Greenland History
Greenland Old Map

The story of Greenland (also called Greenland or Greenland), the world’s largest island, is the story of life under extreme arctic conditions: an ice cap covers 84% ​​of the island’s territory, restricting human activity to the coasts. Greenland was unknown to Europe until the 10th century, when it was discovered by Icelandic Vikings. Before this “discovery”, the island had already been inhabited by arctic peoples, even though it was uninhabited when the Vikings arrived: the direct ancestors of the modern Inuit (formerly called Eskimos) did not reach the island until the year 1200. The Inuit were the Inuit. the only ones to inhabit the island for centuries, but, recalling the Viking colonization, Denmark claimed sovereignty over the territory and colonized it from the 18th century. It thus obtained privileges such as commercial monopoly.

During World War II, Greenland actually separated, both socially and economically, from Denmark, moving closer to the United States and Canada. After the war, control of the island returned to Denmark, withdrawing its colonial status, and although Greenland remains part of the Kingdom of Denmark, it has been autonomous since 1979. The island is the only territory that has left the European Union, if as well as having the status of associated state.

Historic landmarks

Thousands of years ago, Asian tribes entered North America. Some went south. Others stayed in the arctic regions of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, living as nomadic people, known as Eskimos or Inuit.

Time coursehistorical event
2500 BC – 1300 ADArrival of the first humans in Northwest Greenland – Paleoeskimo Cultures : Saqqaq Culture and Dorset Culture
900 AD – 1700 ADThule Culture – Ancestors of the current Inuit People
10th centuryArrival of Scandinavians in Southwest and West Greenland
13th centuryArrival of Thule People in West Greenland – Contact with Dorset People and Scandinavians.
13th centuryScandinavian settlers recognize the sovereignty of the King of Norway, and the King of Denmark.
15th centuryEnd of Scandinavian settlements
16th centuryEuropean recognition trips to Greenland – Portuguese, English and Dutch
18th centuryNew Norwegian-Danish colonization
19th centuryGreenland – a Danish colony
20th centuryGreenland changes from a Danish colony to a Danish autonomous region ( Hjemmestyre ).

Inuit immigrations

Greenland’s prehistory is the history of repeated Inuit immigrations from the lands of North America. One of the constants of these cultures was to survive in extreme limits, with cultures that arrived and left the island for centuries. Before the Scandinavian exploration of Greenland, archeology can only give approximate dates of these immigrations:

  • The Saqqaq Culture: 2500 BC – 800 BC (Southern Greenland)
  • The Independence Culture I: 2400 BC – 1300 BC (Northern Greenland)
  • The Independence Culture II: 800 BC – 1 BC (far north of Greenland)
  • The early Dorset Culture or Dorset Culture I: 700 BC – 200 AD (southern Greenland)

After the collapse of the Dorset Culture, the island remained uninhabited for centuries.

Hunting and fishing have always been very important activities in Greenland. The polar bear is one of the species that inhabit this island.

Nordic settlement

According to the Nordic sagas, Greenland was discovered around the year 900 by the Norwegian navigator Gunnbjörn Ulfsson. During the 980s, the Vikings settled in Iceland were the first European visitors to Greenland, exploring the island’s uninhabited south west coast.

The definitive exploration before its colonization took place when Eric the Red was exiled from Iceland after murdering a neighbor, sailing to Greenland, where he spent three years exploring its coastline. At the end of his sentence, he returned to Iceland to draw people to the island. The current name, Greenland (Grønland), has its origins, according to some, in this interest in colonizing it (the Inuit call the island Kalaallit Nunaat, “Our Land”). Some would argue, on the other hand, that the coasts in question were literally green (“grøn” means green) at this time, due to the great climate prevailing in the medieval period. Others still argue that the name was perhaps, above all, a “bait” to attract more people to the settlement: the name would have been, along with Iceland’s (which literally means “land of ice”), a trick of the Vikings. to drive away invaders from this one, which had some arable land, and to attract to that one, whose territory was unsuitable for agriculture and covered, for the most part, by glaciers.

The date of establishment of the colony (according to the sagas) was in 985, when 25 boats departed with Eric the Red from Iceland, of which only 14 would arrive without a hitch in Greenland. This date was confirmed approximately by carbon-14 tests carried out on archaeological remains found in the first settlement in Brattalid (Brattahlid, present-day Qassiarsuk), which gave a date around the year 1000. According to legend, it was this year 1000 when the Érico’s son Leif Ericsson left the settlement to discover Vinlandia (it is generally accepted that it was Terra Nova).

The Nordic colony reached between 3,000 and 5,000 inhabitants, initially in two settlements: the largest was the Eastern Settlement (Eystribyggd), where Brattalid, the residence of Érico, was located; the other was the Western Settlement (Vestribyggd), with a maximum population of around 1000 people). The occupation of the territory was carried out by means of farms, of which there were about 400. It was an important colony (the population of Greenland today is only 56,000), which traded with Europe in ivory from the tusks of walruses, as well as exporting ropes, sheep and cattle and seal hides. The colony depended on Europe for a supply of iron and perhaps timber for construction. Commercial boats traveled each year to Greenland from Iceland, and occasionally from Norway.

In 1126, a diocese was founded at Gardar (Garðar, now Igaliku). It was the work of the Norwegian Archdiocese of Trondheim; at least five Viking churches have been found in Greenland thanks to archaeological work. In 1261, the population accepted Norwegian sovereignty, even though it kept its own laws. In 1380, the kingdom of Norway joined the kingdom of Denmark.

However, the Scandinavian colony did not prosper. The Western settlement was abandoned around 1350, due to the gradual worsening of weather conditions, and also because of the territorial pressure that the Thule Inuit began to exert. In 1378, there was no longer a bishop in Garðar. It is likely that the Eastern Settlement disappeared in the 15th century, although there is no exact date. Radioactive carbon tests gave the date 1430 ± 15th. 1 Probably a climate change (called the Little Ice Age) caused the colony to disappear. Another theory is that the soil has been exploited to exhaustion and is no longer fertile. Another cause that is suggested to have contributed was that the trade in ivory from the Sahara eliminated the walrus ivory market. The Norse’s lack of adaptation to new conditions has been partly refuted by new investigations showing that they have changed their diet based on 80% farm food to 80% marine food. 1 Other theories have linked population reduction with the Black Death, or with Basque or English pirates.

The most recent written records of the Vikings in Greenland correspond to a wedding in 1408 in the church of Hvalsey, which is the best preserved ruins today from that time.

Late Dorset cultures and Thule culture

Probably the Norse were not the only people on the island at the time of their arrival. The Dorset people probably settled before them. However, these people settled in the far northwest of Greenland, far from the Viking settlements that were located on the west coasts. Archaeological evidence would point to the presence of this culture shortly before the Icelandic settlements. This culture disappeared around the beginning of the 13th century, almost at the same time as the Nordic presence in the west. It is estimated that there are between four and thirty Dorset families that met periodically at the end of their displacement cycles.

Around 1200, another Arctic culture was established, the Thule, who arrived from the west and who had arrived in America 200 years earlier from Alaska. They settled south of the Dorset culture occupying large areas on the east and west coasts of Greenland. These are the ancestors of the current Inuit, they were easy to adapt and hunted any prey available on land or sea. They used to store large amounts of food to avoid starvation during the winter. The first Thule avoided the high latitudes, which were only populated with the arrival of new migrations from Canada in the 19th century.

It is not clear what kind of contact the Thule, Dorset and Norse settlements had, but they certainly included exchanges of goods. Of the three cultures that inhabited Greenland at this time, only Thule has survived to this day. The level of contact is currently a matter of debate, possibly including trade with Thule or Dorset peoples in Canada. No Viking items were found at the dorset archeological sites. Some stories speak of armed conflicts, which may have contributed to the disappearance of the Norse and Dorset from Greenland, but this hypothesis has no consensus.

The Thule were whale hunters, as described by the Norwegian missionary Hans Egede in the 18th century

Danish colonization

In 1536, Denmark and Norway officially united and Greenland came to be considered another Danish dependency. Even when there was almost no contact, the Danish king continued to claim his dominion over the island. In the 1660s, a polar bear was included in the Danish shield. During the 17th century, whaling led British and Dutch German boats to Greenland, where they processed the whales moored to the shore, but no permanent settlement was established. In 1721, a mercantile and religious expedition organized by the Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland, worried about not knowing if there were still European settlers on the island and whether these, who had arrived before the reform, were still Catholics. The expedition was part of the Danish colonization of the Americas. Little by little, Greenland opened up to trade to Danish companies and closed those from other countries. This new colony centered on Godthåb (“Good Hope”) on the southwest coast. The Inuit inhabitants of the outskirts of the colony were converted to the Christian faith.

When Norway separated from Denmark in 1814 after the Napoleonic Wars, the colonies, including Greenland, came under Danish control. During the 19th century Greenland was a point of interest for polar explorers and scientists such as William Scoresby and Knud Rasmussen. At the same time, Danish colonization was asserted and the missions were quite successful. in 1861, the first periodical in the Inuktitut language was published. However, Danish justice only applied to the settlers.

Until the early 19th century, Greenland remained unpopulated above latitude 81°N; the only presence in this area was hunters, who built refuges to protect themselves while they went about their business. This changed until mid-century with the immigration from Canada of Inuit families who settled in that area. The last groups arrived in Greenland in 1864. During the same period, trade and economic conditions declined, so the east of the island began to depopulate.

Between 1862 and 1863, democratic elections were held for the first time in Greenland to elect district representatives, and in 1911, two Landstings (councils) were created, one to the north and one to the south, which joined together in 1951. However, the important decisions for the island were made in Copenhagen, where the inhabitants of Greenland had no representation.

Hans Egede, Norwegian missionary in Greenland

Strategic importance

After Norway gained independence in 1905, it refused to accept Danish sovereignty over Greenland, which many Norwegians considered a former possession of their country. In 1931, the Norwegian whaler Hallvard Devold occupied the eastern (uninhabited) part of Greenland on his own initiative. After that, the occupation was supported by the Norwegian government. Two years later, the International Court of Justice voted in favor of the Danish claim, which was then accepted by Norway.

During World War II, when Germany extended its war operations to Greenland, Henrik Kauffmann, Danish ambassador to the United States – who refused to recognize the German occupation of Denmark -, signed on April 9, 1941 a treaty with the States United States, allowing its armed forces to establish bases in Greenland. Due to the problems that Denmark had in governing the island during the war, and due to the successful export it obtained (especially of cryolite), Greenland began to enjoy a more independent status. Their supplies were guaranteed by the United States and Canada.

During the Cold War, Greenland had a strategic importance, controlling part of the accesses between the Soviet Arctic ports and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as being a good base for observing the possible uses of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were planned to fly over the Arctic. Thule air base (now called Qaanaaq) in the northwest became a permanent air base. In 1953, some Inuit families were forced by Denmark to vacate their homes to make room for the base expansions. For this reason, the base has been a source of friction between the Danish government and the Greenlanders. These problems grew on January 21, 1968, when a nuclear accident occurred (A B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed near the base, letting large amounts of plutonium escape onto the ice). Although most of the plutonium has been removed, the natives still speak of deformities in animals as a consequence of this disaster.

Thule Air Base, established during World War II, is the northernmost US air base on the planet.

Local government

Greenland’s colonial status was revised in 1953, when it became an integral part of the Danish kingdom, with representation in the Folketing (Danish parliament). Denmark has also started a program to provide medical and education services to Greenlanders. This has led to a greater concentration of population in cities. As most of the inhabitants are fishermen, unemployment has increased, as have other social problems.

When Denmark began to participate in the European Cooperation, which later became the European Union, new frictions with the former colony arose. Greenland felt that the European Union’s customs restrictions would be detrimental to its trade, mostly directed to countries in America. After Denmark’s entry, including Greenland, into the 1973 union (despite the fact that Greenlanders voted “no” by 74% in a local referendum on the issue), many residents felt that their representation in Copenhagen was not sufficient and local parties pressed for self-management. Folketing consented in 1978 to the creation of a local government in 1979. On February 23, 1982, by a 53% majority, the Greenlanders voted to separate from the European Union, which took effect in 1985. Until then. at the moment, it is the only entity that has separated from the Union since its creation.

The Greenlandic local government presents itself as an Inuit nation. Danish place names have been replaced by local names. Godthåb, the center of Danish civilization on the island, is now called Nuuk, the capital of an almost sovereign government. In 1985 the Greenland flag was established, using the colors of the Danish flag, the Dannebrog. However, the movement towards full sovereignty has not yet gained consensus.

International relations, formerly run by Denmark, are now mostly run locally. After separating from the European Union, Greenland signed special treaties with the Union, and also joined in various matters with Iceland, the Faroe Islands, as well as the Intuit population of Canada and Russia. He is also a founding member of the environmental organization Arctic Council (1996). The renegotiation of the 1951 treaty between Denmark and the United States is pending, this time with the participation of the local government of Greenland. Thule airbase is also expected to become a United Nations-owned satellite tracking station. [1][link down]

Modern technology has made Greenland more accessible, not just because of its air base. However, the capital, Nuuk, does not yet have an international airport. Greenland’s first television stations were created in 1982.

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