Hvalsey, Greenland, August 27, 2008: For twice as long as the United States has existed, from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, almost 500 years, the Norse hung on as farmers in southern Greenland. Then they disappeared. There is speculation as to why. Did they starve when the “Little ice age” set in? Were they displaced by a people with a better technology, the Inuit who had bows and arrows, kayaks, and better cold weather gear? Or did they just give up and move to the city?
Depending on your point of view you can take one or more cautionary tales from this story. The last written records we had of the Greenladic Norse were events in 1407, a burning at the stake of an alleged sorcerer and in 1408 a wedding. Both happened at Hvalsey Church near Qaqortoq. The wedding was between a Greenland girl and an Iceland boy. After the wedding, they took off to Iceland and that is the last written record of the Norse in Greenland. The archeological record shows that the Norse hung on for another 50 to 70 years but they didn’t send any records back to Iceland and nothing written has survived in Greenland.
I chartered a boat to Hvalsey, which is close to Qaqortoq
and we enjoyed an afternoon looking at the church and farm ruins and the flora of this fjord. Some of the ruins are easy to identify, they are buildings, the church and main manor house, but others, the old long houses and cattle shelters were sod and have just the stones that formed the foundation marking their passage. I have read a lot about the Norse settlements and I wanted to see what kind of land they were on. I know a lot has changed in 500 years but it is so stony I wonder how they could have raised sheep, cattle and horses here.