Walrus Ivory and a History of Trade: Greenland Trade Networks in the North Atlantic

Walrus Ivory and a History of Trade: Greenland Trade Networks in the North Atlantic

By Courtney Svab

The General Brock University Undergraduate Journal of History, Volume 2, 2017

Crosier head, 1050-1100, made of walrus ivory. Photo by Zde / Wikimedia Commons

Introduction: Norse settlement in Greenland represents the far westward reach of Norse influence. Despite being a considerable distance from other settlements, the Greenland colony was not nearly as isolated as it appeared. The Greenland Norse were involved in extensive trade networks which linked the North Atlantic Norse world. These networks allowed for the exchange of communication and commodities for hundreds of years, creating a system that was imperative to the success of the Greenland settlements.

The trade routes connecting Greenland to the rest of the North Atlantic provide an interconnected understanding of the relations between Norse settlements in the North Atlantic. Understanding the economic connections of the North Atlantic presents a new way to interpret the political organization of Norse society and the motivations that pushed its expansion to the west.This understanding allows for the interactions between Greenland and the rest of the North Atlantic to be examined for their significance and the economic benefits that supported the Greenland settlement.

The paper will first examine how trade in Scandinavia prior to expansion to Greenland developed. This includes focusing on the commodities being traded, the key areas of trade, and the development of social trade norms. By examining the existence of trade, motivations for the settlement of Greenland can then be re-evaluated through the opportunity for economic exapnsion.

Next, the goods available from Greenland and Norway will be eamined to evaluate the value of trade across teh North Atlantic. This involves examining not only the commodities available, focusing primarily on walrus, but also examining the vessels of trade that fueled the North Atlantic trade network.

Finally, in order to evaluate the practical applications of the trade network, a case study will be examined. The case study that will be highlighted will be of the Lewis Chessmen. Key sources to determine early Norse economic interests include the Voyage of Ohthere, as well as archaeological evidence of trade such as walrus tusks and the Lewis Chessmen.

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