Greenland was never a lush and “green” paradise. The Norse habitation was limited to a few coastal fiords, mostly in the South West - not unlike today.
Originally Posted by 44'cruisingcat
Greenland used to be farmed. It used to be green, not white.
A (naturally) changing Climate was only one of the factors, that combined with anthropogenic “forcings”, resulting in the decline of the always fragile Norse civilization.
Greenland's ice cap is hundreds of thousands of years old and covers 95%
of that island.
When finally confronted with a few severe winters, they, along with the little remaining livestock, simply starved. Much as you can not judge a book by its cover, you can't determine the climate of Greenland from its name
(which was a "marketing ploy")
A careful examination of the climate record
reveals that Europe
experienced a prolonged warm period known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) between the years 600 and 1150, a cooling
of the climate between the years 1150 and 1460, a brief warming between the years 1460 and 1560, followed by dramatic cooling
known as the Little Ice Age (LIA) between the years 1560 and 1850.
During the years 800-1200 (The Medieval warming Period), Iceland
and Greenland were settled by the Norse “Vikings”.
The Greenland Vikings lived mostly on dairy produce and meat, primarily from cows. The vegetable diet of Greenlanders included berries, edible grasses, and seaweed, but these were inadequate even during the best harvests.
Even during the MWP, Greenland's climate was so cold, that cattle breeding and dairy farming could only be carried on in the sheltered fiords. The growing season in Greenland even then was very short. Frost typically occurred in August and the fiords froze in October. Notwithstanding, the Greenlanders prospered. From the number of farms in both colonies, whose 400 or so stone ruins still dot the landscape, archaeologists guess that the population may have risen to a peak of about 5,000.
Eventually, the number of Norwegian merchant vessels arriving in their ports
, though only one or two a year in the best of times, dropped until none came at all. This meant that the islanders were cut off from the major source of iron and tools needed for the smooth running of their farms and the construction and maintenance
of their boats.
As the Greenlanders' isolation from Europe
grew, they found themselves victims of a steadily deteriorating environment
. Their farmland, exploited to the full, had lost
fertility. Erosion followed severe reductions in ground cover. The cutting of dwarf willows and alders for fuel
and for the production of charcoal to use in the smelting of bog iron, which yielded soft, inferior metal, deprived the soil of its anchor
of roots. Pollen analysis shows a dramatic decline in these species during the Viking years. In addition, livestock probably consumed any regenerating scrub. Overgrazing, trampling, and scuffing by the Norsemen's sheep, goats and cattle, the core
of the island's livelihood, left the land debased.
Greenland's climate began to change as well; the summers grew shorter and progressively cooler, limiting the time cattle could be kept outdoors and increasing the need for winter fodder. During the worst years, when rains would have been heaviest, the hay crop would barely have been adequate to see the penned animals
through the coldest days.
When the Norsemen arrived in Greenland, they had the island and its waters to themselves. Now they had to contend with the Inuit, who were competing with them for animal resources. This was especially true in the Nordseta, the Greenlanders' traditional summer hunting grounds 240 miles north of the Eastern Settlement.
So, what happened to the last of the Greenlanders?
Thomas McGovern, of New York's Hunter
College, who has participated in excavations in Greenland, has proposed that the Norsemen lost the ability to adapt to changing conditions
. He sees them as the victims of hidebound thinking and of a hierarchical society dominated by the Church and the biggest land owners. In their reluctance to see themselves as anything but Europeans, the Greenlanders failed to adopt the kind of apparel that the Inuit employed as protection against the cold and damp or to borrow any of the Eskimo hunting gear
. They ignored the toggle harpoon, which would have allowed them to catch seals
through holes in the ice in winter when food
was scarce, and they seem not even to have bothered with fishhooks, which they could have fashioned easily from bone, as did the Inuit. Instead, the Norsemen remained wedded to their farms and to the raising of sheep, goats, and cattle in the face of ever worsening conditions that must have made maintaining their herds next to impossible.
McGovern also believes that as life became harder, the birthrate declined. The young people who did come along may have seen a brighter future waiting somewhere else. The depredations of the plague in Iceland
and in Norway
could have created vacancies overseas that able-bodied Greenlanders might have filled. Through the years there may have been a slow but persistent drift of Greenlanders to those places that had been home to their ancestors, further reducing the island's dwindling population.
A (naturally) changing Climate was only one of the factors, that combined with anthropogenic “forcings”, resulting in the decline of the always fragile civilization.