The remains of the Greenland Norse provide unique biological anthropological material for the investigation of human and environmental interaction. As a population, they were generally secluded from most of the contemporary European medieval society, and land suitable for their way of life was limited in Greenland. The archaeological and historical record is excellent, clearly establishing the 500-year period of colonisation. In other words, the Greenland Norse represent a relatively isolated population, constrained in both space and time.
Living in an environment with very little buffering capacity, ecological changes immediately had repercussions. Ten years of research have shown a direct climatic impact on the humans as well as changing subsistence patterns. It seems that the Norse in Greenland responded to these changes, although inside ‘cultural’ limits. Demographic modelling indicates that emigration may have accounted for the final abandonment of the settlements. A changing ecology thus seems to have pushed the Greenland Norse out of Greenland, because their sedentary way of life, relying on animal husbandry, and probably with a strong cultural sense of identity focused on farmsteads and domestication, became unsustainable. A further step will be clarifying the genetic history of the Norse as well as of the Thule Culture Inuit. These analyses have commenced by examining mtDNA variation and Y-chromosomal diversity among present-day Greenlandic Inuit, and preliminary results appear to provide some information as to the fate of the Norse people.
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