

> changes occurred?


     There are many theories why Greenland failed.  The longest standing

theory suggests that the weather turned bad.  The truth is more complex.

Hansen, the archeologist who studied the bones in the initial dig, had

certain supremist or maybe racist views.  He believed there was a

degeneration in the 'Viking stock', as it were.  A scientist in the

forties (during WWII, no less!) disproved Hansen's results.  The main

Greenland exports, skins, hides, skin rope (sealskin, I think) walrus

ivory and falcons became less important to Europe in the later Middle

Ages.  The Church required isolation from the Inuit, so the Norsemen

could not learn survival tactics--because the Inuit relied on seals and

other food from the sea, and their way of life was not upset by colder

temps, they flourished, so that  when the Norweigian missionary Hans

Egede traveled to Greenland in the early eighteenth century to visit (he

thought) co-religionists, he discovered he had evangelization of the

Inuit to do.





From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Nanna_R=F6gnvaldard=F3ttir?= <nannar at isholf.is>

To: <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Re: Rhachitis

Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002 22:04:01 -0000


>How many generations before they called it quits- two? three? Maybe four?


More like fifteen or so. Greenland was settled from Iceland around AD 985;

contact was last made with the settlements there in the early 15th century,

IIRC. A century later, they had probably disappeared completely. And they

didn't call it quits, they stayed to the end, probably because they had

nowhere to go and no means to go anywhere.


> Yes, the smaller population on Greenland would

> have increased the problems compared to Iceland as well as problems

> with the land suitable for agriculture being much less.


Yes and no. The summers in Southern Greenland are actually warmer than the

Icelandic summers but the winters are colder. And there were more animals to



> > The genetic pool on Iceland was influenced by mainland Scandanavia (at

> > least if we are to trust the sagas, and I do) and some by northern

> > Scotland.


> Do you mean after the initial settlement? Nanna, how much interaction

> was there between Iceland and Scandanavia? Or was this something that

> perhaps dropped off with time as the climate worsened or political

> changes occurred?


With the genetic pool, it is probably best to trust genetic research. Which

has recently revealed that the sagas are more or less correct. The great

majority of the male settlers did come from Scandinavia, probably mostly

from Norway. Well over half of the women came from the British Isles, which

is rather more than people had thought earlier.


There was some interaction, of course, but I doubt it had much effect on the

genetic pool after the initial settlement period. Keep in mind that Iceland

was considered fully settled in around 930 so there would have been little

room for newcomers (there were no towns or villages for them to settle in

either); that the journey to Iceland was difficult and could take months or

years - medieval sources often mention that in a particular year, no ship

could make the journey to Iceland so there were no imported goods to be had.


> > But Greenland is another story entirely, given the length and

> > difficulty of the journey.


Maybe not another story entirely - more like a particularily difficult

chapter of the same story. Ships did sail to Greenland from Scandinavia and

from mainland Europe. Up until the 13th century (I think, don't have a book

at hand to look up dates) the Greenland trade was very lucrative - furs,

walrus teeth, etc., and merchants went there on a regular basis. Then the

trade dropped off - I can't remember why at the moment - and merchants lost

their interest in Greenland. So did everybody else, except maybe Icelanders,

who did consider the Greenlanders as their cousins. But by then we had no

ships left to risk on such a dangerous journey and any contact with the

settlements in Greenland after the mid-14th century or so was mostly

accidental. For instance, a ship that sailed from Norway to Iceland in the

summer of 1406 was blown off course to Greenland and the travellers were

unable to return to Norway until 1410; then it took them two or three

additional years to get home to Iceland. You can sail from Norway to Iceland

in a few days in the best of contitions; it could also take you six or seven

years. (I can't remember for sure just now but I think these travellers may

have been the last known to have visited the Nordic settlements in






From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Nanna_R=F6gnvaldard=F3ttir?= <nannar at isholf.is>

To: <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Greenland/Iceland

Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 20:38:46 -0000


Stefan wrote:

> Maps of the northern areas are often distorted, but I thought Greenland

> was north of Iceland. Or does this have more to do with the ocean currents

> than the absolute latitude?


Sail in any direction from Iceland, from straight north to south-west, and

you will hit Greenland. The southernmost part of Greenland, where most of

the settlements there were, stretches much farther south than Iceland. The

capitals, Reykjav=EDk and Nuuk, are at about the same latitude but Nuuk is

usually much colder because of the cold currents that come down the Baffin

Bay and Davis Strait. Iceland, on the other hand, benefits from the Gulf



In the far north, Greenland's easternmost tip actually stretches further

east than Iceland's eastern shore, so you could say that Greenland is south

of Iceland, west of Iceland, north of Iceland and even (slightly) east of



> Oh! Interesting. Do we know whether these women came to Iceland voluntarily

> or not? Was Iceland a stopping off point from raids into the British Isles?

> Or perhaps these women came from the British Isles to Iceland by way of

> the Shetlands and Faroes? and the other islands between the two?


> Now, there is a storyline for all those SCAers that like complicated,

> unlikely persona stories. :-) Only this one might have some basis.


Here, we have to look to the Sagas. They frequently mention that

Scandinavian Vikings on their way to Iceland raided the shores of the

British Isles and took slaves, men and especially women. Or they went to

slave markets and bought Celtic slaves to take to their new home - maybe

they had no luck persuading the girls back home to undertake a perilous

journey to foreign shores.


On the other hand, the Sagas also often mention that some of the settlers

did not come straight from Scandinavia, but had lived in the British Isles,

the Orkneys, Shetland or other places for some time, maybe even a generation

or more. And many of the Norsemen who settled there for some time may have

married local women and brought them with them to Iceland. As I've said

earlier, I find it rather remarkable that all this does not seem to have had

much (lasting) effect on food and cooking in Iceland - but then again, the

resources were so few and the limitations so severe.


> Again, what happened to the ships? or at least the ship building

> skills? Was Iceland not doing much fishing at this time, such that

> seamanship and shipbuilding would be kept up? Or was it being done

> much more on a small-scale coastal only arrangement?


The trees that grew in Iceland were too small or unsuitable for

ship-building (not much good for building houses either), so wood to build

ships had to be imported from Norway - very expensive and not really viable

Icelanders used small boats for coastal fishing and they were built out of

driftwood. We didn't really own any ships again until the mid 19th century

or even later.





Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 19:19:37 -0700

From: Ciorstan <ciorstan at attbi.com>

To: SCA-Cooks <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Re: Greenland/Iceland


Stefan writes:

> Again, what happened to the ships? or at least the ship building

> skills? Was Iceland not doing much fishing at this time, such that

> seamanship and shipbuilding would be kept up? Or was it being done

> much more on a small-scale coastal only arrangement?


Stefan, they stopped coming to Greenland most likely due to the severe

weather. Greenland and Iceland did not have the timber to build boats--

Iceland's native woods were not suitable and Greenland just didn't have

any wood at all.


> It sort of sounds like Greenland and Iceland were the typical colonial

> arrangements with the technological skills staying back in the

> homeland. But was there really enough contact for this to really be an

> appropriate model?


When I originally laid my hands on NESAT V, which is the journal of the

North European Symposium on Archaeological Textiles, I was very

interested in the article outlining the discovery of the warp weighted

loom that was found in the western settlement of Greenland. In 1990, two

Inuit hunters had found a piece of wood floating in a river-- and

knowing that wood is not native to Greenland, they brought it to the

museum in Nuuk and turning it in to the museum sparked the search for

the find later named the Farm Under the Sand. The article discussed in

some length the assertion there is and has been no native wood in

Greenland. The piece of wood they found in the river was one of the

beams of a warp weighted loom, later excavated and found to have fallen,

abandoned, with cloth and weights still on it. The farm's middens have

been examined at length and evidence suggests that the last residents of

the farm ate every source of protein they could find as even the dog's

bones were split for marrow.


The saga talking about the expedition to Vinland says that the reasons

for exploration were economic. Iceland and Greenland needed timber, as

did Norway-- and Vinland was indeed a lucrative source of timber though

impractical due to sheer distance.


At any rate, the theory amongst these scientists is that the Greenland

settlements starved to death, forgotten and marooned in a cooling

climate they did not understand or adapt to due to cultural



I wrote this in response to a different issue, though related, to the

Rialto a while back (1998). You might find it of interest:


A near-complete warp-weighted loom was discovered in the ruins of a

farm on the western side of Greenland-- that farm is numbered 555 by the

Greenland National Museum in Nuuk. That seems to imply, to me, at least,

that there were likely far more people in the western settlement alone

that could have been waiting for a rescue expedition from Iceland that

never came. The warp weighted loom in the "Garden under Sandet" (Farm

under Sand) apparently fell with cloth and weights still dressed to the

loom-- and given the amount of sheer work invested in spinning and

weaving wool by hand, I don't believe a weaver in her right mind would

have walked away from that loom with 2/2 twill still on it.


Greenland never had any native wood. It still doesn't. Think about the

implications of that... In fact the very reason this particular farm was

found was due to two pieces of warp-weighted loom wood washing out to

sea down a small river found by a pair of caribou hunters. They knew the

scarcity of wood and brought the wood to the museum, who investigated

the find further the following two summers.


"Clustered around the complete loom beam were found the bulk of 81 loom

weights of soapstone that were gathered in the room.  Some of the

weights still fitted with the woolen threads by which they had been tied

to the warp. A small wooden stick (25 cm long) also found close to the

loom beam was tentatively identified as a pin beater (Mus.no.1950 x

283). 8 spindle whorls of soapstone scattered around show that besides

weaving also spinning took place in room 1. So far, the area here hasn't

been excavated methodically, for which reason it's too early to place

the find in room 1 or in room 3."


And from further on in the article:


"On the basis of the written accounts landam in the Norse Western

Settlement took place c. 1000 AD. When the Norwegian clergyman Iva

Bardsson visited the Western Settlement around 1360 AD he afterwards

reported that he didn't meet any people there, and in the history of the

Greenlandic Norsement the time of Bardsson's visit has been generally

accepted as the dating of the final depopulation of the Western



"However, radiocarbon datings from "Garden under Sandet" suggest that

maybe this date need a slight correction. A peat layer thought to have

been formed shortly after room 2 came out of use (Malmros 1982) is dated

1485 AD Cal. (1485 - 1625 AD Cal. +-1 stand.dev.)(K-5821; Calibrated

Suiver and Pearson, 1986). And local Saliz from room 1 is dated 1430 AD

Cal. 1410 - 1445 AD Cal. +-1 stand.dev.)(K-5907; Calibrated Suiver and

Pearson, 1986).


"Archaeologically dated artifacts and radiocarbon datings assign the use

of room 1 at "Garden under Sandet" to the period after c. 1200 - 1250 AD

(Adreasen & Arneborg 1992b).  On basis of the above mentioned the finds

from room 1 are therefore dated c. 1200-1250 AD to 1360-1400 AD.  The

finds from room 3 are very likely from the same period."


Jette Arneborg and Else Ostergard, "Notes on Archaeological finds of

textiles and textile equipment from the Norse Western Settlement in

Greenland (a preliminary report)", Achaeologische Textilfunde -

Archaological Textiles , proceedings from the Textilsymposium

Neumuenster 4. - 7.5.1993 (NESAT V).


The English of the quoted text is perhaps a little odd as the writers of

the article don't speak or write it as their first [language].




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org