January 13, 2020

Vikings left Greenland because they over-hunted walruses, research claims

Dana Mathewson

Admittedly, the title is a bit awkward, but I kept it the way I received it.

I'd always believed -- and obviously I was not alone -- that the Vikings left their farming communities in Greenland because of cooling temperatures which shortened the growing season to the point where they couldn't grow enough food. And they either left or starved.

But [n]ew research is shedding light on why they left the world’s largest island during the 15th century.

The study, led by Dr. James Barrett of the University of Cambridge, concludes that the overhunting of walruses played a major role in Norsemen’s vanishing from Greenland. Walrus tusks were a big commodity during the period, with Europeans willing to pay big money or trade iron and much-needed timber (trees are scarce in Greenland) for the ivory.

According to the research, by the time the 11th century rolled around, all ivory traded in Europe came from Greenland walruses. Starting in the 13th century, the walrus tusk gravy train started to splinter, as the West African Trade routes opened up and Europeans were now able to buy "superior” elephant ivory. Consumers preferred the larger, more consistently-colored elephant tusks to the smaller walrus ivory, which had a different color in the middle.

Instead of walrus hunting declining after their decrease in popularity, it had the opposite effect—Vikings killed even more walruses in an attempt to keep up with the market.

"We think that when elephant ivory became more popular in Europe, the unit value of walrus ivory decreased, meaning the Greenland Norse had to hunt more animals to maintain the volume of their trade with Europe,” Barrett told Fox News. "We think this led to overhunting.”

The common belief of why the Vikings left Greenland had been they overexploited the environment, then either died or left once temperatures declined.

For their study, the researchers analyzed 67 genuine medieval walrus skulls that served as "packaging" for tusks traded from Greenland to Europe. When shipped in the Middle Ages, the tusks were still attached to the front part of walrus skulls. They were then extracted for their ivory when they reached European towns such as Dublin, Bergen and London.

"We looked at how these skulls were modified for trade, which showed very similar methods of butchery and decoration, implying that they were produced by a single group of hunters or craftspeople (probably in Greenland),” Barrett explained. "We also used ancient DNA and stable isotopes to see where the walruses had been caught, and we considered archaeological and historical evidence regarding Norse Greenland and the medieval ivory trade.”

According to their analysis, during the 13th century, the skulls harvested became smaller and smaller in size, with the Norsemen having to keep traveling further north into the Arctic Circle to hunt any available walruses, male or female. These smaller skulls belonged to walruses from an evolutionary branch found in Baffin Bay, a large body of water far north of the settlements where the Vikings first hunted.


With so much effort spent hunting walruses for less money in return, along with unsustainable farming practices, the Black Death, and temperatures plunging, it’s believed the Vikings had no option but to leave the island.


Erik the Red [Thorvaldson] arrived from Scandinavia in 985 A.D. during the Medieval Warming Period, from 900-1300 A.D. In this time, Norsemen started communities, built towns, large houses and farms in the region.

If any of you are on speaking terms with that idiot "scientist" who promotes the "hockey stick" theory of Climate Change -- James Hansen, isn't it -- will you please forward this article https://www.foxnews.com/science/viking-left-greenland-overhunted-walruses to him after you've read it, and tell him to pay particular attention to the paragraph about the Medieval Warming Period, which is absent from his graph? He won't thank you for it, but you'll be doing a service nevertheless.

By the way, Eric the Red was quite a promoter. After exploring southern Greenland, he gave the island its name (at that time it was green) as part of his efforts to recruit settlers to come and farm with him. It worked, and the theory is that one of the Vikings, on his way to Greenland, got blown off-course by a storm and spotted the coast of North America. He wasn't interested in exploring it, but told Eric's son Leif about it. Leif was interested, and equipped an expedition, including his brothers Thorstein and Thorvald, to explore the coast. They got a nasty reception from the locals, and one of Leif's brothers was eventually killed -- I don't remember which one. But Viking artifacts have been found on the North American continent.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 12:02 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
Post contains 782 words, total size 6 kb.

1 "...Viking artifacts have been found on the North American continent." And not just at the coast. They have been found as far inland as Minnesota and North Dakota.

Posted by: Bill H at January 14, 2020 12:20 AM (vMiSr)

2 I hadn't heard that Bill. I wouldn't be surprised, though, as they may well have found the St. Lawrence Seaway. Vikings traveled all the way down a number of rivers in Asia, for instance, so it's entirely possible.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at January 14, 2020 09:07 AM (Av220)

3 Dana, that is an interesting point and it actually proves the case for the MWP. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Overhunting occurred because of warm conditions - the Vikings went out in the first place because it was warm. Cooling made it economically necessary to overhunt, putting pressure on the settlements even more.

An excellent article!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at January 14, 2020 09:10 AM (Av220)

4 I'm wondering about those supposed Viking artifacts in the American Midwest, Bill. Were they really Viking artifacts, or artifacts from original Scandinavian settlers from later years? These are people who invented lutefisk and still continue to eat the awful stuff up to the present day, remember. It doesn't get more primitive than that. I'm saying it might be really hard to date the stuff.

You go into our local supermarkets around Christmastime and see "fresh lutefisk," an oxymoron if ever there was one. And it's not for the local Hispanic population, nor the Somalis either.

The first Christmas we were here, we saw a hilarious billboard, darn near made us run the car off the road. It was an ad for Windsor Canadian whisky, and the big caption was "Lutefisk Helper."

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at January 14, 2020 09:46 AM (pUntP)

5 Nope, Dana. Radiocarbon dating shows them to be of the actual Viking years.

Posted by: Bill H at January 14, 2020 05:17 PM (vMiSr)

6 Well, Bill, those big dudes certainly took maximum advantage of what warm weather was available to them, which I don't think is a surprise. But it seems that for so long there was great resistance in some quarters to the idea that they were ever here.

Couldn't be that various scientific "tribes" had agendas and didn't want to admit it? Naw, couldn't be. . .

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at January 14, 2020 09:16 PM (s0Ds3)

7 "Lutefish helper"?  Yeah; you'd need a LOT of that!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at January 15, 2020 06:03 AM (pzbSR)

8 I've heard (don't know how authoritative it is) that Scandinavians on their home turf won't touch the stuff. It's only Americans with the right (wrong?) background that eat the stuff anymore. "Real" Scandinavians say "We have modern methods of preservation now, that keep the fish tasting good. Why not use them?" Lutefisk is pretty much considered a bad joke now.

Somebody says nowadays that "I ate lutefisk the other day" and everybody else says "Why?"

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at January 15, 2020 10:12 AM (LVmqo)

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