The Mystery Behind The Lost Vikings Of Greenland

This article represents a brief overview on the fate of the lost Vikings of Greenland and their historical legacy throughout the centuries. We’ll start off with a noteworthy quote by Robert J. McNamara:

‘The west coast of Greenland was the site of a thriving Viking colony for hundreds of years. Originally settled by explorers who had bravely sailed across the treacherous North Atlantic from their homes in Scandinavia, the Greenland outpost grew into a farming community of thousands. And then something went terribly wrong. Visitors in the 1400s reported that the inhabitants had simply vanished, leaving no bodies and few clues about what could have happened.


Speculation has long centered on suddenly adverse weather conditions or possibly a war with local Inuit people, but in this documentary, an installment of PBS’s Secrets of the Dead set, a team of archaeologists, forensic anthropologists, and botanists visit a desolate and remote stretch of the Greenland coast and solve the mystery of the lost Vikings.


The archaeological record, combined with the scant written accounts of how the settlers lived, begin to reveal some surprising evidence. And a complicated story involving a “mini ice age” emerges. The compelling theory indicates that worsening conditions, coupled with strict religious beliefs that kept the Greenland Vikings from adapting by learning the ways of the natives, sealed their fate. This is a captivating look at a little-known mystery.’

– Robert J. McNamara

Once a Norse paradise were two main Scandinavian settlements used to thrive, Greenland’s climate gradually altered as the Viking Age came to an end in the 11th century, thereby marking the end of the Northern European presence in Greenland for many centuries to come. Image source:

The Fate Of The Greenlandic Vikings

After establishing the first settlements in Iceland during the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings headed westward for Greenland in order to find more land to use for farming and create colonies. They firstly settled in the southern part of Greenland and subsequently on the western coast during the late part of the 10th century.

The discovery of Greenland by the Norsemen took place during the Viking Age and is documented in the Icelandic chronicle entitled ‘Íslendingabók’ — ‘The Book of the Icelanders’. It is believed that the large frozen island was discovered by Erik the Red around 985. Erik the Red, a legendary Norse explorer, gave the newly discovered territory the name ‘Greenland’ in order to encourage potential colonists to move in.

Even though many archaeological findings and collected weather data suggest that Greenland’s climate was initially more warmer than it is today, the Norsemen perished in the centuries to come, partly because of the worsening climate.

Many theories have been actually put forth in order to explain what exactly caused the extinction of the Vikings from Greenland (one theory, for instance, asserts that the Vikings might not have been spurred by warm climate to set foot on Greenlandic soil). The following video resources on Youtube were made for the purpose of finding plausible answers to this enigma.

Documentation sources and external links:

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7 Responses to The Mystery Behind The Lost Vikings Of Greenland

  1. None says:

    So, were these Viking settlers in Greenland possibly traders?

    You know, they traded certain goods and material (salt? some tools? other objects?) coming from Europe (in turn receiving it from far lands in the east or south in case of the salt) with the Inuits, who traded in their hunts skins and fur and other things?

    Yes, it was said in this documentary that the Church forbade the Christian Vikings from interacting with the local inhabitants because of religious reasons… but the mere presence of a church and a small community of settlers residing mostly at the shores rather than inland, also denotes ‘trade’, doesn’t it? (and that is all if we are sure that building was a church really and not a pagan temple of some kind… perhaps existing there since times much older than believed now…)

    • Liselotte says:

      I would really like to know how the climate was then because my theory is that Europe was a lot warmer then and got into an ice age in which we still are or in which we are on our way OUT OFF. The ice is not melting because of our effect on the climate but because we are ending an ice age in von Necton with the cycle of the earth.
      Egypt has not always been full of sand but been with lusher plains and forests. Greenland has aperantly not always been icy either.

  2. Philip Wharmby says:

    Mini Ice age about the time of the Black Death in Europe, mid 14c. They could / would not adapt. Not sure if they died out or were assimilated into the local Inuit population.

  3. The podcast Fall of Civilisations / Greenland which is attached in the article is not worth the time to listen to. It is not attached to reality and obviously made up by someone who has never been in either Iceland or Greenland. / The fate of Greenlanders is not known, but due to lack of any evidence of either a pest or warfare with Inuits, there is reason to suspect that the population simply left for either Iceland or Norway, more likely Norway, as there are no records of such immigration in Iceland where everything was recorded. The likely reason for the settlement in Greenland is walrus and trade with products from walrus. The walrus population in Iceland had been depleted but there was still demand for ropes made of walrus skin and tar made from the fat of the animal. Ivory was also a valuable and welcome byproduct. When Europeans started to use resources from Africa, the need for walrus derived products disappeared. It is unlikely that the Greenlanders would have starved to death even if the climate cooled down, they survived that period in Iceland where conditions are not dissimilar from Greenland. The sea is full of fish and there is a lot of seals. Grass and birch-bushes survived in Greenland in an even better condition than in Iceland. But there was a difference, the size of the population in Greenland was very small, even when compared with Iceland. With no resources to trade with, emigration would have been tempting, and likely is the reason why there were no traces of the last Greenlanders when Europeans entered this area centuries later.

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