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Seal diet provides clue to disappearance of Norse from Greenland
Past Horizons ^ | 11-2012

Posted on 11/21/2012 5:18:33 AM PST by Renfield

Greenland’s Viking settlers, the Norse, disappeared suddenly and mysteriously from Greenland about 500 years ago. Natural disasters, climate change and the inability to adapt have all been proposed as theories to explain their disappearance. But now a Danish-Canadian research team has demonstrated the Norse society did not die out due to an inability to adapt to the Greenlandic diet: an isotopic analysis of their bones shows they ate plenty of seals.

Our analysis shows that the Norse in Greenland ate lots of food from the sea, especially seals,” says Jan Heinemeier, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University.

Our analysis shows that the Norse in Greenland ate lots of food from the sea, especially seals,” says Jan Heinemeier, Institute of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University.

Even though the Norse are traditionally thought of as farmers, they adapted quickly to the Arctic environment and the unique hunting opportunities. During the period they were in Greenland, the Norse ate gradually more seals. By the 14th century, seals made up between 50 and 80 per cent of their diet.”

Jette Arneborg removes samples of skeletons from Ø64 for analysis. Photo: Christian Koch Madsen

Jette Arneborg removes samples of skeletons from Ø64 for analysis. Photo: Christian Koch Madsen

The Danish and Canadian researchers are studying the 80 Norse skeletons kept at the University of Copenhagen’s Laboratory of Biological Anthropology in order to determine their dietary habits. From studying the ratio of the isotopes carbon-13 and carbon-15, the researchers determined that a large proportion of the Greenlandic Norse diet came from the sea, particularly from seals. Heinemeier measured the levels of carbon isotopes in the skeletons, Erle Nelson of Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada, analysed the isotopes, while Niels Lynnerup of the University of Copenhagen, examined the skeletons.

Nothing suggests that the Norse disappeared as a result of a natural disaster. If anything they might have become bored with eating seals out on the edge of the world. The skeletal evidence shows signs that they slowly left Greenland. For example, young women are under-represented in the graves in the period toward the end of the Norse settlement. This indicates that the young in particular were leaving Greenland, and when the numbers of fertile women drops, the population cannot support itself,” Lynnerup explains.

Hunters and farmers

The findings challenge the prevailing view of the Norse as farmers that would have stubbornly stuck to agriculture until they lost the battle with Greenland’s environment. These new results shake-up the traditional view of the Norse as farmers and have given archaeologists reason to rethink those theories.

The Norse thought of themselves as farmers that cultivated the land and kept animals. But the archaeological evidence shows that they kept fewer and fewer animals, such as goats and sheep. So the farming identity was actually more a mental self-image, held in place by an over-class that maintained power through agriculture and land ownership, than it was a reality for ordinary people that were hardly picky eaters,” Jette Arneborg, archaeologist and curator at the National Museum of Denmark, says.

The first Norse settlers brought agriculture and livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs from Iceland. While they thought of themselves as farmers, they were not unfamiliar with hunting.

They quickly started to catch seals, as they were a necessary addition to their diet. Toward the end of their stay, they became as accustomed to catching seals as the Inuit, who had travelled to Greenland from Canada around the year 1200 and inhabited the island alongside the Norse. Seals became more important for Norse survival as the climate began to change over time and it became increasingly difficult to sustain themselves through farming.

The Norse could adapt, but how much they could adapt without giving up their identity was limited. Even though their diet became closer to that of the Inuit, the difference between the two groups was too great for the Norse to become Inuit,” Arneborg says.

The isotopic analysis is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen, the National Museum of Denmark and Simon Fraser from the University in Vancouver. The research is financed by the Carlsberg Foundation and the results will be presented in a series of articles in the Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 3, 2012.

The Norse ruin at Igaliku Fjord was known to the Norse as Gardar. Photo: Jette Arneborg

The Norse ruin at Igaliku Fjord was known to the Norse as Gardar. Photo: Jette Arneborg

Notes on the Norse

The Norse settled in Greenland around the year 1000 AD. Erik the Red arrived from Iceland as the first to settle in southern Greenland. At its height, the Norse population of Greenland reached between 2,000 and 3,000. They settled in western Greenland, near modern-day Nuuk, and in south-western Greenland, near modern-day Narsaq and Qaqartoq. They traded with Greenlandic Inuit and supplied Europe with Walrus tusks. They explored America and established a settlement there 500 years before Columbus arrived. The Norse populated Greenland until the beginning of the 15th century, when they disappeared without a trace. The Old Norse culture is the only example of a highly developed Western society that disappeared without any sources describing why.

Carbon 13

Carbon 13 is a stable carbon isotope that reveals how much fish or shellfish a person has eaten. Carbon 13 is absorbed by the bodies from food. There is a different amount of carbon 13 in the sea than on land, meaning that bodies of animals that exclusively eat food from the sea will have a different level of carbon 13 than animals that exclusively eat food from land. By measuring carbon 13 levels in human bones, it is possible to determine the makeup of a person’s diet.

Nitrogen 15

Nitrogen 15 is a stable isotope that reveals how much meat a person has eaten. Nitrogen 15 is carried up the food chain in animals. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the level of nitrogen 15. By measuring nitrogen 15 in human bones, it is possible to determine how much meat from animals higher up in the food chain a person has eaten. Seals are found near the top of the food chain and that can be seen in the level of nitrogen 15 in Norse remains.

Source: University of Copenhagen


TOPICS: History; Science
KEYWORDS: archaeology; godsgravesglyphs; greenland; norse; thevikings

Archaeologists dig up skeletons of Norse settlers in 2010 at the Norse farm Ø64, Igaliku Fjord, Østerbygden, Greenland. Photo: Jette Arneborg

1 posted on 11/21/2012 5:18:41 AM PST by Renfield
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To: SunkenCiv

Ping


2 posted on 11/21/2012 5:19:24 AM PST by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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To: Renfield

3 posted on 11/21/2012 5:22:08 AM PST by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: Renfield
seals made up between 50 and 80 per cent of their diet

Does PETA know about this?

4 posted on 11/21/2012 5:31:11 AM PST by John123 (US$ - I owe you nothing. Euro - Who owes you nothing.)
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To: Renfield

And what about the global warming Greenland had when Eric the Red discovered the place? Obviously the result of the 11th century SUVs and Caddilacs in that era.


5 posted on 11/21/2012 5:31:30 AM PST by Stepan12
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To: fieldmarshaldj
They call them Norse, but no doubt a number of them were Sa'ami ~ natural born seal eaters of the first water!

The settlements were not in danger of going hungry but possibly the walrus harvest began to falter and without those walrus tusks and blusik sticks, what was a Scottish or Norwegian warrior/nobleman to do? He certainly wouldn't be giving his silver or gold to the Greenlanders eh!

One problem with a diet high in seal, huskey or polar bear is the toxicity of the liver ~ too much vitamin A can make you sick ~ and entirely too much can kill you. This was supposedly understood by the Inuit (Greenland and Canada's Eskimo are lumped under one tribal name, however proper that is I have no idea) and one can imagine the Sa'ami must have known about it, and the Norse as well ~ after a couple of years of eating seal.

Reindeer, that ever popular subarctic deer also have a high iron content, as do the seals ~ so anemia was probably not a problem for anyone in the North ~ on the other hand, too much iron is a problem for most everybody without some sort of porphyria to get rid of the surplus. Iron deposits in the skin would have been common with this crowd ~ might even have looked rather metalic.

6 posted on 11/21/2012 5:40:40 AM PST by muawiyah
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To: Stepan12
Eric arrived in 986 or so I'm told. A 350-400 year “warming” period allowed the Norse to live in along the Greenland coast. By the 1400’s, all had left as the world turned cold.
7 posted on 11/21/2012 5:44:28 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: muawiyah
"Reindeer, that ever popular subarctic deer also have a high iron content, as do the seals ~ so anemia was probably not a problem for anyone in the North ~ on the other hand, too much iron is a problem for most everybody without some sort of porphyria to get rid of the surplus. Iron deposits in the skin would have been common with this crowd ~ might even have looked rather metalic."

Not to mention perpetually constipated.

8 posted on 11/21/2012 5:44:45 AM PST by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Obviously Bush’s fault.


9 posted on 11/21/2012 5:45:39 AM PST by fieldmarshaldj (Resist We Much)
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To: Stepan12
Some time in the 1300/1400 the black plague came into Norway and began killing off the Norse. This was quite damaging to the tax collectors so they began making deals with Sa'ami to move on down Souf', where it was warmer, and just take over farms ~ as well as fishing boats and slips.

This was quite successful.

I'd imagine the tax collectors made comparable deal with the strays living in Greenland ~ just come on back home, all is forgiven, free farms, free boats!

10 posted on 11/21/2012 5:49:28 AM PST by muawiyah
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To: fieldmarshaldj
So, we have the purple peeing, ever constipated metal men of the North!

Wrap those guys in a berserker and you got something else again.

11 posted on 11/21/2012 5:52:01 AM PST by muawiyah
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To: muawiyah

The Norse also had a settlement in the North end of Newfoundland at L’Anse Meadows. If you visit there, you will note that they tell you the sea was higher during that warming period. Again,,must have been the impact of the iron forge they had there spitting out CO2.


12 posted on 11/21/2012 6:01:20 AM PST by Oldexpat
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To: fieldmarshaldj

(sarc on)Seriously? It was probably actually from eating mercury laden tuna fishes caused by pollution from those coal fired power plants that Atlantis used before sinking in to the ocean somewhere off the Bahamas. Or Portugal. Or someplace. No matter though. I’m taking a stand tomorrow, despite Sir Paul’s suggestion that we eat no turkey, and chowing down. Woo Hoo!
P.........eople
E.........ating
T.........asty
A.........nimals

Helping keep mankind warm for 65 years.


13 posted on 11/21/2012 6:12:29 AM PST by rktman
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To: muawiyah
"So, we have the purple peeing, ever constipated metal men of the North!"

Vikings don't sound nearly as intimidating when you say it that way.

14 posted on 11/21/2012 6:17:49 AM PST by Pecos (Double tap: the only acceptable gun control)
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To: Renfield

They might have described the problem—a lack of females.

This could happen in one of two ways, either nutritionally, that what they ate tended to result in an imbalance in favor of male offspring; or, just as likely, something was killing off their women.

“In vitro fertilization studies show that high levels of glucose encourage the growth of male embryos while inhibiting female embryos.”

But high levels of blood glucose usually mean diets that are very rich in refined carbohydrates.


15 posted on 11/21/2012 6:28:13 AM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (DIY Bumper Sticker: "THREE TIMES,/ DEMOCRATS/ REJECTED GOD")
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To: Renfield
"The Norse populated Greenland until the beginning of the 15th century, when they disappeared without a trace."

Actually, they left quite a few 'traces'. This whole article is about the 'traces' they left there. It could be said, though, that: "The Norse populated Greenland until the beginning of the 15th century, when they disappeared without any clues as to why they disappeared."

16 posted on 11/21/2012 6:36:06 AM PST by norwaypinesavage (Galileo: In science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of one individual)
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To: Renfield

“So the farming identity was actually more a mental self-image, held in place by an over-class that maintained power through agriculture and land ownership, than it was a reality for ordinary people that were hardly picky eaters.”

Gad, the libs just have to tweak everything to their marxist views ... ‘over-class’, ‘maintained power’ .... I personally think the combo of lutefisk and 80% seal blubber was too much for them, and they left for America.

Go Berzerkers!


17 posted on 11/21/2012 6:37:02 AM PST by bboop (does not suffer fools gladly)
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To: Renfield

i wonder how you hunt seals with only blade weapons. they are pretty smart and after a while would learn they are being hunted. from boats? or rush them on land?


18 posted on 11/21/2012 6:44:25 AM PST by beebuster2000
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To: Renfield
For example, young women are under-represented in the graves in the period toward the end of the Norse settlement. This indicates that the young in particular were leaving Greenland, and when the numbers of fertile women drops, the population cannot support itself,

Having a lot of young women in graves doesn't do much for your fertility either.

19 posted on 11/21/2012 6:57:52 AM PST by SoothingDave
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To: muawiyah

You wrote:

“They call them Norse, but no doubt a number of them were Sa’ami...”

No, not a single one of them. They WERE Norse. None of them were Lapps. Not a single one.

Your Lapp obsession makes you see things that are not there. Get help.


20 posted on 11/21/2012 7:07:42 AM PST by vladimir998
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To: vladimir998
Sorry Vlad. Everybody knows the Sa'ami are NOT just run away rag tag Germanic tribesman. They moved to the Arctic a good 14,000 years back leaving you guys in the caves picking lice.

It's a racial difference ~ not cultural ~ and after several centuries of the Norse perventing native Sa'ami from living on their own land simply because they didn't learn a Sa'ami language, we can now test your DNA and find your Sa'ami lineage.

About half the modern Norwegians on the West coast are, in fact, dispossesed Sa'ami, not Southern Europeans at all.

So, no, it's not an obsession ~ for me it's another topic to study in family history.

21 posted on 11/21/2012 8:12:10 AM PST by muawiyah
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To: yefragetuwrabrumuy

Or more likely, “When are you gonna take me to Mallorca?!”....girls tired of eating seals hitched a ride on a boat to somewhere.


22 posted on 11/21/2012 8:17:37 AM PST by Renfield (Turning apples into venison since 1999!)
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To: Renfield

Shopping. The Norse girls looked around at Greenland and thought, “Walrus teeth and seal guts....what kind of shopping is this? Back home you can get watches and cell phones at the mall.” So the young Norse women headed home. Have you seen the Swedish Bikini Team? The young Norse men then looked around and thought, “Well, I can stay here in Greenland and try to have sex with a seal or go home and cuddle up with the Bikini Team.” It was shopping.


23 posted on 11/21/2012 10:25:19 AM PST by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: muawiyah

“Reindeer, that ever popular subarctic deer...”

I recomember that reindeer/caribou meat lacks a fatty acid that is essential to humans. Same with rabbits. In other words, humans cannot live on a diet consisting solely of Santa’s helpers or bunnies or they will slowly but surely starve to death.

If their diet consists of majority seal meat I suspect that their body odor would be so strong that they would stop having intimate relations ergo the population would die out...


24 posted on 11/21/2012 11:24:50 AM PST by 43north (BHO: 50% black, 50% white, 100% RED)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


25 posted on 11/23/2012 1:12:56 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


26 posted on 11/23/2012 1:13:09 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


27 posted on 11/23/2012 1:29:54 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Renfield; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Renfield.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


28 posted on 11/23/2012 1:30:03 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Renfield

OBL had a problem with a SEAL presence also.

SO, history repeats itself....


29 posted on 11/23/2012 1:50:21 AM PST by xrmusn (6/98 "Hope in one hand and $hiite in the other and see which fills up first".)
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To: fieldmarshaldj

I thought Norse disappeared when Maytag bought them out in ‘79,...oh nevermind....


30 posted on 11/23/2012 1:59:33 AM PST by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: SunkenCiv
What's for dinner, Mom?

Seal casserole.

What, again?!

That's it - I've had it! There aren't any decent guys to date and all we eat is seal! When I'm 18, I'm moving to Bergen!

31 posted on 11/26/2012 1:54:04 PM PST by colorado tanker
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To: colorado tanker

Cue “Hungarian Goulash”. Just because. Okay, so, while everyone’s puzzling over that and slowly working their way through the lyrics from memory, ‘Civ goes out of the room again to check on the progress of his Boxee.


32 posted on 11/26/2012 8:13:21 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: SunkenCiv
Jolly Mau Maus, eating missionary pie.

Barry's favorite.

33 posted on 11/27/2012 1:01:07 PM PST by colorado tanker
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To: Cvengr

lutefisk retailers should see if the trademark is available


34 posted on 12/28/2014 5:03:48 PM PST by RitchieAprile
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