Human Ecology

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 245–275

Cows, harp seals, and churchbells: Adaptation and extinction in Norse Greenland

  • Thomas H. McGovern
Article

Abstract

The extinction of the Norse colony in West Greenland (ca A.D. 985–1500) has intrigued generations of historians, medieval archaeologists, and climatologists. This longstanding interest has generated a considerable body of basic paleoclimatic and paleoecological data, as well as a number of largely monocausal explanations for the communities' end. The 1976–1977 Inuit-Norse Project and a variety of recent geophysical and palynological studies have provided the greater detail necessary for a more systematic analysis of cultural adaptation and extinction in Norse Greenland. A dual maritime/terrestrial Norse subsistence economy, combined with a transatlantic trade and long- range arctic hunting, supported a hierarchical social organization and elaborate ceremonial architecture. Elite information management and economic decision- making seems to have been a source of ultimately fatal Norse conservatism in the face of fluctuating resources and Inuit competition.

Key words

Greenland Norse climate Little Ice Age 

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas H. McGovern
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Hunter CollegeCity University of New YorkNew York

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