In 985, Viking explorer Erik the Purple led a gaggle of Icelandic farmers to Greenland, the place they established a settlement on the west coast. Archaeological proof means that the settlement existed for over 400 years, however the impression of the settlement lasted for much longer. It’s little recognised at the moment that the hope of discovering the descendants of the settlers dominated European and American views on Greenland for hundreds of years
In his new ebook The Vanished Settlers of Greenland: In Search of a Legend and Its Legacy, Affiliate Professor Robert Rix argues that the misplaced Norse settlement performed a decisive position in Denmark’s efforts to colonise Greenland throughout the 18th century.
“Like different New World lands, Greenland grew to become a part of European historical past as a spot the place a hunt for sources happened. Denmark’s possession of Greenland and its waters was challenged particularly by the Dutch and the English. Danish claims to the island relied in giant components on the reminiscence of the settlers. Due to this fact, a number of manuscripts, books, and maps have been produced not solely reminding rivals of the settlers but in addition selling the concept their descendants have been nonetheless cultivating Greenland fields,” says Robert Rix.
“The lack of communication with Norse Greenland within the early fifteenth century gave rise to speculations concerning the settlers’ destiny, and lots of believed that the settlement nonetheless stood. This led to quite a few makes an attempt at contacting them, not least as a result of rumours of the settlement’s wealth have been circulating in European books. King Christian IV launched as many as three expeditions to search for the vanished settlers and their riches.”
The precise colonisation started in 1721 with the institution of a colony by missionary Hans Egede, who needed to transform the Inuit to Christianity and to finance the colony by reconnecting with the Norse settlement and exploiting its sources.
The fantasy of an unspoilt Norse civilisation
Simply as different expeditions earlier than his, Egede’s did not find the Norsemen, and throughout the nineteenth century individuals started to simply accept that the Norse settlers have been not to be present in Greenland.
“As a substitute, scientists and explorers turned their consideration to different components of the Arctic as potential places the place the vanished settlers might need emigrated. Between 1870 and 1920 this impressed the publication of many journey tales about remoted colonies of Norsemen, supposed descendants of the daring Viking explorers, who have been robust, wholesome, and bodily spectacular,” remarks Robert Rix.
Based on Rix, the broad fascination with the Norse settlers in Western tradition mirrored public anxieties concerning the detrimental results of immigration and the decline of civilisation.
“This fantasy is in keeping with a basic critique of supposedly impure societies, which gained prevalence with the arrival of eugenics. The fictional Arctic colonies had change into communities frozen in time that served as an antidote to the cultural and bodily decline of modernity.”
Effectively into the twentieth century, it was hoped that the descendants of the settlers may very well be discovered. On a 1912 expedition to Canada’s Victoria Island, the explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson found Inuit of a slender construct and red-brownish hair. He measured their heads and got here to the conclusion that they have been descendants of the European settlers who had survived by mixing with the Indigenous inhabitants.
The existence of ‘Blond Eskimos’ grew to become an enormous media sensation. Fashionable DNA evaluation has disproven any Norse ancestry, however on the time Stefansson’s declare rekindled the previous hope that the thriller of the vanished settlers’ destiny may very well be solved.