- John Steinbeck, The Paris Review
The fate of the Greenlanders has long interested me, in a melancholy sort of way. If you’re not familiar with the story, the place was settled by Erik the Red around 986, and prospered for a time as an exporter of valuable merchandise like walrus hides and narwhal ivory. Eventually, after Norway become a province of Denmark in the 14th Century, interest in the far-off colony waned, and the last ship sent to check on them, after a long period of neglect, found the settlement deserted.
There’ve been many theories over the years about what happened to them, most of them pretty depressing. Some thought they assimilated with the Inuit and lost their identity (unfortunately there’s no evidence for this). Others thought they succumbed to the Black Death or some other disease, or just starved due to the increasingly cold weather. Some historians pointed a finger at Portuguese or English pirates, suggesting they kidnapped all the Icelanders and sold them as slaves. (I particularly hated that theory.)
Now there’s a theory being touted as new (though I’m pretty sure I read something very like it in a book years back). It’s suggests that the Icelanders got sick of having nothing but seal to eat, and went back to Iceland and Norway. They seem to have some evidence. This article doesn't mention it, but I've read elsewhere that they suggest that land was opening up in Iceland and Norway at the time, and the Greenlanders just went back there.
I’m all for this theory. Maybe some of the dozen or so people I’ve met in my life who informed me they were direct descendents of Leif Eriksson were right. Right by accident, but right nevertheless.
Tip: Archaeology in Europe.
In other news about frigid places where nobody wants to live, somebody over at Threedonia mentioned the Minnesota state flag in comments today:
The resolution’s a little low, but what we’ve got is the state seal on a blue field. The seal shows a settler plowing a field, turning his head to watch an Indian ride off into the sunset. (I’ve been waiting for some time for our liberals to start a campaign for a new design.)
The state motto, on a banner above the guy’s head, is “L’etoile Du Nord,” meaning “The star of the north.” (This because, up until Alaska entered the union, that little jog on our northern border made us the northernmost state.)
I mentioned that when I was a kid, before I studied French, I assumed that “L’etoile du Nord” meant “The hard-working Norwegian.”