When Eiríkr Torvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red or Erik the Red, landed in Greenland in 985, the island, now controlled by Denmark, was dominated by huge populations of walruses, gray-skinned animals with huge tusks. ivory. The Vikings, led by Erik, lived in that territory until the fifteenth century, when they suddenly disappeared. The reasons for the disappearance have puzzled researchers for centuries, but a new study may have ended the mystery – and environmental imbalance would have been the reason for the end of the Viking era in Greenland.
The thesis appears in a survey published in January in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews. According to theory, the Vikings who settled on the island hunted walruses to seize the ivory and sell it in continental Europe. Without control, hunting decimated the animal’s populations, which would have made the Viking colony in the territory unviable.
“Prey cavity measurements show that walruses hunted at the end of colony life tended to be smaller, a classic sign of overexploitation,” says James Barrett, a Cambridge University archaeologist and lead author of the paper. Genetic evidence of walrus remains throughout the territory and artifacts from explorers found farther north suggest that Vikings were forced to travel farther and farther to find ivory. “Putting it all together,” says Barrett, “we deduct resource depletion and travel further north into Greenland to hunt walruses.”
While it lasted, the ivory trade was a lucrative activity for the Vikings. During the Middle Ages, the material was highly sought after in Europe, where it was used for the production of decorative items, sophisticated jewelry boxes and even chess pieces and hnefatafl, an ancient Nordic board game.
The research findings show the correlation between environmental and economic imbalances. According to Barrett, the value of walrus ivory would have plummeted when elephant ivory was introduced on a large scale to Europe around the 1200s. also to counterbalance the arrival of a product that competed for the same market.
The trips to the north, increasingly constant, would also have occurred under an equally challenging scenario: that of the so-called Little Ice Age, which dropped temperatures in the far north of the planet. Large displacements, economic losses and extreme cold began to threaten the ivory export activity and also the very survival of the explorers.
The settlement of the conquerors lasted until the period around 1500. One of the last written records of the Greenland Vikings is the recording of the Christian wedding ritual in the church of Hvalsy, which still exists today. Historians believe that the last Vikings left the island and settled in Iceland – although, according to an Eskimo legend, the remnants of the settlement were attacked by pirates.
In 1540, an Icelandic expedition to Greenland found no more sign of life in the colony, only the remains of a hooded man, according to the website Earth Chronicles. Perhaps that was the last Viking in Greenland.