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Cows, Harp Seals, and Churchbells: Adaptation and Extinction in Norse Greenland

Cows, Harp Seals, and Churchbells: Adaptation and Extinction in Norse Greenland

By Thomas H. McGovern

Human Ecology, Vol. 8:3 (1980)

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

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