Discovery of Greenland

The first people to set foot in Greenland arrived around 4-5000 years ago from the North American continent via Canada when the sea froze in the narrow strait at Thule in northern Greenland.

No less than six different Inuit cultures have immigrated in several waves. Greenland’s population today is descended from the last immigration, the Thule culture, which arrived here in around the 9th century AD.

Greenland was unknown to Europeans until 10th century. Erik the Red is widely considered the first person who discovered Greenland, but in fact Gunnbjørn, son of Ulk Krake had spotted it a hundred years before, when he was blown off course by a storm, but never landed.

The Icelandic sagas claim that Viking, Erik Thorvaldsson, know as Erik the Red (Old Norse Eirik Rauð) grew up in Norway. According to the sagas, his father, Þorvaldr Ásvaldsson, was exiled from Norway in 960 AD as a result of ‘a number of killings’, and Erik’s entire family thus settled in Iceland. Erik married Thjodhild. However in Iceland Erik was involved in further disputes and killings which resulted in his being proclaimed an outlaw and sentenced to three years banishment. He left Iceland around the year 982 A.D. and reached the island. Erik named it Grϋnland, or Greenland in English, because of the green meadows he found. He also believed the name was more inviting and that people would want to go there.

In 985, Erik the Red’s exile sentence had expired and he returned to Iceland. By the next year, he had convinced several hundred people that Greenland held great promise. In 985, he set out with 25 ships and more than 400 people. Several ships had to turn back or were lost, but 14 arrived, and soon the pilgrims established two colonies, the Eastern Settlement (or Eystribyggð) and the Western Settlement (or Vestribyggð), with a number of small settlements between them.

Farming was difficult, but settlers were able raise livestock and enough grain to feed them. By the turn of the millennium, there were around 3,000 Vikings living on 300-400 farms. Their society survived on Greenland for another 500 yearsGreenland was able to export furs, wool, sheep, whale blubber and walrus ivory. Due to the advance of the Little Ice Age, however, the colony declined during the 14th century. Life had become too hard, shipping too difficult due to growing ice. By 1408, all the settlers were gone.

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